Herbert Reiterates Call for More Education Funding in State of the State Address

Gov. Gary Herbert’s sixth State of the State Address brought to mind the old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Herbert once again hit all the high notes that we’ve become so accustomed to. Utah’s economy is roaring, the job market is booming and government is becoming more efficient.

We’ve heard those words so often, they’ve lost some of their impact. That’s less a criticism than an illustration of the incredible economic streak Utah is currently experiencing.

That repeated good economic news gives Herbert some leeway to repeat his call for a massive increase in funding for Utah’s public schools by $500 million next year, which was part of his budget proposal.

“As you have heard me say before: ‘Education is not all about the money, but it is some about the money,’” said Herbert. “We have the means to increase our education investment by approximately $500 million in new money. That would be the largest true increase in student funding for public education in 25 years.”

Immediately after repeating his call for more funding, Herbert threw some educational red meat to the conservatives in the Legislature – calling for more emphasis on Constitutional education for students and a veiled reference to Common Core, which many on the right believe to be the federal government intruding into Utah’s schools.

“Next week I will join with Attorney General Sean Reyes and others to deliver a report to the state school board reaffirming that our state is now, and always will be, in control of every aspect of our educational system. Rest assured, we will assert our rights to exercise local control over what we teach and how we teach it.”

The rest of the address was a checklist of some of the big issues facing lawmakers this session.

Herbert brought up Healthy Utah, which faces an uncertain future in the Legislature. The Governor struck a conciliatory tone.

“I know this is a challenging issue. But I also recognize we have been elected by the people to resolve the tough issues and to resolve them together.”

Yes, there was a reference to the fight over public lands. Herbert lauded the public lands initiative in Congress headed up by Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop.

“Utah is, and will always be, a public lands state. The question is, who will manage our public lands most effectively – the best managed state in America, or the federal government that is 18 trillion dollars in debt? The answer is obvious.”

Did he bring up the LDS Church’s surprise announcement about non-discrimination and religious liberty? You know it.

“I am confident that, as elected officials, we can work together with religious, business and civic leaders, as well as the LGBT community, to develop policies that treat all people with dignity and respect."

How about transportation?

Herbert didn’t offer any specifics, but he did say he welcomed a discussion about long-term solutions to transportation funding.

After touching on air quality and corrections reform, Herbert did unveil one surprise proposal – that he is working with legislators and Attorney General Sean Reyes to create a new office of Inspector General to investigate government ethics violations.

In their response, Utah’s Democrats echoed Herbert’s call for more education funding.

“For years we have heard much from political leaders who say they care about education but do little to change our steady downward trajectory in student performance over decades,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake City). “The way we’ve been doing things is not an effective way to deal with the challenge, the duty, the opportunity, we have to educate our children in the best way we possibly can.”

Already GOP leaders have already said they’re not apt to follow Herbert’s education funding proposal. House Speaker Greg Hughes called the proposal “very aspirational” during a pre-legislative conference. Hughes said transportation funding would likely be a bigger priority for legislators.

Herbert does have the public on his side. A recent UtahPolicy.com poll asked Utahns what they wanted lawmakers to focus on during the 2015 session. Education funding came out on top while expanding Medicaid (Healthy Utah) was near the bottom.

Another survey asked which issues were most important to Utah’s future. Again, education came out on top, while transportation was at the bottom.

Those competing issues will play out over the next 41 days.