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Bill Gives Utah Teachers Extra $200 for Classrooms

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Teachers in Utah could have a little extra pocket money coming their way under a bill that would provide $4.1 million to teachers for classroom supplies.

Utah House members unanimously approved a bill this month that would give each of the state's 20,000 teachers an extra $200 to help foot the bill for classroom activities.

"We wanted to have an impact right down where the learning takes place--in the classroom," said Rep. Ron Bigelow, a primary sponsor of the bill. The measure is now under consideration in the Senate.

Mr. Bigelow hopes the money, which would go directly to teachers, would help offset the out-of-pocket purchases many teachers make on a daily basis.

If the measure becomes law, this would be the third year the state has enacted laws to directly provide teachers with money for classroom supplies.

Teachers' advocates, who lobbied for the continued funding this year, say educators are largely enthusiastic about the extra cash.

"Teachers are nuts about this bill," said Steve Hale, the communications director for the Utah Education Association.

"It brings a lot of smiles to their faces," he said last week.

Mike Volmar, who teaches 6th grade at Tolman Elementary in a suburb of Salt Lake City, said the funds would help him cover the cost of art supplies, games and books for the classroom library.

Mr. Volmar said he may also put the money toward an upcoming field trip to a local university's exhibit on the ancient tombs of China.

'Drop in the Bucket'

While most teachers do welcome the bill as a goodwill gesture, many said they would much prefer an increase in overall spending on education.

Utah spends less per pupil than any other state, according to state officials. The state spent $3,636 per student last year, well below the national average of $5,894, according to Mr. Hale of the UEA.

The state covers about 56 percent of the cost of K-12 education. Although that figure is higher than the national average of 46 percent, it has remained unchanged in the past several years, according to Patrick Galvin, a school-finance expert at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

And during the 1980s and early 1990s, sharp jumps in enrollment have consistently claimed most of these state funds for public education. However, this year, school enrollment is projected to increase less than 1 percent. That slowdown, coupled with the state's booming economy, has left many educators hoping that more state money will be directed at elementary and secondary schools. (See Education Week, Nov. 29, 1995.)

Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, in his State of the State Address last month, called on lawmakers to increase K-12 expenditures by nearly $190 million. If approved, the increase would be the largest education spending hike in the state's history.

Still, many teachers are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

This bill to provide classroom supplies--and another that the House approved last week to install a telephone in each classroom in the state--are just tokens compared with what needs to be spent in the public schools, some teachers said.

"It's a drop in the bucket," said Rosalind Beckstead, who teaches geography and English at Fairfield Junior High School in Kaysville.

Ms. Beckstead said that in the past year, she has spent about $650 on bulletin boards, posters, prizes for good behavior, and other supplies. She estimates that many of her colleagues spend an average of $1,000 each year on their classes.

"Teachers spend a lot of their own money," Ms. Beckstead said. "This is a nice gesture, but it doesn't address all the issues."

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