Utah gov targets education in 2013-14 budget plan

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's $12.8 billion state budget proposal maintains public education and promises teachers and all state workers a 1 percent pay raise.

Herbert, in his budget plan released Wednesday, offered only a slight increase in per-pupil funding, which teachers say amounts to nothing. The state continually struggles to support public schools because of rapid enrollment growth, which generally consumes any added funding.

The fine print shows Herbert, a Republican, is devoting $113 million in added funding for elementary and secondary education, almost all of it matching enrollment growth and covering the promised teacher pay raise. The governor's projections show 13,254 new students will enter Utah's public schools in September, for a total enrollment of more than 600,000.

The Utah Education Association, a teachers' union that endorsed Herbert's re-election in November, said it was disappointed. The association said that the promised 1 percent pay raise will evaporate from paychecks after deductions for retirement and Social Security accounts and that Herbert added nothing for professional development.

"It doesn't provide any room for schools to provide a pay raise," UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh said in a statement Wednesday. "This has happened in each of the past four or five years. There's a common theme that runs through our Utah Legislature, that we are the 'best managed state' and can do more with less."

She said the state's teachers "are under tremendous weight."

"They are being inundated by a lack of resources," she said. "Morale is absolutely at rock bottom. It feels like our K-12 teachers have been left out of (Herbert's) priorities."

Higher-education officials said Herbert was boosting their operating budget by a more generous 6.5 percent.

"These budget priorities are key to ensuring that higher education in Utah continues to be accessible, affordable and of the highest quality," said Dave Buhler, the state's higher-education commissioner.

Herbert said he was moving toward a goal of ensuring a college education for two-thirds of Utah adults, with an emphasis on science and math. He's giving the University of Utah more funding to turn out more doctors. The $6.5 million in added funding will allow the university's medical school to admit 20 more students each year.

In addition, Herbert is proposing $45 million for new classrooms for Utah Valley University, nearly $4 million for blueprints for a new science building at Weber State University and $1.5 million for Dixie State College to buy land for future use.

Herbert's budget plan is for the fiscal year that starts July 1. It now goes to the Utah Legislature, which will convene in January for five weeks.