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Education Board Passes Resolution on Trust Lands, National Monuments

The 15-member Utah State Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution at its Friday meeting, establishing an official position on federal and school trust land policy, and clarifying the need to adequately compensate Utah’s public schools in the event of a national monument designation. Senator Todd Weiler (R) spoke to the resolution adding that he intends to introduce a similar bipartisan joint resolution during the upcoming legislative session. He noted the resolution does not advocate for or against monument designations, only that public schools be reimbursed for trust lands and resources captured within any designations. “If conservation designations are made, they must be done in a way that holds schools harmless financially,” said Utah State Board of Education member Linda Hansen. “That may mean identifying lands of comparable value up front and providing for costs of exchanging those lands.” For example, designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 resulted in federal payment of $50 million to Utah’s Permanent School Fund, along with an exchange of federal lands and school trust lands captured within the new monument. The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), which manages the state’s trust land portfolio, reports more than 157,000 acres of trust lands would be captured within the boundaries of the proposed Bears’ Ears monument. “Monument designations inevitably capture hundreds of thousands of acres of school trust lands, rendering them undevelopable instead of providing revenue to directly support K-12 education as Congress intended,” said Tim Donaldson, School Children’s Trust Director for the Utah State Board of Education, which is charged with independent oversight of the state’s efforts to prudently and profitably generate revenue from those school lands. Over the past decade, SITLA has generated $1.2 billion in revenue from Utah’s trust lands, helping to grow Utah’s Permanent School Fund to $2 billion. Interest and dividends from the Fund have provided $310 million to Utah schools over that same period. Upon statehood, the federal government granted six million acres of trust lands to Utah to support state institutions, including public schools, and state hospitals and colleges. Utah is one of 23 trust land states. ­   UTAH STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION A RESOLUTION ESTABLISHING THE OFFICIAL POSITION OF THE UTAH STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION REGARDING FEDERAL LAND POLICY, INCLUDING NATIONAL MONUMENTS AND SCHOOL TRUST LANDS WHEREAS, the Utah State Board of Education (the “State Board”) exercises “general control and supervision” of the public education system pursuant to Article X, Section 3 of the Utah Constitution; and WHEREAS, the State Board is the primary beneficiary representative of the trust established for the common schools (the “School Children’s Trust”) under Utah Code Ann. § 53C-1-103; and WHEREAS, the Utah Enabling Act granted Utah millions of acres in trust to be managed for the purposes of generating income for the public school system; and WHEREAS, these school trust lands are spread throughout the state, some of which are positioned in environmentally or culturally sensitive areas, particularly scenic areas, or areas with excellent recreation opportunities that are more suitable for preservation than development; and WHEREAS, school trust lands are a central component of Utah’s education funding, now and in the future, with the permanent State School Fund topping $2 billion, income from trust lands averaging approximately $100 million per year, and the annual distribution of tax-free money to schools growing ten-fold since the 2000-01 school year from $4.9 million to nearly $47 million for the 2015-16 school year; and WHEREAS, based on the footprint of the national monuments currently being discussed, hundreds of thousands of acres of school trust lands run the risk of being captured within the monuments, which would preclude the trust from earning full income from those lands, harm school funding in Utah; and WHEREAS, landscape-scale monument designations, wilderness designations, or other federal conservation set aside programs have the potential to impact school funding due to tax implications: NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the State Board takes no position in advance as to specific conservation proposals, for or against, but sets as its official policy position that the School Children’s Trust should be held harmless in the event the President or Congress designates national monuments under the Antiquities Act or take similar action to preserve federal lands as wilderness or other conservation status; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the State Board encourages policymakers from all levels of local, state, and federal government, as well as other interested groups, to speak out on behalf of the school trust lands and education funding implications associated with federal land policy items.  

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