‘This money goes directly to student achievement’: Washington, Iron County schools receive $5.58 million

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ST. GEORGE — Washington County and Iron County school districts are set to be among the recipients of the largest-ever distribution of Permanent State School Funds to Utah schools, Utah State Treasurer David Damschen announced last week.

Stock photo, St. George News

In July 2021, schools are slated to receive a record $92.84 million from the Permanent State School Fund – a 4.5% increase from this year’s distribution of $88.83 million and a 12.3% increase from last year’s distribution of $82.66 million.

Over the last two decades, this annual distribution has multiplied over 18 times. In the 2001-02 school year, the total distribution was $4.95 million statewide.

This school year, Iron County School District distributions totaled $1.33 million and Washington County School District received $4.25 million.

Steven Dunham, communications director for the Washington County School District, told St. George News that this equates to only a slight increase from the money they received last year.

In terms of how these extra funds could affect students and teachers, Dunham said he believes all of the money is allocated out to schools, and then the schools decide individually how that money is spent “in accordance with the guidance of the school community council.”

Students at Diamond Valley Elementary space themselves out before school, Diamond Valley, Utah, Aug. 13, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Annette Graf, St. George News

Roy Mathews, secondary director of the Iron County School District, told St. George News that it wasn’t surprising to see an increase in funds, as it continues to increase over the years.

“That’s been the trend, and they’ve done a great job of managing that money,” he said. “This money goes directly to student achievement – all of trust land money – across the state.”

While the money isn’t necessarily used to increase teacher salaries, funding could be used for something like a school hiring a math tutor in the case that the students were struggling with math, he said, in which case the tutor would be hired for the purpose of helping students improve their math scores.

Mathews said overall they plan to use the money similar to other districts across the state.

“We’re using it to improve our technology in our classrooms,” he said, adding that they will also use a good portion for classroom-reduction aid and reading supports for struggling learners.

Under the School LAND Trust Program, investment earnings from the Permanent State School Fund are distributed to every school in the state based on a per-pupil formula. Each school’s community council, comprising parents, teachers and principal, annually determines the greatest academic needs of their students and develops a plan to improve student academic performance with their portion of distributions from the fund.

In a press release from the Utah Trust Lands Association, Damschen lauded the outstanding work of the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration in administering trust lands and the solid investment decisions of the School and Institutional Trust Funds Office, which maximizes the impact of the Permanent State School Fund.

“Their efforts, along with the work of the Land Trusts Protection and Advocacy Office, benefit Utah’s education programs now and for years to come,” Damschen said. “Every dollar we earn through prudent administration of the land and investment assets is a dollar in school funding not paid by the Utah taxpayer.”

Utah Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sydnee Dickson speaks during a press conference, Salt Lake City, Utah, July 30, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson said the funding for the School Land Trust Program is a reliable source of funding with flexibility for councils to address the unique needs of their students.

“During this challenging pandemic, some schools are addressing the needs of remote learning. Principals are grateful for the funds and the increase from year to year,” Dickson said in the press release. “The first year of the program, the average per-pupil amount was $10. The distribution has increased to an average of $133 per student. The funds allow for meaningful decision making at the most local level.”

The School Land Trust Program has distributed a total of $704.4 million to Utah schools since its inception in 1999.

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

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