Child Care

We appreciate the many legislators that supported bills affecting children. In summary, it WAS a good year for kids, but we still have plenty to do and we look forward to working together to #investinutahkids!

Early Childhood

Early childhood care and education had several key wins. The legislature approved:

  •  $7m in new funding for Optional Enhanced Kindergarten (which many districts use, with other funding sources, to offer full-day kindergarten)

  • $3m in new funding for School Readiness grants (to support high-quality preschool programs)

  • $5m in newly restored funding for preK-3 teacher professional development.

  • In addition, new legislation directed expansion in eligibility for working families to receive state childcare support, and several bills aimed to create efficiencies and financial stability for the childcare providers these working families rely on. 

Juvenile Justice

In the area of Juvenile Justice, legislators approved several bills that continue the state’s effort to refine ongoing efforts to reform and improve the juvenile justice system, which included:

  • A bold bill outlining and clarifying the Miranda rights of youth who are interrogated by police (ensuring that either parents or attorneys are present for such questioning.

  • An innovative pilot program to offer youth in secure care access to college courses through Dixie State University.

  • Finally, school-based discipline and the role of School Resource Officers (SROs) received some attention, with legislators giving a moratorium on criminal enforcement of state truancy laws during the remaining months of the pandemic and providing additional direction with regard to SRO training in public schools. 

Health

We were thrilled to see our Legislature take significant steps to prioritize children’s health coverage this Session and reduce Utah’s too-high number of uninsured children.

  • House Bill 262 (Representative Welton) provides ongoing funding for CHIP/Medicaid outreach so that more families can connect with affordable health insurance options for their kids. In addition, Senate Bill 158 would have removed barriers to health insurance, so all Utah children could get covered and keep their coverage.

  • In addition to children’s coverage, we saw important steps forward for children’s access to mental health this legislative Session including HB 337, sponsored by Representative Eliason, which will allow more early childhood providers to receive valuable training in infant mental health and also strengthen statewide systems to respond to the mental health needs of young children.

  • The legislature also made changes to ensure that funding for Utah’s maternal mental health program and awareness campaign were made permanent; thanks to Representative Dailey-Provost for championing this change for families.

  • Finally, the legislature also passed a bill that will make it easier for kids to access preventive dental health care. Senate Bill 103, sponsored by Senator Todd Weiler, allows dental hygienists to bill Medicaid, which will help promote greater access to dental care in school-based and childcare settings. 

Cover All Kids Campaign Update

Senate Bill 158 passed the Senate with broad support, but unfortunately it was not funded. We look forward to continuing to support the bill sponsor, Senator Luz Escamilla, and floor sponsor, Representative Francis Gibson, to get this important bill across the finish line next year.

Continuous Medicaid Eligibility Update

Unfortunately, the Legislature did not restore state funding for continuous eligibility for children on Medicaid ages 0-5. Continuous eligibility was funded in the 2020 General Session but eliminated as part of budgetary cuts over the summer. Continuous eligibility guarantees children will have a year of stable Medicaid coverage, as they already have with CHIP. The good news is that thanks to temporary federal requirements, all children currently have this option. However, when the federal public health emergency ends, this option will end too, which could lead to significant loss and disruptions in children’s coverage if state funding is not restored. This past year has shown us just how vital it is that all children and families across Utah have access to health care and coverage. Stable, affordable health coverage for all Utahns will be critical to our state’s ability to rebound and recover.

Other Legislative Priorities 

During this past legislative session, we were happy to support a number of bills that are “good for kids” outside of our main policy priorities including the following bills that include policies that we will continue to work on this upcoming year!

  • We supported and are glad to continue working with the International Rescue Committee on supporting our immigrant and refugee families through HCR 22: Concurrent Resolution Celebrating the Contributions of Multilingual and Multicultural Families to Utah Schools. 
  • HB 338: School District Voter Eligibility Amendments would have created a pathway for school districts to choose whether students age 16-17 can vote in their local elections. It was led by a young person, Dhati Oomen, but unfortunately did not pass. We will continue to further advocate for greater youth civic engagement through this bill and beyond.

