How did education fare in the 2019 Legislature? ‘Very, very well,’ Utah Senate president says

SALT LAKE CITY — From $5 million appropriated to further university researchers’ study of an elephant protein’s role in cancer resistance to a new K-12 program intended to boost student achievement, fresh initiatives to enhance knowledge and learning got a boost from state lawmakers during the 2019 legislative session.

As it came to a close Thursday, lawmakers approved funding to pay for enrollment growth in public schools and state colleges and universities, approved a new process to develop and fund buildings on state college campuses, and appropriated $17.2 million for a rebuild of the Utah State Board of Education’s outdated and fragmented information technology infrastructure.

Another $17.2 million will expand an initiative that provides matching grants to schools to hire counselors, including psychologists, social workers or nurses. The funding can also be used to contract for community mental health services and appropriate ongoing funds to the Safe UT Crisis Line.

The Legislature also appropriated $2 million for an initiative to cover low-income students’ tuition and fees not covered by financial aid. The original request was for $30 million.

But lawmakers appropriated $50 million each for university buildings at Utah Valley University, Weber State University and Dixie State University.

Lawmakers, educators and system leaders agree: Both public school and the state’s colleges and universities fared well during the 2019 session.

“Education did very, very well,” said Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton.

It was unclear toward the end of the session whether state lawmakers would reach a budget agreement. They eventually did, but it temporarily stirred concern that schools and colleges would only receive maintenance budgets, which would complicate colleges setting tuition recommendations and public school boards’ contract negotiations with employee associations.

“Overall, it turned out better than we thought it might at one point. We were able to get growth funded, 4 percent on the (weighted pupil unit) and attention was paid to our strategic board goals, early learning, effective educators and leaders, personalized teaching and safe and healthy schools and personalized learning,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson.

Utah Commissioner of Higher Education David Buhler said it was “a very good year for higher education” both in terms of funding and legislation.

Lawmakers provided $27 million for performance outcomes, a 2.5 percent pay raise for higher education employees and upped the state contribution toward their health insurance coverage.

The Legislature also passed what Buhler described as “landmark pieces of legislation,” SB102, which substantially alters how state-financed buildings on college campuses are developed and funded, and HB260, which created the Access Utah Promise Scholarship program. That program will cover costs of tuition and general student fees where federal financial aid falls short for low-income students who take full academic loads.

Lawmakers appropriated no new money for the Utah College Advising Corps, which helps high school students make successful transitions to higher education under the guidance of “near peer” advisers who work in high schools. The Utah System of Higher Education reallocated $1 million in its current budget to expand the number of schools served by advisers but …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Utah News


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