HomeMonument Designations May Impact Utah Education Funding

Monument Designations May Impact Utah Education Funding

Public education leaders are voicing concerns over the long-term impact of national monument designations on classroom funding as Utah Senate Minority Leader Jim Dabakis (D-Salt Lake City) reportedly traveled to Washington, D.C. to encourage President Obama to designate national monuments in Utah. “Monument designations would 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. 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. 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. “If conservation designations are made, they must be done in a way that holds schools harmless financially,” said SITLA Director Kevin Carter. “That might mean identifying lands of comparable value up front and providing for costs of exchanging those lands.” President Clinton’s unilateral action to create the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 cost the federal treasury $50 million to avoid litigation, and significant lands were traded to protect Utah’s education endowment. The education community contends a conservation legacy should not come at the expense of Utah classrooms. “Revenue generated from trust lands provide much-needed funds for the school children of Utah,” said Tracy Miller, Utah PTA Trust Lands Board Specialist. “We encourage federal officials to consider the impact a national monument would have on our public schools, ensure schools are not harmed financially, and immediately make the school trust whole for any lost revenue from captured trust lands.” 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.

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