  • Lastly, we supported and advocated for SB 214: Official Language Amendments as a positive first step to ensure we have greater language inclusion in our state. While we recognize that this is not a full repeal of the 2000 “English-only” law, this bill does remove funding restrictions and “official communications that exist” while keeping English as the official language in place.  We will continue to work on ensuring this law is repealed completely in the coming year.

Tax and Budget

Tax cuts were a big item of discussion, and there were three tax cuts passed:

  • There was an $18 million Social Security Income Tax Credit

  • $24 million Military Retirement Income Tax Credit

  • $55 million Tax Cut tied to the personal exemption related to the dependent tax credit.  

Voices opposed these three items as they were primarily a benefit to the top 40% of taxpayers and excluded the lowest-income 40% almost entirely.  

We were also advocating for a $7 million Earned Income Tax Credit equal to 10% of the federal EITC targeted to Utahns in intergenerational poverty. This was passed in December 2019 as part of the tax restructuring law that was repealed in the 2020 Session. Lastly, there were two bills to lower the State Income Tax Rate, which did not pass. We were opposed to both bills for a number of reasons.  The cuts would have led to a more regressive tax structure and depriving us of much needed future revenues.

We have many unfunded needs and it is our opinion that we should not cut taxes any further until we address those needs and provide the required funds.

>> Check out our Facebook page for FB Live updates of each policy area. 

Published in News & Blog
February 24, 2021

The High Price of Lower Taxes

Legislative leaders have said that 2021 should be “the year of the tax cut.” Numerous public opinion surveys show that Utahns disagree. This may come as a surprise to policymakers, who have been in the habit of handing out tax break after tax break for decades.

But there seems to be an increasing public awareness that Utah is now paying a price for decades of tax cutting that have left us with the lowest overall tax level in 50 years relative to Utah personal income.

UTAH'S URGENT UNMET NEEDS

We all like being able to pay less in taxes. But there is a growing understanding that tax cuts are leaving us unable to address the long list of urgent unmet needs in education, infrastructure, social services, air quality, public health, and many other areas that affect our standard of living and quality of life. All of these issues will shape the Utah that our children will one day inherit. 

Outlined below are some examples of the urgent unmet needs in Utah. 

Early Care and Education

Amount

Unmet Need

$500-600 Million/Year

Envision Utah estimates that we need to invest an additional $500-600 million each year just to reduce teacher turnover, where we rank among the worst in the nation. 

Our leaders’ unwillingness to solve our education underinvestment problem is why our high school graduation rate is below the national average (after adjusting for demographics) and our younger generation of adults (age 25-34) have fallen behind their counterparts nationally for educational attainment at the college level (BA/BS+).

$52.5 Million/Year Voices for Utah Children estimates that it will cost $52.5 million to make full-day Kindergarten available to all Utah families who would choose to opt in to it.
$1 Billion Well over $1 billion is one estimate for a much needed comprehensive system of early childhood care and education (pre-k) in Utah.

 

Health

Amount

Unmet Need

$59 Million/Year

It would cost Utah about $59 million each year to cover all of our 82,000 uninsured children.

The longstanding preference for tax cuts over covering all kids is why we rank last in the nation for covering the one-in-six Utah kids who are Latinx and why the state as a whole ranks in the bottom 10 nationally for uninsured children.

 

Human Services

Area 

Unmet Need

Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment

Utah ranks last in the nation for mental health treatment access, according to a 2019 report from the Gardner Policy Institute.

A 2020 report from the Legislative Auditor General found that Utah’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative had failed to achieve its goal to reduce recidivism -- and actually saw recidivism rise -- in part because “both the availability and the quality of the drug addiction and mental health treatment are still inadequate.” (pg 51)

Disability Services

The DSPD disability services waiting list has doubled in the last decade from 1,953 people with disabilities in 2010 to 3,911 in 2020.

The FY20 $1 million one-time appropriation made it possible to provide services to 143 people from the waiting list.  

Domestic Violence The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition 2017 Needs Assessment identified insufficient funding for shelters, affordable housing, child care, legal representation, and mental health and substance abuse treatment services as major obstacles to protecting women from domestic violence. 
Seniors

The official poverty measure undercounts senior poverty by about a third because it does not consider the impact of out-of-pocket medical expenses.

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.)  

