Education

Salt Lake City - Voices for Utah Children released publicly today (January 6, 2021)  "#InvestInUtahKids: An Agenda for Utah's New Governor and Legislature," the first major publication of our new #InvestInUtahKids initiative. 

Utah begins a new era in this first week of January, with the swearing in of a new Governor and Lt. Governor and a new Legislature. The arrival of 2021 marks the first time in over a decade that the state has seen this kind of leadership transition. Last month Voices for Utah Children began sharing with the Governor-elect and his transition teams the new publication, and on Wednesday morning Voices will share it with the public as well.

The new publication raises concerns about the growing gaps among Utah's different racial, ethnic, and economic groups and lays out the most urgent and effective policies to close those gaps and help all Utah children achieve their full potential in the years to come in five policy areas: 

  • Early education 
  • K-12 education 
  • Healthcare
  • Juvenile justice
  • Immigrant family justice

The report, which was initially created in December and distributed to the incoming Governor and his transition teams, closes with a discussion of how to pay for the proposed #InvestInUtahKids policy agenda. The pdf of the report can be downloaded here

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Utah Poverty Advocates Call for Fairer Taxes and Restoration of Public Revenues

Salt Lake City - Today (September 26, 2019) at the Utah State Capitol, a group of two dozen non-profit organizations that provide services to and advocate on behalf of Utah's low- and moderate-income population released a letter to the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force. The letter calls on the Task Force to consider the impact on low-income Utahns as they consider tax changes that could, in the worst case scenario, make Utah's tax structure more regressive and less able to generate the revenues needed to make critically important investments in education, public health, infrastructure, poverty prevention, and other foundations of Utah's future prosperity and success. 

The text of the letter and the list of signatories appears below (and is accessible as pdfa pdf at this link): 

 Open Letter to the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force (TRETF)

Tax Reforms for Low- and Moderate-Income Utahns

September 2019

Dear Senators, Representatives, and Other Members of the TRETF:

We, the undersigned organizations that work with and advocate for low- and moderate-income Utahns, urge you to consider the impact on the most vulnerable Utahns of any tax policy changes that you propose this year.  

We urge you to address the two major challenges facing our tax structure as it impacts lower-income Utahns:

1)     Utah’s current system of taxation is regressive, in the sense that it requires lower-income Utahns to pay a higher share of their incomes to state and local government than it asks of the highest-income Utahns, even though about 100,000 lower-income Utah households are forced into – or deeper into – poverty by their tax burden every year. 

           ITEP Utah WhoPays graphic

This regressivity could be addressed with tax policy changes including the following: 

  1. A Utah Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to allow the working poor to keep more of what they earn.
  2. Remove the sales tax entirely from food, as 34 other states have done.
  3. Remove the state income tax on Social Security benefits for low- and moderate-income seniors; Utah is one of only 13 states that tax these benefits.
  4. Restore the income tax rate to 5% or increase it above that level. (Because the majority of all Utah income is earned by the top quintile of taxpayers, and because the Utah income tax more closely matches Utah’s income distribution than any other tax, most of such an income tax rate increase would be paid by the top-earning 20% of Utahns, while most lower-income Utahns are shielded from income tax rate increases.) 
  5. Disclose and evaluate the effectiveness of tax expenditures (revenue lost to the taxing system because of tax deductions, exemptions, credits, and exclusions); Utah’s lack of transparency in this area of taxation earned us a C grade from the Volcker Alliance, a leading evaluator of state budgetary practices founded by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. 

 

2)     For decades, Utah’s overall level of taxation relative to the state’s economy has been dropping, as illustrated in the chart below from the Utah State Tax Commission:

USTC Tax Burden chart

The unfortunate result is that we are left with a tax structure that fails to generate sufficient revenues to allow our state and local governmental entities to properly meet their responsibilities and fulfill their appropriate role in a number of critical areas, including the following:

  1. Education: Utah ranks last nationally for our per-pupil investment in K-12 education. Particular areas of weakness include:
    •  · Teacher turnover rates are higher than the national average. One study found the majority of new teachers leave within seven years.
    •  · Pre-K: Utah ranks 36th for our percent of lower-income 3- and 4-year-olds attending pre-school, private or public. We are also 1 of only 7 states not to have statewide public preschool programs. (The state offers only small-scale programs in a limited number of local school districts.) Yet we know from multiple research sources that every dollar invested in high-quality day care and preschools produces at least a $7 return on that investment in future years. 
    •  · Kindergarten: Only a third of Utah kids participate in full-day kindergarten, less than half the national average, because local school districts can’t afford to offer it. Voices for Utah Children estimates that it would cost at least $75 million to offer full-day K to all Utah kids (not including potential capital costs). 
    •  · According to the January 2019 report of the Utah Afterschool Network, the need for after-school programs exceeds the supply many times over, leaving tens of thousands of children completely unsupervised, meaning they are less likely to do their homework and more likely to engage in unsafe activities.

