State Board hears presentation on new education funding proposal, takes more positions on ed bills

Utah State Board of Education Members Tami Pyfer (District 1-Logan), Leslie Castle (District 7-Salt Lake City) and Laurel Brown (District 10-Salt Lake City) talk after the legislative State Board meeting today.

The Utah State Board of Education took positions on three more bills and heard a presentation on Rep. Ken Sumsion’s H.B. 123, which would radically change how education funding is distributed in the state.

Sumsion’s bill would eliminate what lawmakers refer to as “below the line” programs. These are programs that direct funding to address specific needs, such as pupil transportation, youth in custody, concurrent enrollment, Critical Languages and Dual Immersion, Optional Extended-day Kindergarten, the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning and K-3 Reading Improvement, and many others. Instead, Sumsion’s proposal would distribute all education funding on a per-pupil basis. The basic idea is that each student would receive a specific amount of funding that would follow them wherever they went to school. However, to offset the fact that education doesn’t cost the same in every region of the state, he allocates more funds to some students based on various variables, such as the size of the district, its location and whether it is a charter or traditional school.

 The idea, Sumsion told the board, is to increase local control. However, he also said he’s run into some problems, because many of the line item programs were put in place by legislators who are still in office.

Sumsion was encouraged to proceed cautiously when making changes to what is upheld throughout the nation as a model for delivering an equitable education to rural and small schools. 

Sumsion originally proposed this new funding model in a Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting on Feb. 14. The committee voted unanimously to review Sumsion’s ideas over the interim session. He told the State Board, “I keep thinking it’s dead,” but lawmakers continue to express an interest in the concept. So, the bill looks like it could be heading for a committee hearing this session.

The State Board of Education also took positions on more education bills, including:

  • Opposing H.B. 220 Civics Education Amendments, by Rep. LaVar Christensen (R-Draper) with the comment that it is unnecessary.
  • Opposing H.B. 322 Restoration of American Heritage Curriculum Act, by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R-Orem) with the comment that it infringes on the board’s governance.
  • Supporting S.B. 235 Sub. 1 Charter School Students’ Participation in Extracurricular Activities, by Sen. Karen Mayne (West Valley City).

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