Utah Gov. Gary Herbert delivers his 11th and final State of the State address in the Utah House Chambers, at the Utah Sate Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune, via AP, Pool)
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Voters could soon be asked to change the Utah Constitution to allow a major shift in education funding after a deal announced Wednesday with the state’s largest teacher’s union.
The compromise would include increasing the amount of money schools get per student and the creation of a $75 million rainy-day fund. In exchange, the state could dip into income taxes to pay for children’s health care and the needs of the disabled.
Republicans like Gov. Gary Herbert hailed the deal as “the proverbial win-win-win.” Some Democrats, though, remained concerned about whether changing the constitution could ultimately undermine education funding in a state where per-pupil spending is historically among the lowest in the country.
The deal looks likely to pass at the Legislature. It must also be approved by the voters on the November ballot because it’s a constitutional change.
Lawmakers have said it is essential to prop up a faltering sales-tax base. Two other tax-overhaul attempts have failed: a deeply unpopular plan that included raising taxes on food and a proposal to tax services that ran into opposition from businesses.
Convincing voters to change the way education is funded could also be tricky. But Heidi Matthews with the Utah Education Association said steps like guarantees of increases to fund student growth are good. “The solution we’re presenting here today is not perfect, but we didn’t let perfect get in the way of progress,” she said.
The plan would allow income tax money to be used for things like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage to children whose families are low income but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.
Still, some worried about shifting from a constitutional guarantee for education funding to one written into laws that the Legislature could change later.
“I can’t bring myself to exchange the constitutional language for the statutory language,” Democratic Rep. Brian King said. “I just can’t do it.”
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