SITLA and Trust Lands Explained
The idea of trust lands began with Thomas Jefferson who believed that a strong democracy is founded upon education for all. Jefferson proposed that for each new state entering the Union, land should be set aside to support public schools.
In 1896, Congress granted land, called trust lands, to the new state of Utah with the provision that revenue earned from the sale or lease of the land be placed into permanent endowments for 12 specific institutions: public education; Utah School for the Deaf; Utah School for the Blind; Utah State Hospital; Juvenile Justice Services, Miners Hospital; University of Utah; Utah State University; Colleges of Education; College of Mines and Earth Sciences/UofU; reservoirs; and buildings.
Trust land parcels were largely allocated by apportioning the state into townships, each six by six miles, and dividing each township into 36 square-mile sections. Utah was given sections 2, 16, 32, and 36 in each township for public schools, resulting in a checkerboard of land ownership. All other designated state institutions were granted fixed amounts of acreage.
Today, trust lands are administered by SITLA, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. Created in 1994 by the Utah Legislature, SITLA manages Utah’s 3.4 million acres of trust land, generating revenue through energy and mineral leases, rent, and royalties; real estate development and sales; and surface estate sales, leases, and easements. SITLA deposits all proceeds into permanent endowments for each beneficiary.
A separate agency, the School and Institutional Trust Funds Office, invests the endowments, and manages annual fund distributions.
Since 1994, SITLA has generated $1.6 billion in revenue to help grow the Permanent School Fund from $50 million to $2.5 billion.