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Utah schools are bracing for more than 10,000 new students to enroll in classes next fall, and lawmakers are going to have to come up with $115 million in new money just to maintain the state's last-in-the-nation per-pupil spending.
Analysts at the Utah Board of Education and the Legislature are forecasting that 10,089 new students will be added to Utah classrooms in the coming year, bringing the total enrollment to 654,565.
That essentially means that Utah schools will have added a number of students roughly equivalent to all of those in the Alpine School District the state's largest, at nearly 77,000 since 2009.
Legislative fiscal analyst Ben Leishman told legislative budget leaders Tuesday that about 3,300 of the new enrollment is expected in traditional schools, while about 6,700 will be added to charter schools both public entities.
The growth means lawmakers will have to come up with $115 million to maintain the state's per-pupil spending plus another $15 million the state needs this year because current enrollment was underestimated.
The new budget projections for next year will be released when Gov. Gary Herbert issues his budget proposal next month. Last month, lawmakers were told they could anticipate anywhere from about $75 million to $265 million in new revenues going into the education fund money mostly coming from income-tax collections that are earmarked under Utah's constitution to pay for public education, which includes the state's colleges and universities.
Herbert has said that when he unveils his budget next month, education will be among his top funding priorities again.
Education enrollment is growing more slowly than it has in years past, by percentage at least, with the state's student population projected to increase by about 1.5 percent in the coming year half of what it was at its recent peak in 2006.
But the growth could strain the state's budget. Utah ranked last in the nation in per-pupil spending ($6,500 per student) in 2014, the most recent year for which figures are available. When adjusted for inflation, the state's spending on each student actually decreased, from $6,582 in 2010.