Bad news for Utah: New Census report shows Utah still In last place in per-pupil education funding

The U.S. Census Bureau released its annual comparison of state education finances, finding that Utah remains in last place in per-pupil current expenditures, as has been the case every year since 1988. 

The report released June 14, 2017, entitled “Public Education Finances: 2015” and available online at, finds that Utah spent $6,575 per pupil in the 2014-2015 school year, compared to $6,500 the year before. Since the national CPI-U inflation rate was 0% between 2014 and 2015, this represented a real increase of 1% in Utah’s per pupil education investment between the two school years.

Unfortunately, this 1% increase was not enough to surpass our perennial rival for 49th place, Idaho.  In recent years, the gap between Utah and Idaho had shrunk to as little as $121 per pupil in FY 2014, a gap Utah could have overcome that year with an additional $74 million budget allocation. But for FY 2015, the most recent comparison year in the new federal data, the gap grew to $348 per pupil, which would have required $216 million in additional funding to overcome. (See chart below.)

The new Census education finance data come in the midst of ongoing public discussion about Utah’s tax structure. Utah is now in the eighth year of economic expansion.  By all accounts, the state economy is booming and we are the envy of the nation. Yet Utah remains in last place in per-pupil education funding and has been unable even to restore pre-recession per-pupil education spending levels after adjusting for inflation.

Voices for Utah Children State Priorities Partnership Director Matthew Weinstein commented, “Many of us had hoped that this would be the year Utah would manage to beat out Idaho and make it into 49th place in the new rankings, so this week’s news comes as a disappointment. Especially given Utah’s lagging educational performance and high rates of teacher attrition, as well as the challenges that come with our rapid demographic changes, these findings seem likely to reinforce the apparently growing sentiment that perhaps the time has come for Utahns to ‘eat our broccoli,’ so to speak, when it comes to tax policy.”

20170619 Utah School Funding

Chart by Voices for Utah Children based on data from U.S. Census Bureau and Utah State Board of Education. The left axis and blue line represent the annual per-pupil education spending gap between Utah and Idaho. The right axis and red bars indicate the total education funding gap each year –in other words, the additional funding amount that would have been required to surpass Idaho in per pupil education investment.