Education Funding

March 15, 2005 | 27 comments
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Commenting on an earlier post, someone stated that it was tough to get Utah voters worked up about education funding. Though that statement was off the mark, I figured the learned readership of this site would have strong opinions on education funding in the Beehive State and, I hope, even a few ideas. Let me lay out a challenge and, then, a few facts and observations.

The Challenge: I’d guess many readers hypothecate, “If I were in the legislature, I’d really ramp up education funding.” Right? Okay, the challenge is to specify how you’d do that (because I agree with the sentiment, but find the reality a bit tougher). By the way, this year we did increase public education funding 5.6%.

Facts and observations: Utah spends a greater percentage of its budget on public education than most other states; however, Utah’s per-pupil funding is lower than that of any other state. How are these incongruous facts explained? First, Utah has far more children per capita than any other state; so, in calculating per-student funding, the relatively large total amount spent on education is divided among lots of students. Second, most of Utah’s property-tax base is siphoned off by the federal government; 66% of the land in Utah is owned by the federal government, meaning it does not contribute to the property tax base, which is a major source of education funding in most states.

The main options for increasing education funding are to (1) raise taxes (in a state that has the 9th highest tax burden in the nation) or (2) shift money from other state departments. The three departments with enough money to make much of a difference are Health and Human Services (e.g., Medicaid, people with disabilities), Higher Education (already the portion paid by students through tuition is moving from 25% toward 35%), and Transportation (where realistic projections are that we face billions of dollars of unfunded need — largely because of the State’s incredible growth rate). Other options require more creativity. I have a few ideas that I will post toward the end of the comments, but I don’t want to stifle your creativity by listing them here. Though you can check out my website (www.steveu.com), to see the reasons I favor using cash instead of credit for capital infrastructure (i.e., roads and buildings).

If you want to dig into the budget (to move money around, for example), a very good summary can be found at the legislative homepage, www.le.state.ut.us. Good luck! The winner will get naming rights to an elementary school.

27 Responses to Education Funding

  1. Last lemming on March 15, 2005 at 3:08 pm

    Disallow personal exemptions for children aged 6 through 18 on the state’s income tax. Dedicate the revenue increase to primary and secondary education. This would be the equivalent of a slightly progressive user fee.

    Note: I would never actually support such a policy. I just want to see how our guest blogger reacts.

  2. First ferret on March 15, 2005 at 3:20 pm

    The problem is stated as, “Utah’s per-pupil funding is lower than that of any other state.” I think that’s actually something to be proud of, provided that the quality of education in Utah is comparable to other states. So I guess I don’t understand what the problem is.

  3. Bryce I on March 15, 2005 at 3:30 pm

    The spectre of the lottery looms in North Carolina as an education funding measure. Hopefully, this is not a part of the discussion in Utah.

    What is the status of No Child Left Behind in Utah? Has the state already opted out, or is that option still under discussion, or has the matter been resolved?

  4. Steve Urquhart on March 15, 2005 at 5:40 pm

    As a zoology major, I feel quite comfortable combining education and small mammals in this discussion. To Mr. Lemming (#1), your comment refers to a strategy that has been before the legislature for 2 or 3 years now (the Jones-Mascaro bill). Though it would increase education funding to do away w/ the per child tax deduction, most Utahns would not go for this; as a result, it keeps failing legislatively. In January, there were some excellent discussions about Jones-Mascaro on my blog (steveu-dot-com). To Mr. Ferret (#2), you are quite correct that the measure of success should be results, not money spent. Utah’s results are very good (arguably between 15th to 20th best in the Nation). However, given the fact that Utah children go to school very ready to learn (as a result of overall solid families and communities), our results should and can be better. And money does play a part in that. I think that education is underfunded in Utah and could do better with more money. Mr. I (#3), you broke our small mammals theme. Nevertheless, a lottery is not on the horizon for Utah. A special session has been called for April to deal specifically with No Child Left Behind. Check out the 2/13 and 2/16 entries on my blog (steveu) for a detailed discussion on what Utah is doing. Bluntly, we know more about education in Utah than the federal government does. They can send money; beyond that, their silly, inflexible mandates don’t help us. We were years ahead of NCLB. Our current bills do not opt out of NCLB; rather, they clarify that we look to Utah testing and teacher certification requirements first.

