Utah’s Economy is Booming, but Education May be Achilles Heel

The Economist gives high marks to Utah’s economy in this article, but not everything is hunky dory in the Beehive State.

The profile hits the usual highlights – low taxes, low unemployment, a growing high-tech sector. But one thing threatens to derail all of that – Utah’s underfunded public education system.

Being small and homogenous probably helps; but that is changing. Between 2000 and 2010 Utah’s Latino population grew three times quicker than the state overall. They are now 13% of Utahns, and some areas are majority-minority. Some of Utah’s schools are struggling to cope: the high-school graduation rate among minorities is dreadful. Skeletal education budgets do not help; per-pupil spending has been lower than in any other state since 1988, according to the Utah Foundation.

Utah’s sky-high birth rate helps explain that; it must find an extra $75m a year just to keep up with swelling school rolls. But in neighbouring Colorado and Nevada, both swing states with higher Latino concentrations, lawmakers have seriously debated raising taxes to fund schools. In one-party Utah, by contrast, politicians with ambition speak of taxes only when they want to lower them. (Earlier this year a Republican state senator violated that rule and found himself all over the front pages.)