Using the ‘Surplus’ to Help Our Schools

In this blog, I wish to emphasize three issues.  The first two facts contrast starkly; the third item is a separate but highly important alert:

1.      Utah’s budget year has produced a $242 million surplus in the education fund.
2.      Utah is once again shown to have the lowest per pupil funding in the United States.
3.      Now is the time to learn about “Count My Vote,” a system designed to improve Utah’s candidate election process.

A $242 million surplus in the education fund

Recent reports show that Utah finished the budget year with a nearly quarter-billion-dollar “surplus” in the state education fund.  (Salt Lake Tribune, September 17, 2014)
Students, parents, and educators justifiably greet this news with excitement and have reason to hope that the money will be used in the most effective ways to help address critical underfunding in Utah education. 
I have put quotation marks around the word “surplus.”   Most reports refer to this money as one-time funding, available only in the current budget cycle.   While I understand the explanation and believe a part of the funding is indeed one-time, I am convinced careful examination will reveal a significant portion of the “surplus” is on-going. If true, the funds will be available (without any tax increase) in future years.   Our Legislators will need to carefully address how the money can be used to most effectively improve the status of education on a continuing basis.

The lowest per pupil funding in the United States

The importance of any “surplus” dollars is emphasized when one pairs that announcement with another report also revealed in the past weeks.

On September 4, The National Center for Education released the latest edition of “Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts” with data for FY 2010-11.  Statistics frustrating to many Utahns were included: 

  • Although Utah public education spending did increase slightly between 2010 and 2011, Utah continued with the lowest per-pupil spending in the nation. 
  • At $6,878, Utah has the lowest per-pupil spending in the country.
  • The national average is $10,039.
  • Alaska is highest at $25,132.
  • Tennessee is next lowest at $7,571.
  • Among the nation’s largest school districts, four districts in Utah (Alpine, Davis, Granite, and Jordan) had the lowest per-pupil spending.
I believe examination of these figures makes the so-called “surplus” identified in the previous section a misnomer.

A time to investigate “Count My Vote”

In future blogs, I expect to write more about the “Count My Vote” initiative.   My initial investigation convinces me the move will significantly improve the nature of the election process in Utah.   For now, I encourage all readers to study the effort and determine your own feelings.  If you conclude as I do, you will want to sign the petition when available.

For those in the Davis County area, attending a meeting of the Davis Alliance at the Farmington City Library, Thursday, October 10 at 6:00 p.m. will provide you an opportunity to learn more about the initiative.