Utah leaders hope education measure helps keep teachers

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BOUNTIFUL, Utah (AP) — Political leaders in Utah said Monday they hope a new ballot measure that would nearly triple education funding in five years will help the state entice and hold on to its best teachers.

The ballot initiative will give voters the opportunity to support an increase in the gas tax, currently 29.4 cents a gallon, by 10 cents to gradually increase education funding over the next five years. The proposal was crafted as part of a compromise between lawmakers and an education group that wanted voters to approve a plan that would have sent $715 million to the schools immediately through a hike in state sales and income taxes.

Combined with other funds and a freeze on state property tax rates, which would otherwise drop as property values rise, the initiative would increase education funding yearly starting at $141 million in 2019 and reaching $386 million in 2023.

That would raise overall state education funding to $585 million — nearly three times the funding schools would otherwise receive that year.

If voters approve the measure in November, lawmakers would decide how to allocate the new educational spending, including how much will go to teachers.

The initiative comes as other states grapple with standoffs over teacher salaries that have led to mass protests from West Virginia to Arizona. Last week, thousands of teachers in Kentucky protested at the state Capitol and cheered as lawmakers overruled a veto of a budget that would increase public education spending.

"We need to make sure we can pay our teachers and attract the best and brightest and retain them in the schoolrooms," Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said at a ceremonial signing for the bill at an elementary school in suburban Salt Lake City on Monday.

Heidi Matthews, the president of the Utah Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said the money could be used for classroom assistants to give students "more one-on-one learning and alleviate the impact of Utah's exceptionally large class sizes."

Additional funding will ensure teachers "have the resources they need to reach, teach and inspire every student and deliver the high quality education that they deserve," she said.

Utah's spending per pupil in school is the lowest in the nation. The state spent an average of $6,575 per student in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, compared to $11,392 nationally.

The state also has some of the nation's fullest classrooms, according to Department of Education data.


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