State board drafts recommendations for $76 million to $380 million in cuts to education funding

Stock Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Utah State Board of Education passed a motion Thursday afternoon to approve the Fiscal Year 2021 Base Budget Reduction Scenarios draft showing staff recommendations for possible 2%, 5% and 10% reductions to education funding.

Undated stock image. | Photo by Javier Trueba/Unsplash, St. George News

All the new money is off the table from the last legislative session, chair of the Utah State Board of Education Mark Huntsman said at the top of the discussion.

The state legislature appropriations committee requested a draft of recommendations from the board for 2%, 5% and 10% cuts in preparation of a May 27 public education appropriations meeting.

“At this time, they don’t know exactly the budget shortfalls for this next year,” Huntsman said, “so they’ve asked for these three scenarios.”

These possible cuts would cause between $76 million and $380 million in reductions for state education funding.

With regard to the budget, state board superintendent Sydnee Dickson said they have all experienced whiplash, referring to how they went from thinking they were getting extra money to an economic fall.

“We all remember standing in the rotunda getting ready to celebrate our good fortune of a banner year of education funding,” Dickson said. “While we can always use more, it was certainly a banner year of $403 million dollars of new money.”

She said they had all been advocating for new programs and were excited. But within 24 hours, everything flipped due to the impacts of the coronavirus.

Salt Lake Education Association members march for students at the Utah Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 28, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Amy Barton, St. George News

“As we watched the economy slide during that time, we were anticipating that we would not see some of those new things come to pass, and it’s been very difficult to just have to tuck all of that funding, hopes and dreams aside,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t continue on with some of the work.”

Dickson said for now they will have to table some of the previous vision.

She likened the 2% cut to a flesh wound, which would require some patchwork in order to fill in the gaps. She said the 5% cut is like having to get stitches and the 10% is like cutting into the bone.

“Whether it’s the flesh or the bone, all will scar,” she said. “How long will it take us to recover from that?”

Their framework in coming up with the recommendations for cuts began with looking at what is essential in the base budget and then on the other side of that, looking at what might be duplicative. In between those is considering what is helpful or nice to have, but not necessarily essential.

Maintaining the current weighted pupil unit was a priority, she said.

There were many amendments made to the motion throughout the meeting. The challenge centered around an aim to maintain equity among all local education agencies.

Some of the recommendations include reductions or total elimination of programs, such as an elimination of the incentives for effective teaching in high poverty schools, special education intensive services, and acquisition of library books and electronic resources.

Following a lengthy discussion and many proposed amendments, a draft of recommendations was approved to be forwarded to the legislature for consideration.

Just how much the cut will be is still yet to be determined.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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