Lawmakers begrudgingly accept $101M in federal funds for Utah schools

Nov 18 2010 - 12:58am

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(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, debates House Joint Resolution 201 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. HJR 201 accepts federal funding to be used for education.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Rep. Neil Hanson, D-Ogden, debates House Joint Resolution 201 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. In the language of HJR 201, lawmakers begrudgingly accept federal funds for education but say Congress had usurped states’ authority.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Reps. Paul Ray (left), R-Clinton, and Stephen Handy, R-Layton, talk during the debate regarding the acceptance of federal funds for education in Utah.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Members of the Utah House of Representatives vote on House Joint Resolution 201 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Rep. Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, offers her opinion on the resolution.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, debates House Joint Resolution 201 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. HJR 201 accepts federal funding to be used for education.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Rep. Neil Hanson, D-Ogden, debates House Joint Resolution 201 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. In the language of HJR 201, lawmakers begrudgingly accept federal funds for education but say Congress had usurped states’ authority.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Reps. Paul Ray (left), R-Clinton, and Stephen Handy, R-Layton, talk during the debate regarding the acceptance of federal funds for education in Utah.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Members of the Utah House of Representatives vote on House Joint Resolution 201 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Rep. Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, offers her opinion on the resolution.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Top of Utah School districts will now have to decide how to spend money coming their way after legislators accepted $101 million in federal funds during a special session Wednesday.

The joint resolution to accept the money, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca D. Lockhart and Sen. Lyle W. Hillyard, was approved in the House on a 57-14 vote following an hourlong debate.

The Senate approved the resolution, also after an hourlong debate, with a 22-6 vote.

The Legislature will use $50 million of the federal funds to cover a shortfall in the state's education budget, said Rep. Ronda Rudd Menlove, R-Garland.

The rest of the money will be distributed to individual districts.

Menlove said she hopes districts will use their share of the money to fund days lost because of budget cuts.

"Kids need to be in class," she said.

The federal legislation provides $10 billion to school districts nationwide to rehire laid-off teachers or to ensure that more teachers won't be let go.

Lawmakers begrudgingly accepted the money, saying in a resolution that Congress had usurped states' authority.

"That usurpation has generally taken the form of the federal government circumventing state legislatures and the state legislatures' appropriation process by granting monies directly to the governor, to the state executive branch, or to local government entities," the resolution accepting the money states.

Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, said he has learned "through the school of hard knocks" which battles to fight.

Dee said even though he voted for the resolution, he will make sure that those in Washington understand he and his constituents are not happy with having the federal government dictate how Utah should operate.

Christopher Williams, Davis School District community relations director, said officials originally thought the district would receive $10 million that should go toward teachers and the classroom.

But with legislators directing half of the money elsewhere, the Davis district now is in line to receive about $6 million.

Susan Firmage, Davis Education Association president, said the federal funds mean "money in teachers' pockets."

She is uncertain exactly how Davis School District will use the funds, but said she hopes to see class sizes reduced.

Currently, the association and Davis district are negotiating how to use the funds, she said.

Rick Palmer, with the Ogden-Weber Education Association, said teachers want the funds to be used for salary steps.

Nate Taggart, Weber School District spokesman, said district officials have discussed several options for using the money, including a one-time pay increase for classified employees and teachers and adding back career-training days for teachers.

"I anticipate (the school board) will act quickly once we get the final go-ahead," Taggart said.

Morgan School District officials are considering using their portion of the money for teacher salaries, to continue employment of teachers hired this year with other one-time money, help continue funding for all-day kindergarten or to reinstate one day of professional development training.

Ogden and Box Elder school officials could not be reached for comment on how their districts might use the money.

Whether legislators voted to accept the money was a moot point -- the federal legislation gives Congress the ability to give the money directly to school districts if state governments said they didn't want it.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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