Ute Indian Tribe Calls on Utah to Support Public Education



Ft. Duchesne, UT — September 6, 2018.

On August 29, 2018, the Ute Indian Tribe welcomed Congressman Rob Bishop and his Natural Resources Committee to the Uintah and Ouray Reservation for a hearing entitled “Energy and Education: What’s the Connection?” The hearing was held at Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah in the middle of the Tribe’s Reservation. About 15 percent of the students attending Union High School are tribal youth.

The Tribe strongly supports energy development and public school education in the Uintah Basin. Ute Tribal Business Committee Member Shaun Chapoose testified that “Utah must increase its funding for schools. Our youth deserve the best education possible, but Utah is last in school funding.” Chapoose continued, “Chairman Bishop and some members of the Committee want you to believe that federal lands are the problem. That’s not true.”

In fact, federal public lands contribute $70 to $170 million to Utah in annual royalties from energy development as well as taxes on that development and related economic activity. Public lands also support an $8 billion tourism and recreation industry in Utah that generates more than $1 billion in state and local taxes.

The majority of Utahan’s support public lands and national monuments and the value they bring to Utah. Despite these benefits, Bishop, other Utah politicians and the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) are waging another failed rebellion against federal public lands and attempting another state land grab.

Their land grab even includes lands within the Tribe’s Reservation. Year after year, Bishop and SITLA pursue legislation to take energy rich lands within the Reservation that the courts conclusively determined belong to the Ute Indian Tribe. The most recent version is the Emery County Public Land Management Act being pushed by SILTA.

Having lost in court, Utah seeks a legislative win. Their actions undermine an important partnership between the Ute Indian Tribe and Uintah Basin public schools.

The Tribe is the single largest employer in the Basin providing jobs and economic development that funds public schools. Utah even collects taxes from energy development on tribal lands. Despite boom and bust cycles in the energy industry, the Tribe works to maintain constant production on its Reservation to funding its government, services, and the local economy. This constant funding providing a stabilizing force for the economy and school funding in the Uintah Basin.

The Federal government also provides a stable source of funding to Utah to educate tribal youth based on long-standing treaty commitments with the Tribe. The Tribe runs supports local education by running a state charter school for youth in the Basin.

The Tribe testified that Utah and local governments must do their part and properly fund public schools. The Tribe does its part without imposing taxes on private lands within its jurisdiction and without being able to tax tribal lands held in trust by the Federal government. The Tribe called on Utah to make even modest increases property taxes and to redistribute state revenues to better support teachers and schools. Currently, Utah is last in the United States in per student funding and Utah has the 11th lowest property tax rate. Utah also has one of the lowest tax rates on the energy industry.

Rather than seek action at the state and local level to support public education, Bishop blamed the amount of public lands in Utah for the lack of school funding. Ignoring the costs to manage the lands, Bishop claims that taking more public lands for energy development by Utah would solve the problem.

The Tribe testified against giving the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) too much control over state policy. While SITLA provides important discretionary funds to local schools, SITLA’s $20 to $60 million contributions are only 1 to 2 percent of the overall state school budget. SILTA funding for schools in the Uintah Basin ranges widely from $0 to $200,000 depending on a number of factors. Typical funding is about $30,000 to $60,000, or about $50 per student. This is a barely drop in the bucket compared to the $3.3 billion collected in property taxes.

The Tribe called for a discussion of the real issues to provide teachers and students with the educational resources they deserve.

About the Ute Indian Tribe - The Ute Indian Tribe resides on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in northeastern Utah. Three bands of Utes comprise the Ute Indian Tribe: the Whiteriver Band, the Uncompahgre Band and the Uintah Band. The Tribe has a membership of more than three thousand individuals, with over half living on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. The Ute Indian Tribe operates its own tribal government and oversees significant oil and gas deposits on its 4.5 million acre Reservation. The Tribal Business Committee is the governing council of the Tribe.

Robert Lucero