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Budget Proposal Increases WPU, Funding for Education

Gov. Mike Leavitt is recommending a $35 million increase in public education funding in 2003.

The lion's share of the revenues will come in a proposed 1.35 percent increase in weighted pupil unit funding.

But the governor's recommendations fall short of the Utah Board of Education's budget requests.

"Unfortunately, the state's economic picture has changed. Utah educators know this," said superintendent of public instruction Steven Laing.

Leavitt recommends a 1.35 percent or $23,400,400 increase in the WPU.

The weighted pupil unit money represents funds released to public schools based on student attendance numbers.

The state board had requested a 3 percent increase in WPU funding from the state, amounting to $49,299,424.

Leavitt's recommended $35 million increase in state funding amounts to nearly $74 per student during the course of a school year.

The governor's total public education budget recommendation is $2,375,065,000.

Fall 2001 enrollment counts show Utah has 477,801 students in public and charter schools.

Pupils are taught by nearly 22,000 licensed teachers in more than 800 schools throughout the state.

Utah Education Association President Phyllis Sorensen and Leavitt agreed on one thing - it is important for the state to maintain the momentum in the state's public school system.

Despite the fact the state is in the midst of a recession and facing a $200 million shortfall in the current budget, the governor said he wants to "keep the momentum going" in education.

"I wish it were a rosier year, but it's not," pointed out Leavitt during a briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City.

The governor said the proposed budget is "responsible," but includes no additional tax increases.

The governor indicated the state arrived at the 1.35 percent WPU figure because that is the amount employee health insurance costs are expected to increase in 2003.

The economic downturn "was inevitable," said Sorensen. "That's why the UEA took dramatic action last year, urging the Utah Legislature to develop a long-term funding plan for public schools."

The education community has worked hard to build good programs in the schools, according to the UEA official.

It is projected that by 2010, a total of 100,000 new students will enter Utah public schools, according to the UEA.

"That means we will need 4,000 new classrooms or 172 new schools," pointed out Sorensen . "We'll also need 4,000 new teachers to educate these students."

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