Thousands of participants attended a public education rally at the Utah State Capitol, but their demands were not met as the Utah Legislature 2015 session ended Thursday, March 12.
The participants interrupted several legislative meetings to voice concern over education funding Monday, March 9. Five to 10,000 people flooded the Capitol atrium clear up to the fourth floor, according to Rep. Becky Edwards, R-Bountiful. “It was the largest rally I’ve seen here in five years,” she said.
Teachers, parents and students rallied for an increased public education budget. “(The rally) clearly demonstrated a level of angst among everybody involved with public education,” said Mike Kelly, director of communications for Utah Education Association.
Utah has the lowest per-student funding rate in the nation. Approximately $400 less is spent per student in comparison to the amount before the 2007 recession, Kelly explained.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert proposed a 6.25 percent spending increase per weighted pupil unit. Kelly said this proposal would help restore education funding to pre-recession levels. “My budget priority is education, because it is key to long-term economic growth,” Gov. Herbert said in a press conference Tuesday, March 10.
“Everybody involved with public education has seen what has happened over the last five to six years. Funding has eroded, and students are suffering,” Kelly said.
The Utah Legislature considered the governor’s budget proposal but ultimately had the final say. Legislators approved a 4 percent spending increase, adding $104 million to the weighted pupil unit. Although it is not the 6.25 percent increase in weighted pupil unit proposed, legislators added an additional 2.5 percent or $48.6 million to cover enrollment growth.