Last year, a record $82.4 million was distributed to K-12 schools in the state as part of revenue from the state’s trust lands. On Thursday, Utah State Treasurer David Damschen announced $92.8 million will be distributed for 2021-22 — a 4.5% increase from the previous record.
Cache, Logan and Rich school districts are expected to receive even more than last year’s $3.5 million in 2021-22 from the state land trust program as enrollment trends continue to increase, though the exact amount won’t be determined until the number of students attending is finalized.
Tim Smith, a spokesperson for Cache County School District, said the trust land funds have been critical for the district for many years.
“They are one of the only discretionary pots of money that principals have access to,” he said.
Smith added the district has utilized the funding to develop its early literacy program and were crucial for when schools were forced to transition to remote learning in May.
“We sent over 5,000 devices to homes,” he said, “and I would say that half of those devices were purchased with trust land funds.”
Each K-12 school has a community council that sets an improvement plan for the school, and this plan dictates how the state land trust funding can be implemented. In Logan City School District, a similar focus among elementary schools is to increase student literacy as well as math scores.
Schofield said though there are limitations in how the funding can be spent, “it really is a great resource where schools and parents can work together to identify how we can use this resource to best address the needs of our community.”
Giving parents and schools the discretion to disburse funds as they see fit is a powerful tool for education, according to Deena Loyola with SITLA. And while agricultural land is being lost to real estate and commercial development in the state, trust lands are a protected resource since statehood.
“And if you’re watching the real estate market right now, and capital investments, they are doing quite well because land values are up,” Smith said. “And as those land values go up, the land trust money also increases.”
About 3.4 million acres — or 6% of the land in Utah — are protected trust parcels, with revenue generated from a variety of industries, including energy and mineral leases and royalties, real estate development and sales, and property easements.
For the 2020-21 school year, Cache received about $2.4 million in funding, Logan about $840,428 and Rich $251,028.
The funding from the state trust land program is disbursed to schools depending on enrollment. In a joint press release from the State Treasurer and the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, the most recent dispersal amounted to about $133 per student.