Utah educators and school staff are likely to be given a bonus this year due to a legislative proposal.
Utah's legislative session begins on January 19 and will run until March 5. Park City School District Business Administrator Todd Hauber said the bill to provide a pandemic bonus would run through the regular legislative process and be voted on by members. The proposal is to pay licensed teachers $1,500 along with $1,000 allocated to other school employees. According to Hauber, it means about a half-million dollars coming from state income tax revenues, which would be distributed to the Park City School District. He is not concerned the money will have to be pulled from future funds.
"We're looking at a very positive economic output and outcome for the state as a whole. So, not only did the legislature set aside this $1500 bonus and $1000 bonus for employees of districts, but they also fulfilled all their commitments that are under house bill 357, which is to fund enrollment growth, to fund inflationary factor growth for the weighted pupil unit, and also put money into a working rainy-day fund. So, there's a large sum of money that is already being set aside for public education before the session starts."
Hauber said the legislature passed a similar bill to adjust educator salaries in 2008. He thinks the 2021 bill will easily pass with possible tweaks from members.
"Yeah, so, it will actually go through the regular legislative process, but it was directed to be put into what's called the base funding bill. So, it will be a bill that comes out in the first couple of days of the session and will be voted on very early in the session."
Utah voters passed amendment G in November, which now allows income tax revenue to be used for children and special needs funding, in addition to education funding.
"So, there's a very strong signal that this legislature will support education with the new revenues that come in, as promised. There's also if you look at the allocations going to the other program areas that now are eligible for income tax dollars under amendment G, there aren't any dollars allocated at this point. So I think there's still a very strong commitment for funding education even with the amendment in place right now. But the way the basic programs of the state were funded, we were always in competition with those groups. That may have been behind more closed doors and in different ways. This just makes it more transparent."
Hauber said he couldn't predict how the current or future legislatures will allocate education money. He said the legislative meeting held in December indicated a promise to restore the 6% increase in the WPU. The increase had been approved in the 2020 legislative session but then rescinded due to the pandemic.
Safe drinking water in schools, student absences, and mental health bills will be on the 2021 legislative docket.