Turning the Tide for Financial Support for Education

For years Utah has spent less per pupil than any other state in the country and our class sizes are larger.  

The picture is more dismal when one sees how public education expenditures have fallen as a percent of our personal income in the last two decades.  In the new year signs of hope for turning the tide are appearing.
Several highly visible individuals and groups are announcing their support for increased educational funding.  A Salt Lake Tribune editorial, published December 27, 2014 verbalizes the hope:  “LET 2015 BE THE YEAR OF INVESTING IN UTAH SCHOOLS.”
In this blog, I will review several hopeful proposals.  Although each proposal varies in amount and method, all advocate significant funding increases for education.  If you are favorably impressed by any of these—as I am—I urge you to become strong advocates for the ideas.
The Governor’s budget recommendations
Governor Gary Herbert has recommended a budget that is the best for education to come from his office in years.  The WPU increase is at least triple what we have seen for a decade.  Specifically, he recommends:
  • 6.25% increase ($161 million) in the WPU
  • $58 million for enrollment growth
The approach almost entirely provides increased funding directly to the local school districts for local decision making.  In his budget document, the Governor advocates “resist[ing] pressures for the state to assume what should be local roles …such as the purchase and use of student technology….”
Prosperity 2020’s proposal
Prosperity 2020 is an organization lead by political and business interests.   They have made their support clear by describing what they call “The Tale of Two Cities”—Detroit who failed to invest in education and is now in bankruptcy and Boston who did invest in education and is now in a booming economic time.
Their proposal enveloped in a 5-year plan, “Prosperity through Education,” advocates a $600 million infusion into education beyond growth with some of the following new expenditures:
  • $65 million over 5 years in reading instruction and intervention
  • $42.5 million over 5years for math, science and technology investment.
  • $20 million over 5 years to improve Utah graduation rate (including more support for counselors)
  • $250 million ($50 million each year) to improve teacher compensation and strengthen quality instruction
  • Plus additional recommendations for higher education
Citizens’ Counsel’s recommendations
The Citizens’ Counsel is a group of seniors with broad public policy experience.  Their report, “Standing Up for Utah’s Needs,” features proposals in five areas of concern.  Their education proposals include:
  • The Legislature should restore some of its tax cuts so more money is available for education support.
  • Spending priority should be given to improving the education of Hispanic students and others at risk.
  • Preparation of kindergarten through pre-K funding should be emphasized.
  • Access for teaching specialists, counselor, and social workers should be increased.
  • The Legislature should restore the $80 million in cuts for professional development of teachers and other educators.
The State Board of Education’s proposed budget:
The elected State Board’s recommendation for the 2015 fiscal year includes:
  • $75 million to fully fund growth in all its aspects, not just per pupil expenditure
  • 2.5% increase in the WPU: $65 million
  • $75 million in technology initiative
  • Significant amounts for special ed, graduation initiative including additional counselors, improved at-risk funding, and targeted learning initiatives.
  • Freezing the basic rate which would stop some of the cuts to education funding in the future
Other sources are also advocating stronger financial support for education.  For example, Republican Representative Jack Draxler from Cache Valley is sponsoring legislation to raise the income tax by 1% to help fund education.  Such a move would provide $575 million yearly.  He advocates a division where 75% would go for increased performance pay for teachers and 25% for technology
The bottom line is clear:  2015 finds several strong supporters for increased funding for education.  One caution: although the recommendations involve millions of dollar price tags, one should not be misled.  The recommended funding will not lift Utah from the bottom of statistical comparison; still it is an encouraging effort.
Of course, the key question now is, “What will the final legislative/governor action produce?”
Although we do have the initial thoughts of the Governor, the Legislature’s response is yet unknown.   Some are supportive.  Others are not.  The Speaker of the House has indicated the Legislature may not go along with the Governor.  (Bernick, “GOP Leaders Not Inclined to Follow Herbert's Lead on Education Funding,” January 16, 2015)
What will happen is yet unclear.
I urge you to act.  Community members are pivotal in making real change.  Decision-makers need to receive much positive input.  Your voice can have influence.  Politicians will listen to their neighbors!  Your voice is strong—frequently stronger than statewide interests.
If you agree with any of the proposals suggested, ACT.
  • Contact your legislators: phone, email, mail—do it more than once.
  • Contact the Governor’s office.
  • Contact the State School board member in your area.
  • Get your neighbors and friends to act.
  • Write letters to the editor of your local and state newspapers.
  • Attend meetings with legislators and speak up.
The time starts today and continues until Mid March when the decision will be final.