This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
For six months in 2015, a legislative task force met in open meetings to draft a bill aimed at correcting funding disparities between district and charter schools.
That bill was jettisoned on Monday in favor of a new proposal hammered out over the last week in backroom meetings between lawmakers and representatives of school districts and charter schools.
The result is a compromise bill that gained unanimous approval from the House Education Committee and the public support of both charter proponents and their counterparts in the traditional public school system.
"All public school students will be funded equitably and we can work together in the future," said Kim Frank, executive director of the Utah Charter Network. "It's a great day, it really is. I'm excited."
At issue is Utah's local replacement formula, a funding calculation that pulls property tax revenue from school districts in order to support the state's charter schools.
The formula, known as LRF, is credited with an increasingly contentious relationship between the two school types as the number of charter students in the state, and the funding they siphon from district budgets, has grown.
But SB38, in its updated form, would detach charter funding from school district property taxes by listing LRF as its own levy on a homeowner's property tax notice, something school district representatives have requested of lawmakers for years.
The money a charter school receives would still be tied to the property taxes imposed by school districts. But those funding levels would rise and fall in tandem rather than being collected by local district school boards who then have to cut a check for charter schools they do not oversee.
"I'm feeling very comfortable with where this is going at this time," said Terry Shoemaker, superintendent of Wasatch School District.
Charter schools, seen by lawmakers as underfunded compared to traditional schools, would receive an additional $14 million in the first year under the bill, and roughly $20 million each year after that.
That money would come from additions to the state's contribution to local replacement funding, but school districts would remain revenue neutral, according to Sandy Republican Rep. Steven Eliason, the bill's House sponsor.
An earlier version of the bill would have bumped charter funding by roughly $40 million, with a corresponding bite out of school district budgets, but those portions where changed to reflect both limitations to the Education Fund and requests from traditional school advocates.
"This seemed like eternity to me but I think we're almost there," Eliason said of negotiations.
Draper Republican Sen. Howard Stephenson, the bill's Senate sponsor, said the new plan would both increase equity and reduce the animosity between charter and district schools.
But he added that charter schools will continue to not hold taxing authority, making them dependent on the state and local school districts for changes in funding levels.
"My biggest fear in this is that the charter schools and the district schools… are going to conspire together to raise taxes," he said.
The bill will now go before the full House for consideration. Final passage will require an additional vote of the Senate, which passed an earlier version of the bill on Feb. 8.