  5. Bryce I on March 15, 2005 at 7:30 pm

    Steve –

    The “I” stands for “Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse”.

    You can call me “Mr. Indefatigable” for short.

  6. Mike Parker on March 15, 2005 at 7:44 pm

    Steve wrote:

    The Challenge: I’d guess many readers hypothecate, “If I were in the legislature, I’d really ramp up education funding.” Right?

    Not I. It has never been proved that there is a link between increased education funding and increased education quality. In fact, there have been some spectacular failures among states and districts with high per-pupil spending amounts.

    If I were in the legislature, I’d reduce federal and state mandates on local districts, get rid of needless administration and bureaucracy, and send more tax dollars to the classroom. And that would be a first step. Later on we can talk about eliminating socialized education altogether.

    LINK

  7. Steve Urquhart on March 15, 2005 at 7:47 pm

    Mr. Indefatigable: that’s what I suspected. But I figured I’d leave it to you to publicly reveal your true identity.

  8. a random John on March 15, 2005 at 7:51 pm

    On a very slightly related note, has there ever been a discussion in the bloggernacle of the fact that while the Perpetual Education Fund will fund a student going to trade school it is very difficult to get funds to go to college? Any links would be appreciated. Pointers as to what hoops to jump through for an applicant that is going to college would be appreciated as well.

  9. Steve Urquhart on March 15, 2005 at 8:41 pm

    Mike Parker (#6): by “eliminating socialized education,” I’d guess you’re referring to doing away with public education. Public ed. is constitutionally-mandated by the Utah Constitution. Thus, the legislature needs to take steps to ensure its success and adequate funding. While you could try to change the State Constitution and eliminate the requirement, I’d bet the effort wouldn’t get out of the gate, seeing that 97% of all Utah children go to public schools and that public schools are very well thought of by the populace.

    On your other points, you are quite correct that the funding-to-success relationship in public education is not precise. If it were, we’d all flock to the public schools of Washington, D.C. and New Jersey, where they are funded extremely well (and the results are quite poor).

    You have hit upon a few of my suggestions for improvement. One, increase funding directly to schools (which I did by 400% in 4HB43) and empower parents to help decide how the money is spent. That money goes two or more times further than the other money we spend on the system. See my blog entries (steveu-dot-com) of 1/24 and 2/24 for details. Two, enact tuition tax credit legislation (as suggested by the CATO link you provide), thereby avoiding some costs, while providing incentives for additional private investment in education.

  10. Bryce I on March 15, 2005 at 8:43 pm

    Steve –

    Might I suggest that you provide actual links to your blog posts? You’re much more likely to get readers to look that way (me, for instance).

  11. Bryce I on March 15, 2005 at 8:50 pm

    Steve –

    Have you heard much on this issue from the homeschooling community in Utah? Traditionally, homeschoolers are very suspicious of government involvement in education — the homeschooling movement has been spearheaded by parents trying to get their kids away from the influence of what they perceive to be an anti-Christian government.

    I have no proof, but I suspect that Utah homeschoolers might be a little more open to cooperation with government than their counterparts in other states. At any rate, one thing that homeschoolers are good at is coming up with creative, low-cost ways to educate their kids.

    The Republican candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in North Carolina included in his platform a plea to homeschoolers to work together with the state to come up with innovative ways of making education work for all children. He got my vote (unfortunately, the race was so close that it is still tied up in the courts).

    For the record, I am a homeschooling parent, as long-time T&S readers know.

  12. Steve Urquhart on March 15, 2005 at 9:31 pm

    Mr. Indefatigable (#11), I’m not a homeschooler. In fact, on holidays, we’ll dress our kids, drop them off at school, and pick them up 7 hours later (we are sunburned and relaxed, of course), apologizing that we didn’t know it was a holiday. I think Utah does a good job of making the public schools available to people to the degree they want them. For example, homeschoolers can participate in as much or as little of the public education program as they want. Some homeschoolers, for example, choose to participate in extracurricular activities.