 

Infrastructure, Environment, and Housing

 Area

Unmet Need

Infrastructure

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives Utah a C+ grade for infrastructure in its December 2020 report

The Utah Transportation Coalition has identified a funding shortfall of nearly $8 billion over the next two decades.

Air Quality  The Wasatch Front ranks as the 11th worst air quality in the nation for ozone and 7th worst for short-term particle pollution
Housing

Affordable housing units fall 41,266 units short of meeting the need for the 64,797 households earning less than $24,600. Among extremely low-income renter households, 71% pay more than 50% of their income for housing, which is considered a severe housing burden.

The FY21 affordable housing appropriation request for $35 million from Sen. Anderegg, which was already just a small step in the right direction, was reduced to just $5 million.

 

WHY TAX CUTS ARE A BIG DEAL

Some legislators have said to us, "What's the big deal with $100 million of tax cuts out of a $22 billion budget?".

The big deal is that we’ve been cutting, on average, about $100 million every single year for the last 25 years.

Voices for Utah Children’s research has found that tax cuts from the last 25 years has left us short $2.4 billion each year, amounting to an 18% cut to public revenues.

One could even call us a “slow-motion Kansas” because in 2012 they cut taxes overnight by 15%, leading to an economic slump and political backlash that saw the Republican legislature reverse the cuts in 2017 and the public elect a Democratic governor in 2018.

But here in Utah, we’re like the proverbial frog in the pot of water heating on the stove. The devastating impacts of these revenue reductions have been slow and incremental, so we’ve come to accept as normal a state of affairs that Kansans quickly reversed.

Instead of figuring out the fairest way to restore some of those lost revenues so we can address our most urgent challenges, Utah’s political leadership continues to pass new tax cuts every year, generally skewed toward the top of the income scale.

For example, Voices for Utah Children analyzed two of the tax cuts proposed this year and found that they excluded lower-income Utahns completely and mostly went to the highest-income households – even though their supporters said publicly that they are intended to help low- and middle-income Utahns.

Public opinion surveys conducted last year by the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute, by the Utah Foundation, and by Envision Utah all found a strong popular preference for public investment over tax cuts.

Same thing with surveys this month by the Deseret News-Hinckley Institute and by Voices for Utah Children.

Breaking old habits can be hard. As is often the case, the public appears to be ahead of our political leaders. But let's hope that they too will eventually come to appreciate the wisdom of their constituents, who are increasingly aware of the high price Utah is paying for lower taxes.


Utah has been fortunate in weathering the current recession. This gives us a unique opportunity to be able to make smart long-term investments at a time when other states are cutting budgets. As a State we need to take advantage of this situation and invest in Utah kids, not tax cuts.

THIS OP-ED APPEARED IN THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE ON MARCH 1, 2021

Published in News & Blog

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

Published in News & Blog

“The way we [invest in Utah] is by focusing on our kids, giving them the best opportunities, the best resources at the earliest possible time...to help them to live better, happier and less trauma-filled lives, while also saving taxpayer money by dealing with these issues early on, before they lead to bigger problems down the road.”

Those words above, spoken by our new Governor, when he was serving as the Chair of Utah’s Early Childhood Commission in his capacity as Lieutenant Governor, capture our sentiments at Voices for Utah Children exactly!

We agree with these words, and call on all our state leaders to put them into bold action. With the coronavirus pandemic revealing the serious cracks in our state’s education system and child care sector, we need strategic investment big more than ever. 

Currently, Utah lags behind most other states with regard to investment in early care and learning support for Utah families with young children How do we lag behind, you ask? Learn more here!

Taking these five steps would constitute great progress in Utah’s championship of early education – and also promise the greatest return on investment of any educational reform.

1.         Appoint a Cabinet-level Early Childhood Investment advisor.

Early education is very different from primary, secondary and higher education. Investment in early childhood care and learning requires a dedicated focus. This advisor should act as the full-time staff director of the Early Childhood Commission, which is now chaired by Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson. Why would having a full-time commission director make a difference? Here's why.

2.         Reimburse full-day kindergarten at a full Weighted Pupil Unit.

Utah has one of the nation’s lowest rates of participation in full-day kindergarten. This is due to lack of access, not family preference. In areas where full-day kindergarten is offered, Utah families overwhelmingly participate. Okay, what's a "weighted pupil unit" and why is it important? And by the way, what is Utah's current level of participation in full-day kindergarten? 

