Utah's Teacher Unions Have Divergent Opinions On Amendment G

Oct 26, 2020

Credit Utah.gov

Amendment G is one of seven Amendments on the ballot this November. Stakeholders and the two Utah teacher unions have divergent opinions about what passage would mean for education funding.

“Shall the Utah Constitution be amended to expand the uses of money the state receives from income taxes and intangible property taxes to include supporting children and supporting people with a disability?” Amendment G Ballot Language

If Amendment G passes, it will allow the legislature to use income tax revenues for other social services programs. Passage will trigger other statutory obligations such as funding for student enrollment growth and it will create a $140.5 million rainy-day fund to protect against future economic downturns. It would also direct new money toward increasing the WPU until the rainy-day fund balance is achieved.

Utah Education Association President Heidi Mathews says they support the amendment because they think it will provide longer term financial benefits for K-12 public education.

She says House Bill 357 would guarantee a base level of funding for education every year.

“357 will statutorily guarantee funding for enrollment growth and for an inflationary factor in the base budget for public education every year. And that is the reason why all of the education stakeholders have supported it because over the years, you know, that's something that we have to fight with just to get to the zero base of education funding every year.”

At the end of the 2020 session in early March, legislators approved a 6% increase to the Weighted Pupil Unit, which is the primary funding source for K-12 public education in Utah. But COVID economic impacts made that increase unsustainable and instead they passed a 1.8% WPU increase.

“The House Bill 5011 would be the remaining funds for that 6% increase but just doing it over time. We jokingly called it the RC Willey plan. So, both of those pieces of legislation House Bill 357 and 5011 are triggered with the passage of constitutional amendment G."

Mathews says the existing constitutional requirement to allocate money to public education from income tax revenues is dependent on the legislature deciding how the money is distributed. She believes the contingent legislation represents progress. But she also says the amendment is not perfect.

“I have been saying over and over again to really intelligent, smart, dedicated people who are opposed to constitutional amendment G, I do understand, but I need to know if this doesn't pass, that you're going to be with us in the legislative session working toward progress.”

The Utah Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers President Brad Asay says his union does not support the amendment. He says historically, the promises made by the legislature are not reliable.

“The problem is is once you open up that door by divvying it out to others and then you change the constitution, once you've had that established when you take that away it's virtually impossible to get it back.”

He says the wording on the ballot is misleading and the future funding under HB 357 and 5011 is too easy to change and is based on the whim of the legislative body.

“The wording on the ballot concerned us. Instead of just putting it right out there as the proposal was written, certain things were kept out about what that money is going to go for. And it’s really confused a lot of people that have called us, including our constituents because what it looks like is it’s going to fund the elderly, it’s going to fund children but they're not saying how that's going to be funded. And they're not giving all the information that was in the original proposal.”

AFT Utah represents teachers and staff in public education grades K through 12 and in higher education.

Click here for the link to more information and an explanation of UEA’s position on Amendment G