  13. Bryan Warnick on March 15, 2005 at 11:03 pm

    Here I go again, off to defend public schools!

    Mike Parker wrote:
    “It has never been proved that there is a link between increased education funding and increased education quality. In fact, there have been some spectacular failures among states and districts with high per-pupil spending amounts.”

    Well, this is all very complicated. There is a demonstrable link between certain educational practices and higher academic performance. For example, smaller class sizes, longer school years, and so forth, have a demonstrable effect on student performance and these programs will always demand greater resources. So you can’t just compare resources, you have to compare how resources are spent. For the “spectacular failures” that you discuss, you should realize that many of these states and districts also deal with “spectacular problems.” It is unfair to take a few examples of high-spending/high-problem districts that struggle academically and somehow deduce that funding does not matter. On a general level, there is a definitely a correlation between district resources and student performance. Two highly respected experts in educational policy, David Berliner and Bruce Biddle, summarize the research and conclude: “Good research now confirms that higher levels of school funding are associated with gains in school quality and higher levels of student achievement, on average, and that these effects persist even when controls are entered for the impact of home background….It is time to put to rest the foolish notion that it would make no difference if Americans provided extra funds for their schools.” I am somewhat sympathic to the problems of finding adequate funding that Steve Urquhart describes, but funding does indeed matter.

    Mike Parker again:
    “If I were in the legislature, I’d reduce federal and state mandates on local districts, get rid of needless administration and bureaucracy, and send more tax dollars to the classroom. And that would be a first step.”

    Are American schools really full of needless administration and bureaucracy? If you think about it, schools have the least bureaucracy of almost any institution imaginable. Berliner and Biddle point out that only 4.5% of total staffing in public schools are staff or administration. It has the lowest employee-per-executive ratio of any occupation. And think about what a school administrator makes compared with the average CEO. Clearly, schools are making do with much, much less bureaucracy and bureaucratic spending than other institutions, including the vaunted private sector (take that CATO!). The idea of a wasteful educational bureaucracy is probably just another myth.

  14. Travis R Grant on March 15, 2005 at 11:34 pm

    You mention, “(2) shift money from other state departments. The three departments with enough money to make much of a difference are Health and Human Services (e.g., Medicaid, people with disabilities)…” The problem is that we deem this as not possible.

    Many legislators find this to be a problem because they will be painted as heartless, uncompassionate, money hoarders. So, the real dilemma is how to reduce the money spent on welfare, and save face as a legislator.

    Here is my suggestion on how to divert money from these programs, while keeping your “nose” clean:

    1) Privatize these programs. Offer up state contracts for these programs. However, these contracts will be with a stipulation (see step 2).

    2) Slowly reduce the amount of funding offered to these programs. Perhaps, make it a 10 year contract, that will slowly reduce the amount of money the contract will receive over the 10 years.

    3) Provide ways and incentives for these private organizations to solicit donations.

    3) Create incentives for people to donate their private funds to these private organizations (perhaps tax credits).

    4) After the 10 years, eliminate all if not most of the state funding for these programs.

    5) Over time divert the funds saved into education.

    Well, actually for me #5 would be give it back to the citizens (who could donate the funds through their own free will to these organizations).

    Great, now that we have solved this problem. Let’s discuss the title of the school. I want it to be “Travis R Grant Elementary” (or High School). The full name is necessary to keep it distinguishable from any Ulysses S. Grant Elementary that might be in the state. Please note there is no period after the initial R . I am assuming this probably won’t happen until you get it to pass the legislature. But, I am patient. I can wait. ;)

  15. Mike Parker on March 16, 2005 at 12:36 pm

    Steve Urquhart: By “eliminating socialized education,” I’d guess you’re referring to doing away with public education. Public ed. is constitutionally-mandated by the Utah Constitution. Thus, the legislature needs to take steps to ensure its success and adequate funding. While you could try to change the State Constitution and eliminate the requirement, I’d bet the effort wouldn’t get out of the gate, seeing that 97% of all Utah children go to public schools and that public schools are very well thought of by the populace.

