Public ed committee debates equity among school districts


By Aaron Hastings
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY – The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee members discussed funding outlined in the school’s base budget, as inequality between school districts occupied much of the meeting Monday, Feb. 9.

“The rural districts that are not losing any students to charter schools are basically the losers on this,” said Sen. Howard A. Stephenson, R-Draper, co-chair of the subcommittee, “The urban districts whose students are attending charter schools are basically getting a kickback for the students who are no longer in their schools.”

A vintage state capitol post card.
A vintage state capitol post card.

Part of the discussion included the weighed pupil unit, or WPU, which refers to the funding each district receives per pupil within their schools.

Stephenson argued that districts with charter schools are receiving more funding because they may be counting some students twice, both in public and charter schools, which would put rural districts without charter schools at a disadvantage.

“We’re funding what I refer to as ‘phantom students,’” said Stephenson, “The people who bear the costs of funding those kinds of students are the rural districts or any district that is not losing students to a charter school because their WPU is affected negatively by this.”

Stephenson also went on to discuss what he sees as equity inequality between the school districts of Utah.

“We have severe inequities among our school districts,” he said. “I don’t think we should be trying to give considerable new revenue to the lower assessed valuation per student districts if they are not willing to put forth a tax effort on their own.”

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, president of the Utah Education Association, said she believes that the funding is not an issue of equality, but of meeting the needs of students. She feels that the state is meeting the needs of students, and that may not translate to equal funding across the board.

“Equity means meeting the needs of individual students and districts,” said President Gallagher-Fishbaugh, “Equity does not necessarily mean equal.”

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