Currently, local education authorities (LEAs) have to cover the cost of full-day kindergarten themselves – making access inequitable and unreliable. You can change this by budgeting a full WPU for full-day kindergarten programming, wherever families want it and LEAs can offer it. We've come to the conclusion that Utah is ready for more full-day kindergarten, based partly on these key reasons. 

3.         Build a statewide High-Quality School Readiness (HQSR) mixed-delivery system.

Utah’s only state-level investment in high-quality preschool hasn’t grown since it began more than seven years ago. Arguments over assessments and oversight have stymied expansion. It’s time to put the turf battles aside and get serious about extending performance-based preschool grants to more schools, child care providers, and community programs. Um, what is a "mixed-delivery system" for preschool?  And what is the state's current investment in preschool? 

4.        Use federal COVID relief money - and after that, state funding - to stabilize, strengthen and build Utah's childcare system for the future.

Working families need their kids to be safe, cared for and progressing developmentally while breadwinners are at work. In the past year, Utah has received a flood of emergency funding from the federal government to make sure Utah families continue to have access to safe, quality childcare throughout the pandemic - and beyond the recovery. Utah should waive parent co-pays for families receiving childcare subsidies, pay childcare providers based on the enrollment (not attendance) of children using subsidies, and continue its successful Operations Grant program. When the federal relief funding runs out, Utah should replace it with state dollars. How do childcare subsidies work, and why are these changes important? 

5.         Support regional coordination to improve kindergarten transitions.

Utah’s sprawling, mixed-delivery early childhood ecosystem can’t be managed by state administrators in Salt Lake City. Parents, community leaders, child care providers and educators need support to organize locally, and coordinate services at the city, county and school district levels. Utah should increase, significantly, its financial support of regional Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) agencies, to staff up efforts at regional coordination. What, precisely, do you mean by a "sprawling ecosystem?"

We loved how Governor Cox and Lieutenant Governor Henderson talked about educational opportunity, early education and education equity on the campaign trail.

“It is absolutely critical that education funding is our first and foremost priority,” said then-candidate Cox on the campaign trail. “We have to make sure that kids in rural Utah, as well as the west side of the Salt Lake Valley, get the same opportunities, the same education as kids in Park City.”

We could not agree more heartily. Park City has full-day kindergarten, public and private preschool, community investment in child care access, and an Early Childhood Alliance that supports regional coordination of programs for young children. Governor Cox is right: every Utah community deserves the same - and they will need bold state leadership to support them in getting there. 

If Utah is serious about every Utah family having equitable access to these same opportunities, these five steps will be central to our work in the next four years.

  

Answers to Your Totally Common Sense Questions
About Early Childhood Care & Education in Utah 

How do we lag behind other states?

As a state, Utah contributes very little funding toward important early childhood interventions, including: home visiting programs, preschool (including Head Start and Early Head Start), child care subsidies, and full-day kindergarten. Where these programs exist, they are made possible almost entirely by federal funding. 

Many other states extend the impact of federal funding for home visiting, Head Start, child care subsidies and other early childhood interventions by adding their own state dollars to grow those programs. Utah does not. As a result, fewer families can benefit from these programs in Utah communities, than would be possible with additional state funding. (Okay, take me back to where I was!)

Graph Estimated Funding Allocations

Why would having a full-time commission director make a difference?

When Utah’s Early Childhood Commission was proposed via legislation by Rep. Lowry Snow and Sen. Ann Millner during the 2019 General Session, the original concept contained funding for a full-time staff member to support the functioning and forward momentum of the new Commission. When the bill finally passed, this funding was removed. Since then, staffing for the Commission has bounced between the Lieutenant Governor’s Office and the Office of Child Care (in the Department of Workforce Services), with those responsibilities always falling to a hardworking public servant already tasked with multiple other critical education and child care projects. 

One persistent issue with the coordination and alignment of Utah’s early care and education system is that there is no single entity, agency or individual committed to that effort. 

