SALT LAKE CITY -- A Salt Lake County lawmaker has unveiled a plan to generate $400 million in additional funding for Utah's public schools, at the expense of an exemption on state income tax returns that mostly benefits families.
Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said her tax proposal would be so broad-based everyone would share in generating the new revenue, which she estimated would mean an additional $400,000 for each elementary school in the state each year, $700,000 for every middle school and $1 million for each high school in the Beehive State.
She said the money would be distributed to school community councils to utilize. She also said the revenue would not change the existing weighed pupil unit (WPU) method of funding local school districts.
The bill, which is still in the process of being drafted, would eliminate the tax exemption for dependents on state income tax returns. Jones said even without the deductions state tax rates would still be lower than 5 percent for most taxpayers.
"Low taxes are great, but I thought you should know the other side," Jones said recently in an education committee meeting, where she shared a letter outlining the flip side of large classroom sizes in the state and a low per-pupil spending rate.
"This actually moves the needle," Jones said of a plan to help state schools.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, suggested the senator get the issue on the 2014 ballot and let the people decide, rather than push a legislative initiative.
Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, praised Jones for bringing the proposal forward but said he would only support it with conditions, including funneling the money through the state channels, already in place.
"I don't support giving money to anyone to do whatever they think. I'm not going to support a program that allows them to do that," Reid said.
Jones said in her discussion with educators around the state, the additional revenue would likely go to hire more teachers.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, called the plan one of the most important she has seen since serving in the Legislature.
She said the burden on families, from taking away the tax exemption, would actually provide the greatest benefit to those same families. That is because of the number of kids they have in the public school system, she said.