    As it is in my home state of California. I realize the sheer improbability of the task, seeing that public schooling is nearly universal (the only people who are not using it are the rich who can afford private schools and those who homeschool) and widely seen as a God-given right.

    The first place to start is by eliminating federal funding and mandates, as education is not a power granted to the U.S. federal government in the Constitution. (But since government is more about exercising power than about doing what is right, its unlikely that the U.S. Department of Education is going anywhere soon.) Within the states, eliminating state-wide mandates and returning control to districts would be a good start. School vouchers would be one way to address the public education monopoly, if an imperfect one. Tax credits for private education would also be a good step. Charter schools are a good way to work within the system.

    Bryan Warnick: Are American schools really full of needless administration and bureaucracy? If you think about it, schools have the least bureaucracy of almost any institution imaginable. Berliner and Biddle point out that only 4.5% of total staffing in public schools are staff or administration. It has the lowest employee-per-executive ratio of any occupation. And think about what a school administrator makes compared with the average CEO. Clearly, schools are making do with much, much less bureaucracy and bureaucratic spending than other institutions, including the vaunted private sector (take that CATO!). The idea of a wasteful educational bureaucracy is probably just another myth.

    Let’s start with a little math. In California (it’s my state, so I’ll use that one) the average per-pupil spending in the 2001-02 school year was $7,511 (source). This means that ~$118,000 per classroom is going to everything else. With a moderately-sized school of 30 classrooms, we’re looking at $3,500,000 in non-teacher expenses every year. You can’t tell me that all of that is spent on building maintenance and food services. And I know for a fact that most teachers are paying for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, so you can take that out of the equation.

    Here in my county we have 27 school districts. A single county department of education oversees all the districts, but it ends up providing services that each of the districts provide themselves (for example: each district has its own payroll office and staff, but all paychecks come from the county DOE, with its own payroll office and staff). We also have three high school districts that overlap multiple elementary school districts; this creates a double layer of bureaucracy that could be eliminated with the creation of a unified school district. And the problem isn’t limited to the percentage of total staffing — it also includes the pay of the administrative staffing. The number of executives making over $120,000 is substantial (I used to have exact figures, but I just can’t dig them up right now).

    And after all this, the school districts and the state are regularly coming to the voters to approve school bond measures, and using strong-arm tactics to get them passed. A few years ago, the one local school district (Irvine Unified) issued “pink slips” to many of its teachers, then sent out a press release warning local voters that if an impending school bond wasn’t passed, the district would be forced to lay off these teachers. The bond didn’t pass and (surprise!) no one was laid off.

    I’m going on at length, and don’t want to bore anyone, but — unlike Bryan — I think public education could use some housecleaning.

  16. Mike Parker on March 16, 2005 at 12:37 pm

    The link to my first cite in #15 is broken. Try here.

  17. Steve Urquhart on March 16, 2005 at 1:46 pm

    Travis (#15): Though it has been good and successful to privatize some of the Medicaid services, I’ll need you to fill in a few blanks in your idea. How do you suggest we gradually decrease the funds, while need will only increase? (“Political courage,” as an answer, I’d suggest, only gets half credit). I’m not sure the private donations you mention will flow. If we motivate those donations by tax deductions/credits, we’d have to dig pretty deep into the budget to fund enough of those deductions/credits, to create enough money to fund the programs. Sorry, no building, yet. So far, you’ve earned naming rights to a flagpole or piece of playground equipment (but why no period after the R?).

    Mike (#16): You clearly are right that there are inefficiencies in public school budgets (probably as many as there are in any big budget), but I’ll point out some big ticket items you’ve neglected to mention: fuel and power, transportation, and supplies (though you do,sort of, mention supplies). Another huge cost is insurance and other benefits, like retirement — which education unions usually fail to mention in stating how much teachers get paid.

    My intention is not to just defend the system — though I think it does a great job (as most people on this site probably prove). In 2003, I was House sponsor of the biggest education reform act to pass the Utah legislature in a generation (focusing us on core curriculum and accountability and tackling collective bargaining issues, like hiring outside the collective contract and alternative licensing). So, I believe in the need to reform and have actually done it; I simply point out some realities.