In addition to these input measures, Utah is also lagging behind in terms of several significant educational outcome measures:

    •  · Our high school graduation rates are lower than national averages for nearly every racial and ethnic category, including our two largest, Whites and Latinos.
    •  · Among Millennials (ages 25-34), our percent of college graduates (BA/BS or higher) lags behind national trends overall and among women.

Moreover, Utah is in the midst of a demographic transformation that is enriching our state immeasurably but also resulting in majority-minority gaps at a scale that is unprecedented in our history. For example, in our education system:

    •  · Our gap between White and Latino high school graduation rates is larger than the national gap. 
    •  · Education Week recently reported that Utah ranks in the worst 10 states for our growing educational achievement gap between haves and have-nots.
    •  · We are beginning to see concentrations of minority poverty that threaten to give rise to the type of segregation and socio-economic isolation that are common in other parts of the country but that Utah has largely avoided until now.

B. Infrastructure: Utah’s investment has fallen behind by billions of dollars. This is another area where the Volcker Alliance ranked Utah in the worst nine states for failing to track and disclose to the public the dollar value of deferred infrastructure replacement costs. In addition. Internet infrastructure is lacking in some rural counties, limiting their integration into Utah’s fast-growing economy.

C. Mental Health and Drug Treatment: Utah was recently ranked last in the nation for our inability to meet the mental health needs of our communities, according to a recent report from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. Underfunding of drug treatment and mental health services costs taxpayers more in the long run as prison recidivism rates rise because the needed services are not available. Estimates are that Utah meets only 15% of the need for these vital, life-saving services. 

 D. Affordable housing units fall 41,266 units short of meeting the need for the 64,797 households earning less than $24,600, yet the annual $2.2 million state allocation to the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund has not changed in over two decades, despite inflation of over 60%. Among extremely low-income renter households, 71% pay more than 50% of their income for housing, which is considered a severe housing burden. This year, the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund used up most of its annual $14 million budget at its very first meeting of the fiscal year (made up of both state and federal funds). 

E. Health care: Our rates of uninsured children are higher than national averages – and rising – especially among the one-in-six of our children who are Latino. In Utah 35,000 or 5% of White children are uninsured (national rank = 36th place), compared to 31,000 or 18% of Latino children (rank = 46th = last place in 2017). 

 F. Disability services: The 2018 annual report from the Utah Department of Human Services’ Division of Services for People with Disabilities reports that the wait list for disability services grew to a record level of 3,000 individuals last year and that the average time on the wait list is 5.7 years. 

 G. Seniors: The official poverty measure undercounts senior poverty because it does not consider the impact of out-of-pocket medical expenses. A 2018 study found that seniors spent $5,503 per person on out-of-pocket medical expenses in 2013, making up 41% of their Social Security income. (For most seniors, Social Security is the majority of their income, and it makes up 90% or more of income for 21% of married couples and about 45% of unmarried seniors.)  

 H. Domestic Violence: Although Utah's overall homicide rate is significantly lower than the national average, domestic-violence-related homicides constitute over 40% of Utah's adult homicides compared to 30% nationally. Several thousand women continue to be turned away annually from crisis shelters because of lack of capacity. Additional state funding would make it possible to substantially increase the capacity of overburdened crisis shelters. We are one of the few states without domestic violence services in every county.

Given the large number of urgent needs that are not being met because of our chronic shortage of public revenues, we are concerned that Utah is missing the opportunity to make critically important upfront investments now that would allow us to reap substantial rewards in the future, and that our most vulnerable neighbors will pay the greatest price as a result.

Thus, we urge you to consider the ways that the state tax structure impacts single parents, disabled adults, low-income children, seniors on fixed incomes, and other vulnerable population groups as you decide on your tax restructuring and equalization proposals.

 Finally, thank you for all the time and effort you are personally investing as volunteer members of this important Task Force, and for all that you do for our state through this and other forms of public service. 

Yours truly,   

American Academy of Pediatrics Utah Chap.

Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City

Coalition of Religious Communities

Community Action Program of Utah

Community Development Finance Alliance

Community Rebuild

Comunidades Unidas

Crossroads Urban Center

Epicenter

First Step House

League of Women Voters Utah

Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities

ICAST

Habitat for Humanity of Southwest Utah

Moab Area Hsg Task Force

Provo Housing Authority

RESULTS Utah

Rocky Mountain CRC

Self-Help Homes, Provo, UT

Utah Citizens’ Counsel

Utah Coalition of Manufactured Homeowners

Utah Community Action

Utah Food Bank

Utah Housing Coalition

Utahns Against Hunger

Voices for Utah Children

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The Justice & Equality for Kids (JE4K) Rountable developed the pdfCommunity Compact on Restorative Justice to bring integrity and focus to ongoing efforts to make our schools safer, our juvenile justice system more effective and compassionate, and our communities healthier. 

