Utah’s per-pupil investment in K-12 education has declined dramatically in recent years. Utah currently ranks 6th worst in the country in the extent of cuts to state formula funding per student since the 2008-2009 recession, according to a new report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan policy research organization based in Washington, DC.
The new report compares FY2008 to FY2017, which includes the current school year.
The Utah state budget has cut per-pupil state formula funding for K-12 education by 11.9% per student since 2008, measured by per-pupil spending when adjusted for inflation between FY08 and FY17. Like most of the states with the largest declines in per-pupil funding, Utah cut income tax rates during the past decade. In 2007 under Gov. Huntsman, Utah reduced our top income tax rate from 7% to 5%, which has been estimated to cost the schools $100-200 million annually.
Fortunately, Utah has recently begun efforts to recover state formula funding per pupil. Per-pupil state funding is up by 3.3% compared to last year. However, state spending has not kept up with the rising child population and has not reached pre-recession levels.
This erosion in K-12 per-pupil funding could have damaging economic consequences for the state, which was already offering less per-pupil funding to its schools before the dramatic decline that followed the 2008-2009 recession. Utah has been the state with the lowest per-pupil spending on K-12 education since 1988.
In 2015, when Voices for Utah Children released the Utah Children’s Budget Report, we found reason to hope: “The gap between Utah and Idaho has been closing steadily since 2010,” we reported. “If the current trend continues, Utah will displace Idaho in 49th place in the national rankings when new national data are released.”
“We didn’t think that 49th place was too ambitious a goal,” said Matthew Weinstein, State Priorities Partnership Director at Voices for Utah Children. “But a year later, we are sorry to report that Utah remains at 50th place in per-pupil K-12 education spending—51st, if you count Washington DC.”
This bad news on funding comes at the same time as bad news on educational outcomes. Data released this week by the federal government found that every single racial/ethnic group in Utah ranks below national averages for high school graduation rates, including whites and Hispanics, Utah’s two largest racial/ethnic groups. It also comes soon after Voices for Utah Children reported that in 2014, for the first time on record, Utah fell below the national average for bachelor’s degrees among our working-age adult population.
Per-pupil spending cuts undermine promising education reforms such as reducing class sizes, improving teacher quality, increasing learning time, and expanding early childhood education. This will make it harder for the next generation of Utah workers to compete for highly skilled jobs in the global economy—depriving local businesses of a well-trained workforce and a strong customer base, as well as hurting struggling families and communities.
Sharp cuts in funding for schools weaken the economy in the long term. Quality elementary, middle, and high school education provides a crucial foundation that helps children to succeed in college and in the workplace. Much of the money they earn as adults is returned to the state economy through taxes, home purchases, and spending at local businesses. In addition, school budgets that force school layoffs or cut pay for teachers and other staff can reduce purchasing power and slow the pace of the recovery.
The report, After Nearly a Decade, School Investments Still Down in Some States, contains the most recent data on school funding currently available. The findings are based on data gathered from state education agencies and budget offices, and verified with education finance experts in each state. The report also includes analysis of data from the Census Bureau.
“At a time when the nation is trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, states should be investing more — not less — so our kids get a strong education,” said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and author of the report released today.