  18. Mike Parker on March 16, 2005 at 2:28 pm

    Good points, Steve (#17).

    My primary concern is a philosophical one rather than a political one. My property tax money (I pay $4,300 a year in property taxes) is primarily diverted to public schools. This is a closed system without competition, so I am unable to take my own money (which has taken from me under threat of tax lien and confiscation of the property) and use it to place my children into schools where I think I’m getting more value. If I had enough income to to pay both property taxes and private school tuition, I would, but I don’t. So I’m forced into the public school system by practical need.

    This is what I meant by “socialized education.” We see the same thing with medicine in Canada and the U.K. Most people end up having to use the state health care system (with its long waits for even minor procedures), except for the wealthy, who come to the U.S. to pay for superior care out of pocket.

  19. John T. on March 16, 2005 at 3:00 pm

    Steve; you point out in your opening remarks that Utah has far more children per capita than any other state, and has the 9th highest tax burden in the nation.

    I’m sure Utah families have the highest “Food burden” and “Clothes burden” as well. It sounds like people are all for having kids, but don’t want to take full tax responsibility for their education. I can understand the political realities of the problem, but I think citizens should be reminded that it’s only fair to also have the highest “education burden”.

    Alternative education models can be used to potentially save costs, but like most things, you get what you pay for.

  20. Travis on March 16, 2005 at 3:05 pm

    Steve, You don’t show much faith in the common man. Many non-profit, donation-based organizations exist. Perhaps my 10-year window is a little too eager. But the idea should be that the government is getting out of the social services. Businesses that now have a little more cash in thier pockets could donate more. And I would argue that although the donations may not be as large as their taxes were, I don’t think they would need to be, because these new organizations would be better capable of handling the money. They would have to be to ensure that donations kept coming.

    Keep you mind open to the idea. A grocery store is now paying less in property tax and income tax for their employees. They get a call from the local W.I.C. replacement program to donate cheese, milk, beans, etc. The W.I.C. replacement explains who they are and how their taxes have been reduced. Then they petition for the donations. The grocery store is happy to do so, because they will get a tax credit when tax time come around again.

    I could give other examples regarding hospitals (and medicaid), private individual donations, large company donations, etc. I really believe that it could work. Perhaps, this is only the “political courage” that you speak about, but if the right organization stepped in to replace these program with full understanding of what direction they were going, this could work. The tax credits would result over the 10 (or more) years as the money trickles out of the organization that takes over.

    P.S. No period after the R, because the R isn’t short for anything. How about naming a bookshelf at a school library after me then. ;)

  21. Steve Urquhart on March 16, 2005 at 5:48 pm

    I’ll lump comments 18 and 19 together (hopefully, fairly so) as standing for the proposition: why should I pay for public ed, if I don’t burden the system with my kids? (Is this what you mean John T. by not wanting to “take full tax responsibility for their education?”). I (we) do it, because it is a public infrastructure cost; the benefits of doing so exceed the costs of not doing so. Though I can’t now identify who they are, I will gladly help pay for the education of my kids’ future spouses, our future political/business/religious/community leaders, and everyone else I will pass on the streets in the future who I hope will have a prospect of success so that they will great me with a friendly “hello” instead of a mugging. While I excite to reform the system, I disagree with those who want to scrap it entirely. Public education is a key part to the greatness of our nation.

    “R” (#20): you’ve captured my attention. Please call me off-line to discuss your ideas. You’ve hit on the winning combination. If Utah wants to increase its education spending, it needs to get a better grip on it’s Health and Human Services spending, which each year is eating up an increasing portion of the budget. Project that trend into the future, and we fund welfare and little else. We’ll work on arrangements for the book shelf naming ceremony. It involves lock picks and the cover of darkness.

  22. JrL on March 16, 2005 at 6:11 pm

    “There is a demonstrable link between certain educational practices and higher academic performance. For example, smaller class sizes, longer school years, and so forth, have a demonstrable effect on student performance and these programs will always demand greater resources.”

