Utah loses a billion dollars annually in education funding
By Misty Packer
In the previous decade, Utah was rated in the top five among states for education spending, according to Education First’s website, http://www.educationfirstutah.org. However, as a result of 2006-2007 income and sales tax reductions, Utah is now rated 33 among states and loses a billion dollars in education funding every year.
According to a report done by Cory Turner of NPR, Utah spends about $7,084 per student per year, which ranks Utah as dead last in the nation for per pupil spending. Because of this, Utah has unreasonably high class sizes, a difficult teacher retention rate and about one in five Utah high school students don’t graduate.
“This is unacceptable and needs to change,” remarks Rich Kendall, a current Regents Professor in the Utah Education Policy Center at the University of Utah. Kendall is also a member of Education First and Prosperity 2020, two organizations that are working hard to improve education in Utah.
Kendall and several other business and community leaders came together a few years back to talk about education in Utah. They noticed that Utah education was deteriorating and needed help.
What Utah Needs
“We decided to write a paper outlining what we thought would be a plan for improving education in Utah,” remarked Kendall.
This paper turned into an action plan called Prosperity 2020 where Kendall and other business leaders outlined a ten-year agenda on what had to be done in Utah. Then they started working with the legislators on developing a plan.
“I think we need to develop a long-term, sustainable funding plan,” remarks Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh the current president of the Utah Education Association. “We’re still really below pre-recession level.”
Gallagher-Fishbaugh has been president of the UEA for six years and has seen her fair share of dismay across the state. After traveling from district to district, she’s seen teacher shortages, some of the highest class sizes in the nation and feels that teachers don’t have the respect they deserve. She is very concerned about the lack of qualified teachers. She mentioned that there is a considerate amount of teachers in Utah who are not licensed because the salary is not attracting or retaining and teachers don’t feel like their helping kids.
“We have a hard time staying on top of growth. Utah is posed to be a growth state.” Kendall continued. In fact, according to a report done by Kendall and his team, Utah will expect an additional 50,000 students enrolling into public colleges and universities in the next ten years.
However, as said by Gallagher-Fishbaugh, “In the last seven years, we didn’t fund the growth of students.” Gallagher-Fishbaugh said that in the last legislative session, the UEA submitted a message to legislators asking for a 5% increase for the next four years, but it wasn’t likely.
How Utah Education Fell Apart
Back in 2006-2007 there were tax reductions on income, sales and property taxes. Income tax was decreased from 7% to 5%, which resulted in huge losses that Utah has yet to bounce back from. Some of the money for higher education funding was also redistributed and used for other purposes like building and expanding the I-15 freeway.
“Who makes up the difference?” Kendall asks when it comes to higher education funding. “The students.” He answers. “Tuition goes up every year because they have not put state money into higher education; they’ve used it for other purposes like building highways.”
“I think the legislature tries to do the best they can,” Gallagher-Fishbaugh said and when asked what an average citizen can do about this dilemma is “Vote. Change who is up there if they’re not aware of public education. The best thing you can do is become an engaged citizen. Vote for people who are going to reflect your views.”
Education First’s Plan
Kendall and Education First created the idea of a small income tax increase of 7/8ths of one percent, less than one percent. This tax increase, dubbed the 7/8ths Initiative, would generate approximately $518 million per year and would directly go to local schools.
Before sending it to legislators, a letter was passed around to generate support and exactly 360 people signed their name. Of those names were Tom Welch, president and CEO of Maverik Inc., Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bank, Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and Cindy Crane, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power. A number of important names show their support for a tax increase in a letter to the legislators.
Unfortunately, Utah legislators didn’t immediately like the 7/8ths Initiative and now Education First is planning on generating more names for their letter.
“We’re going to continue working on that.” Kendall said, in reference to the 7/8th Initiative. “Our kids deserve it. We deserve it.”
Individuals who want to sign their name to show their support for the 7/8ths Initiative please go to www.educationfirstutah.org/add-name.
Individuals who want to learn more about Education First and their plan please go to www.educationfirstutah.org.