The narrative about education funding in Utah is complex. While allocation totals by the legislature have increased in past years, that doesn’t mean the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU, the amount schools receive per student) has been able to increase at the same rate. In fact, WPU is still below pre-recession levels, placing Utah last in the nation for education spending.
Dedicated education funding
One thing that protects our small education budget is the “constitutional earmark” for education via income tax. However, tax reform places this amount at risk
with legislators proposing to eliminate the earmark for schools or find ways around the constitutional amendment that requires income tax to go toward eduction.
Why would legislators want to do away with a pool of dedicated education funding? One claim is that school districts spend a greater percentage of budgets on buildings than on students. This claim is easily explained by a growing population that requires new schools to be built in cities like Herriman or the age of schools in urban districts that require retrofitting for student safety.
Additionally, the percentage spent for infrastructure appears proportionately higher in a state with low per-student spending. As the UEA pointed out, a better way to assess spending is looking at the actual building costs and level of need.
From here, the tax conversation gets more complicated about what districts can and can not do with property taxes; how those taxes are also used for developer investments (like the RDA in Salt Lake City; and what districts can do versus what their constituencies prefer. These questions get even more heated in light of the recent court decision in favor of a partisan school board
, which will make decisions about schools demonstrably partisan.
Even as the tax questions become more layered, surveys show that Utahns want to see greater spending on education and recent studies describe the need of increasing teacher pay. In a state where education spending ranks at the bottom in the nation, decisions around removing dedicated education revenue must be very carefully assessed along with any alternative proposals to ensure proper funding for our schools in order to pursue the will of the people to financially support our schools now and in the future and to build trust with the community.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Start a conversation with your state legislator to talk them through your own concerns about school funding, realities about current school spending and how tax reform could unintentionally put education funding in jeopardy. Legislators have stated clearly that they do not want to remove education funding from the budget, but proposing a removal of the constitutional earmark raises legitimate concerns about funding schools and could impact the way your district uses student spending other than buildings, such as salaries to retain your child’s favorite teacher, pay raises for our underpaid paraeducators charged with helping struggling students or moving playgrounds for ADA compliance for students with disabilities.
Reach out to your state representative and senator today by:
- Emailing them a personal note
- Calling them for a short conversation
- Setting up a brief in-person meeting
- Writing a letter to the editor in your local paper
Find out who represents you and get their contact information at vote.utah.gov.
Ask your legislators to support dedicated funding mechanisms for education that ensure the level of funding needed to support your district and the programs, facilities and staff that you value and need in your community!