    It’s been some years since I was involved in a matter addressing such issues. But at that point, the data on class sizes simply didn’t support what most people — inlcuding educators — were talking about. Demonstrable differences in acheivement didn’t show up until class sizes were reduced by nearly a third — e.g., from 30 down to 20 or less — when and all that was being discussed (in my state at least) were decreases of a handful of students (2-4) per classroom.

  23. Mike Parker on March 16, 2005 at 8:05 pm

    Steve Urquhart (#21): I’ll lump comments 18 and 19 together (hopefully, fairly so) as standing for the proposition: why should I pay for public ed, if I don’t burden the system with my kids? * * * I (we) do it, because it is a public infrastructure cost; the benefits of doing so exceed the costs of not doing so. Though I can’t now identify who they are, I will gladly help pay for the education of my kids’ future spouses, our future political/business/religious/community leaders, and everyone else I will pass on the streets in the future who I hope will have a prospect of success so that they will great me with a friendly “hello” instead of a mugging. While I excite to reform the system, I disagree with those who want to scrap it entirely. Public education is a key part to the greatness of our nation.

    Your initial question doesn’t address my situation, as I have three children (two of whom are in public schools, and a third who will be) and am clearly receiving more benefits than I am paying into the system (I pay $4300 in annual property taxes, but am receiving $7511 x 2 = $15,022 in tax dollars coming into my childrens’ classrooms).

    My concern (as I stated in #18) is the forced nature of the system. No consideration is given for those who wish to opt in or opt out of the system. I must pay taxes to support a system from which I may or may not receive a benefit.

    National defense protects all citizens more or less equally; therefore taxing all citizens to support it is roughly equitable. The same for police, courts, and some other government services. But public education taxes all people to pay for the children of some, and (at least in California) taxes those with more valuable properties more than those with less valuable properties, regardless of the number of children they have. And those who rent pay nothing, even if they have 12 children (although one could argue that their rent pays the owner’s property taxes).

    And if my public school district is horrid, I’m stuck in it. Intra-district school transfers are possible to get, by inter-district transfers are extremely difficult to get and burdensome travel-wise.

    For all the benefits of public education (and I believe that education produces a better society), its inequities are far greater. A cooperative system for those who wish to opt-in would give more control and better value.

  24. John T. on March 16, 2005 at 11:45 pm

    I agree that education is a public good and much of the cost should be borne by everyone, but those who elect to have larger families should also pay some proportionally larger amount of education tax. This encourages personal responsibility (Isn’t this, in part, what Republicans stand for?) and provides an important feedback mechanism for those engaged in the family planning process.

  25. daylan darby on March 21, 2005 at 11:25 pm

    Wow! This board is made up of (mostly?) LDS and not one person brought up the teaching of BY concerning education?

    The problem with public education (and public health care, and public just about everything) is that the consumers are not the (money) providers – so there is bound to be more waste, fraud, and abuse than normal (think bell curve, not individual cases).

    I believe that all forced transfers of wealth (of which public education is one) is theft. I don’t understand why so many LDS think public education is a good thing, and not a sin. Why is it ok to covert (and steal) your neighbor’s wealth (via taxes for education)?

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  27. Don Davis on April 2, 2005 at 6:49 pm

    First time bloger and even the first time I have read any bolgging. Any way on school funding – yes Utah like Idaho are at near bottom of funding of students and yes they are at or near the top in student achievement – but – many teachers are leaving the field or moving on to better paying jobs and both states will suffer in the long run. I know the saying about dedication but it is hard when you see your own children qualify for free and reduced lunches. Teachers teach the students who become Dr., lawyers, business people who make 4 to 5 times as much and it is about time they give back.

    Utah was based on education and the importance of it when Brigham Young sent Carl G Majors (sp) and Louis Moench to start two of the finest schools in the nation (BYU and WSU) and you people in Utah sure ought to be proud of these two schools ( I guess I should not forget UoU and USU). Your Jr Colleges are also very good but if the students in the public schools do not have the tools to learn with then you are going to lag behind.

    Just some thoughts.

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