This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah Sen. Ann Millner has presented both a bill (Senate Bill 109) and resolution (Senate Joint Resolution 12) that would allow Utah voters to support changes in the way Utah manages the permanent State School Fund. I believe that this bill and resolution are good for Utah students today and for generations to come. This effort carefully and appropriately balances the needs of both current and future trust beneficiaries by requiring that any new formula for distributing funds should have intergenerational equity at its heart.
The permanent State School Fund distributes funds annually to every single public and charter school in Utah. Local community councils made up of parents, teachers and the principal determine each individual school's most pressing academic needs and spend the funds accordingly, whether that be on technology, aides, professional development or something else. Having served on community councils at three different schools, I have seen the value and importance of making funds available to serve local educational needs. As a father of eight and grandfather of 18, I consider this to be personal, and I believe this tax-free funding stream for schools is simply too precious to be left to the whims of the market. It must be protected and professionally managed to ensure the fund continues to grow for generations to come.
The current provision that allows only the interest from investments to be distributed is a relic of the 19th Century and no longer serves the best interests of Utah's schoolchildren. There has been a tremendous amount of financial innovation over the past several decades, both in terms of the types of investments that can be made by a $2 billion trust fund as well as the best practices for managing such an endowment. The "interest only" mandate simply does not reflect these advancements.
Removing the antiquated restrictions is a crucial first step to modernizing the way Utah distributes funds from its public school endowment. These changes to the distribution formula will simultaneously: 1) increase funding for schools, 2) improve the funding stream's stability, 3) strengthen the endowment's investment management and 4) provide for consistent and secure returns into the future. If the Legislature passes both the bill and the resolution, we will see the current payout of funds to Utah's schools nearly double over the next few years, a desperately needed increase to address our state's average educational outcomes.
Utah is not average. Our youth are not average, and our teachers are not average. It is time for big ideas and the necessary funding for Utah's "Race to the Top in Education." This will return Utah to a place of educational prominence, protect our quality of life and provide career opportunities for our students for years and generations to come.
I urge you to tell your legislators to support giving Utahns the opportunity to make better decisions regarding the state trusts for students. The State Board of Education, School Trust Fund Board and SITLA Board unanimously support this bill, and new State Treasurer David Damschen has called its passage his No. 1 priority. Once passed and supported by voters, the additional money will provide local parents and educators with increased tax-free funding to prepare our children for a brighter future. On-behalf of the students of today and the future, we thank Millner for her leadership and vision. Passing this bill will help accomplish our goal to have a better-educated and prepared workforce for the 21st century.
Keith M. Buswell is vice president of corporate relations for Wadman Corp. He lives in Pleasant View.