<== Site Review (2005-02-03) ==>
School Trust Lands
I know, for the site of the day, I will push a hot political button. Uttering the words "School Land Trust" seems to make local politicians heads explode. Ringing a bell makes Pavlov's dogs drool. The words "Schools Land Trusts" has an even more pronounced effect on politicians as the words conjure images of free money gained without the pain of taxation.
The School LAND (Learning And Nurturing Development) Trust program was a very good idea when designed and implemented for flat argricultural states like Kansas and Nebraska. The idea was both simple and beautiful. When the United States began settling lands West of the Mississippi, the Federal Government would leave a scattering of acreage in a trust to be used for educational purposes.
The program worked extremely well in flat states like Kansas and Nebraska. Counties in these flat argricultural based states could use the land directly to teach or experiment with argicultural technniques, or the land could be leased with the proceeds benefitting public schools.
In bumpy dry states like Utah, the School Land Trust program has proven to be a bit more problematic. Many of the land trusts were specified before anyone knew what was on a given plot of land. A land trust might exist in the middle of a pristine wilderness or be located in the middle of a salty desert with little or no economic value. (see map)
To add more fuel to political fires, settlement of Utah was concentrated in metropolitican areas and not evenly spread out as it was in the Dakotas. Distribution of population makes it more difficult to distribute the proceeds of the trusts.
The Utah State Office of Education is charged with the administration of the land trusts. The web site School LAND Trust Program - U.S.O.E. gives information on money collection from the trusts and where it was distributed.
Administering trust lands is a difficult task that involves balancing the needs of the schools to generate income from the land with environmental stewardship. The stewards of the lands must also balance the needs of current students with those of future students. Sadly, many of the parts of the web site appear to require a password to access.
Currently, there is a great deal of pressure to accelerate the development of school trust lands. Utah has a relatively young population. The result of this young population is that per capita spending on education in Utah is substantially higher than states with older populations. We have more students per tax payer than states on the East coast. Those Utah politicians who are opposed to public lands have been using this demographic trend in an assault on the public trust lands and other federal lands.