Voices for Utah Children released a new report, “Utah Children’s Budget Report 2017.”
The report quantifies the funds invested in children in Utah’s annual state budget in seven separate areas for fiscal years 2008-2016 so as to answer the question: Has Utah finally recovered from the effects of the Great Recession? (FY2008 was the last year before the recession.)
The report finds good news and bad news.
The good news is that FY2016 was the first year in which real (inflation-adjusted) state per-child spending substantially exceeded pre-recession levels — by 5.5% — $6,157 per Utah child in FY2016 vs. $5,839 per Utah child in FY2008 (both in 2016 dollars).
The bad news is that when it comes to K-12 education, which makes up most of the Children’s Budget (77% overall and 90% of the state-funded portion), Utah remains 4% below our pre-recession level of per-student investment (after adjusting for inflation) — $8,802 per student in 2016 vs $9,177 per student in FY2009.
The report also presents an update about the race for 49th place. Every year, Utah and Idaho battle over who will rank 49th and who will fall into 50th place in the annual rankings of per-pupil education investment released every June by the Census Bureau. Utah has ranked dead last — 50th in the nation — every year since 1988. But in recent years, Utah has been steadily cutting into Idaho’s lead and appears poised to claim the trophy of 49th place two months from now when the Census Bureau releases its data from the 2014-2015 school year.
Voices for Utah Children State Priorities Partnership Director Matthew Weinstein commented, “I certainly hope we do manage to beat out Idaho and make it into 49th place in per-pupil K-12 education funding. But at the same time, is 49th place really something to cheer about? These findings about our inadequate education funding come in the midst of ongoing debate about Utah’s tax structure. Utah is now in the eighth year of economic expansion. By all accounts, our economy is booming. Our leaders say we are the envy of the nation. Yet we remain unable to restore per-student education funding even just to pre-recession levels. This certainly adds to the weight of evidence supporting those who say that restoring a higher income tax rate is the way to restore our ability to invest in the next generation. Especially given our lagging educational performance and high rates of teacher attrition, not to mention the challenges that come with our rapid demographic changes, these findings will reinforce the growing sentiment that yes, maybe the time has come for us to ‘eat our brocolli.'”
The full 52-page Utah Children’s Budget Report 2017 is the product of a collaboration between Voices for Utah Children and the University of Utah Department of Economics. Two Economics Department undergraduate students, Brendan Fife and Huy Huynh, worked with Matthew Weinstein to conduct the research and prepare the report. The full report is available on the Voices for Utah Children website at www.UtahChildren.org.