Majority of Utahns support effort to dramatically boost funding for public education

Image: ShutterstockMost Utahns support a citizen initiative petition that would slightly raise the personal income and sales tax rates to provide more than $700 million a year to public schools, a new shows.

The Our Schools Now backers are currently out in the field collecting voter signatures to get their school-support initiative before voters this coming November.

Since the group has some big-name, big-bucks supporters, it’s anticipated they will get the 113,000 signatures needed by mid-April to get the measure on the ballot.

In a new poll by Dan Jones & Associates, support for the petition has risen slightly.

Jones finds:

54 percent of Utahns support OSN – the tax hikes and the added money for public education in the state.

40 percent oppose the measure.

And 5 percent don’t know.

Various GOP leaders, including Gov. Gary Herbert, oppose OSN, saying they worry any kind of tax hike will have a chilling effort on the state’s growing economy.

They argue that lawmakers and Herbert have put over $800 million more into schools over the last four years.

While that is true, Utah remains last in the nation in per-student spending on schools, and the 41 school districts are struggling to hire new teachers and keep veteran teachers.

Utah classroom size is, on average, also one of the highest in the nation.

And it appears test scores for Utah students are beginning to suffer, as compared to those in other states.

Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, the House budget vice-chairman, introduced a bill earlier in the session ( story here) that would have, in essence, promised more than $700 million a year more in school funding over the next few years.

It would have also automatically reduced the OSN tax hikes, should the petition be adopted by voters later this year.

Schultz said he was talking to OSN leaders and hoped he could reach some kind of compromise with them this session so they would stop their petition drive.

But that bill has gone nowhere. It sits in the House Rules Committee with only five days left in the session. is told GOP legislative leaders continue to talk to OSN backers – but there is no agreement and may not be one before the end of the session. That means the petition drive continues and the initiative would go before voters.

Here are some of Jones internal demographic numbers:

Women are more supportive of the petition than are men; 58 percent of women like OSN, only 51 percent of men do; men oppose the measure 47 percent, compared to just 35 percent of women.

Not a great surprise, since in Utah women are more often involved in children’s’ education than are men.

Utah Republicans oppose OSN, 49-46 percent.

That is within the poll’s margin of error, but OSN should be concerned with that number, for Republicans tend to vote in Utah.

Democrats really support the measure, 73-24 percent. Historically, Democrats support public education more than do Republicans.

Political independents also support Our Schools Now by a healthy majority, 59-37 percent.

The only group that has a majority opposing OSN are those who self-identified to Jones that they are “very conservative” politically.

Jones finds that group against the petition, 67-31 percent.

But those who said they are “somewhat conservative,” support OSN, 54-39 percent.

“Moderates” support the petition, 64-29 percent.

While both “somewhat” and “very” liberal folks support it, 72 percent to 73 percent, respectively.

Utah – and the Utah Legislature – is majority Mormon. And members of the faith have, historically, strongly supported education in general, and their local public schools in particular.

Jones finds that 52 percent of “very active” Mormons support OSN.

All other religious dominations also support the petition.

Those who said they have no religion back the initiative, 70-15 percent.

Jones polled 609 adults from Feb. 9-16. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.