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.