Utahns have heard more and more about Restorative Justice over the past decade, sometimes in legislative proposals - such as this excellent offering by Rep. Sandra Hollins (R-Salt Lake) - and sometimes as part of discussions of about school-based discipline - such as this less instructive definition within the Utah State Board of Education's administative rules (R277-613-2.10). The term has been mentioned frequently in discussions about the appropriate role of School Resource Officers (SROs) practicing in Utah, as well as during the extensive juvenile justice reform process initiated by state leaders back in 2016. 

Unfortunately, once a complex and deep-rooted philosophy becomes a buzzword, things can get a little hazy with regards to principles and definitions! But Restorative Justice does have a specific definition, grounded in historical pratice by indigenous cultures and built upon several key interrelated principles. The Community Compact on Restorative Justice is our iteration of that definition, developed in partnership with local Restorative Justice practitioners. It is an honest effort, by multiple community stakeholders, to assert that you can't just slap a "Restorative Justice" label on a random diversion program, and expect it to produce the positive results that are associated with the practice of this philosophy. 

If you prefer to add an audiovisual element to your review of the Community Compact on Restorative Justice, JE4K Roundtable members unveiled the Compact for the first time at the Fourth Annual Breaking the Pipeline Symposium in March, hosted by fellow JE4K Roundatble member organization, Racially Just Utah. Here is a link to the livestreamed event, with discussion of the Community Compact on Restorative Justice beginning around the 39:09 minute mark. 

It is hard to define Restorative Justice in a linear fashion, in a way that fits neatly into a slogan or list of bullet points. That is because the philosophy was not conceived in a linear way, and not developed by cultures that communicate in slogans or bullet points. That is why our Community Compact on Restorative Justice works together with a few simplified graphics, that stress the multi-dimensional nature of the approach. Below is the first and most foundational of the three graphics. The pdfsecond graphic and pdfthird graphic demonstrate the practical application of these principles in an education and a juvenile justice setting, respectively. 

JE4K RJ Compact Graphic 3

So far, several organizations have signed on to the Community Compact on Restorative Justice - including the following members of our JE4K Roundtable: 

We would like your organization to join us on this list, and commit to holding restorative justice programs in our state to this standard. Your participation will also signal your organization's intention and commitment to practicing restorative justice in a manner that is based on this understanding of Restorative Justice. Our intent is to share this definition of Restorative Justice with governmental and community partners, toward the end of pushing policy in the direction of a more restorative framework.

For example, as we take part in policy conversations about "school safety" in the era of Parkland, Newtown and Santa Fe, we will continually point our stakeholder/partners to the underlying principles in this definition. That means a successful approach to school safety - if it truly aspires to be restorative - must be primarily preventative, relationship-based and encompassing of the whole school community. "Solutions" that focus only on emergency drills, mobilizing law enforcement, high-tech gadgetry and threat assessments cannot claim to be restorative, and will not lead to the positive outcomes associated with Restorative Justice practices (one of those positive outcomes being safe schools!). These approaches, when utilized, can and should be grounded in Restorative Justice principles, in order to ensure prevention of future problems rather than simply mitigation of current ones.  

Restorative Justice

NOT Restorative Justice

A values-based approach to building trust, strengthening relationships and resolving conflict. A discretely-packaged program with a defined curriculum that will work in any setting, from school to prison. 
A philosophy with deep roots in many indigenous cultures, with broad practical application.  A cool new idea, created by modern professionals and espoused only by bleeding heart liberals. 
Practices are primarily preventative and can be easily integrated into other activities.  Practices are only employed after harm has been caused and all "traditional" solutions exhausted.  
Example: Law enforcement officers and administrators meet regularly with community members to discuss neighborhood needs and issues.  Example: City officials hold an annual Town Hall where frustrated and angry community members sit in a circle and vent their frustrations at members of the local police department, who are forced to attend and listen. 
Example: Bringing a group of students together to check in about their day before beginning the lesson.   Example: Forcing a student who has bullied a peer to apologize, then sit with the bullied student at lunch for a month to "get to know her." 

 

Restorative Justice is harder to explain than an active shooter drill or counseling program. It requires more than the hiring of a few new staff people, or the implementation of a new curriculum. It is not a quick fix, but it is a research-supported and fruitful investment in our community's health, prosperity and safety. This approach is worth the investment of time and intention, and we will continue to champion its principles in Utah's education, justice, and community landscapes in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for Utah kids. 

To add your organization's name to this Compact, please contact the JE4K Roundtable via

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