‘Our Schools Now’ organizers say they’re confident they’ll make the 2018 ballot

Organizers of the effort to boost school funding say their signature gathering effort is just getting underway, but they fully expect to gather enough signatures to get on the 2018 ballot.

Bob Marquardt, a member of the OSN executive board, says they’re starting the effort in a good position because Utahns overwhelmingly want more funding for public schools. But, the real effort will be to convince voters to raise their taxes voluntarily.

“Less than 50% of Utah students are proficient in reading, math or science at any grade. Past tax cuts have cost education more than $1.2 billion every year,” says Marquardt who was a guest on the “Beg to Differ” podcast with Bryan Schott and Mike Winder

If the initiative passes, it will raise both income and sales taxes by .45 of one percent. That translates to about $420 extra per year for the typical Utah family. Marquardt acknowledges that’s a chunk of change for families that may be struggling to make ends meet, but most of the financial onus will be on Utahns at the top end of the earning scale.

“About 2/3 of the money would come from income tax and about 1/3 would come from sales taxes. Over half of the money would come from the top 20%, or the top quintile, of income earners in the state,” he said.

The funds would be allocated on a per-pupil basis, with about $1,000 per student per school. That means schools with 400 students would get about $400,000 annually; a high school with 2,000 students would see somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million.

But, all of that money does not come without strings. Individual schools will get to decide how to spend that money, but districts will get to set guidelines to ensure that the schools improve performance based on the criteria established by the Legislature last year. 

“If schools don’t have an increase from one year to the next after spending this money, then the districts will take additional control in future years in how that money is spent and the schools will not have the same latitude. The accountability is built in, and it’s the system passed by the Legislature,” said Marquardt.

Previously, OSN organizers told UtahPolicy.com they were hoping to have the required 113,000 signatures in hand before the Utah Legislature begins the 2018 session. Marquardt says the legislature is much more suited to boost school funding because they have more tools available. But, at least so far, lawmakers have been reluctant to enact the kind of dramatic funding boost Our Schools Now is hoping to see.

“If the legislature wanted to go ahead and do something, we would be open to that. I don’t think that’s very likely. There’s a lot of talk right now about tax reform, but that’s more about broadening the base than raising the amount of income generated. I think the chances of them doing something really significant aren’t great.”