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Members of the Utah Board of Education voted on Friday to support Utah Constitutional Amendment B, which will go before voters for approval in November and proposes to change the way land trust funding is distributed to public schools.
Currently, only interest and dividends from the permanent state School Fund can be awarded to schools each year.
Under Amendment B which passed the Legislature with near-unanimous support in March fund managers would be permitted to award up to 4 percent of the endowment's value.
Proponents say the change would allow for increased education funding and year-to-year consistency in school budgets.
"As state policymakers, we are responsible for providing a fair fund distribution for both current and future students," school board Vice Chairman David Thomas said. "This amendment safeguards the distribution by including a rolling three-year average of fund growth to ensure it doesn't respond too quickly to market volatility."
Annual education funding from the $2.1 billion permanent state School Fund has grown from roughly $5 million in 2000 to $49.3 million this year.
The source of the money is 3 million acres managed by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, which has the goal of gaining as much revenue as possible, through oil and gas leasing and land sales. SITLA's last auction netted $3.7 million for the fund.
The interest from that money is distributed statewide at the school level, allowing administrators and school community councils to address local priorities.
If approved by voters, Amendment B is estimated to result in $79 million being awarded to schools next year, compared to $57 million without the change, according to the proposal's entry in the state's official Voter Information Pamphlet.
The voter pamphlet includes a statement in opposition to the amendment, written by Orem Republican Sen. Margaret Dayton. In it, Dayton argues that the fund's current distribution model works, and that changing it would be reckless.
"While this strategy could perhaps increase the fund's annual distribution," Dayton said, "that increase would be achieved at the expense of predictable and demonstrated long-term growth."
The supporting statement, written by Ogden Republican Sen. Ann Millner, Coalville Republican Rep. Mel Brown and state Treasurer David Damschen, states that Amendment B will allow for best practices in investment management.
"The state will be able to prudently increase the distribution from the School Trust Lands program by up to 50 percent over the next few years while adding millions of dollars to our educational system," it states.
Following a minimum two-thirds vote of each chamber of the Utah Legislature, constitutional amendments require majority support in a general election for final approval.
The land trust proposal is one of three constitutional amendments on the November ballot.