Leadership, intention and single-minded commitment is needed to shepherd Utah’s early care and education system to the next level of improvement; currently, all stakeholders at the Early Childhood Commission table must juggle their early childhood work with multiple other state government responsibilities. (Thanks. Now take me back to where I was!)

What is a "weighted pupil unit" and why is it important?

A “weighted pupil unit” or WPU is the designated funding allocation provided by the state legislature to support the education of a single Utah public school student. Each year, the state legislature and the executive branch (including the Governor’s Office and the Utah State Board of Education) come to an agreement as to how many state dollars will be provided to each school, through its local education authority (or LEA, which can be a school district or a charter school) for each student enrolled for the next school year. 

WPU1

Currently, Utah ranks dead last in the nation - behind all others states and the District of Columbia - with regard to “per pupil funding.” This ranking has remained unchanged for years. 

The state gives each school district only 55% of a weighted pupil unit for each enrolled kindergartner. All state-funded LEAs are required by law to provide at least one half day (two or more hours) of kindergarten education for interested families.  (Okay, take me back to where I was!)

WPU2

What is Utah's current level of participation in full-day kindergarten? 

Across the United States, approximately 80% of kindergarteners attend a full-day kindergarten program. This figure has grown dramatically over the past twenty years (approximately 56% in 1999). 

In Utah, however, as recently as 2019, only 20% of kindergarteners attended full-day kindergarten (with an additional 4% attending an “extended” day of schooling, such as an additional 45 minutes or more of academic intervention on top of the traditional half day of kindergarten education). (Thanks. Now take me back to where I was!)

Full Day K Percentages

Indications that Utah is ready for more full-day kindergarten access.

In our report, “Three Things Utah Can Do to Ensure Right-Sized Access to Full-Day Kindergarten,” released in February 2020, we noted the following:

    • In response to both parent interest and educator confidence in full-day learning interventions, multiple districts and individual schools have tapped federal and local funding (in lieu of sufficient state support) to open more classrooms for a full-day of kindergarten instruction;
    • In every school district that has expanded access to full-day kindergarten (including Carbon SD, Rich SD, Ogden SD, Murray SD, Washington County SD, Grand SD, Granite SD, Salt Lake SD and Canyons SD), participation has been robust; and
    • Families living in districts offering little or no access to full-day kindergarten in their neighborhood school, admit to registering their kindergarten-aged children in a different district, in order to enroll their child in a full-day program. (Okay, take me back to where I was!)

What is a "mixed-delivery system" for preschool?

A “mixed-delivery system” for preschool programming is one where a variety of different preschool providers are part of delivering preschool opportunities to families. A “mixed-delivery system” includes preschool classrooms in: public elementary schools; private child care centers; and community-based non-profit programs (such as the YMCA). In some mixed-delivery systems in other cities, counties and states in the U.S., government funding is used to provide access to preschool for families, who are allowed to select which type of preschool program (school-based, community-based or private provider) is the best fit for their child. (Thanks. Now take me back to where I was!)

Mixed Delivery System

What is the state's current investment in preschool? 

The only state funding explicitly available for preschool programs is the amount allocated annually, since 2014, for the High Quality School Readiness (HQSR). The program started with an allocated $7.5 million of baseline funding; there has been no increase since. This program was a state-funded continuation of a Pay-For-Success initiative pioneered by the United Way of Salt Lake in 2013. Under the HQSR program, school districts and private child care providers can apply for a performance-based grant to fund preschool “seats” in their classrooms. Since 2014, approximately 5,000 Utah preschoolers have participated in the program. 

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) produces an annual report on which states in the U.S. have state-funded preschool programs. With the exception of the 2019-2020 report, each year, Utah’s state-funded preschool program has failed to meet the minimum criteria to be included in NIEER’s annual report. (Okay, take me back to where I was!)

How do childcare subsidies work, and why are these changes important?

Thanks to the federal government's Child Care and Development Fund, Utah is able to help low-income parents cover the cost of childcare while they are working, looking for work or training for work. During the current budget year (from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021), Utah will receive approximately $139 million in CCDF money, including an additional $40 million in one-time CARES Act funding to help with pandemic-related child care support. The federal government requires that at least 70% of this amount must be used to help families directly, through child care subsidies. 

This additional funding, with more COVID relief dollars on the way, has allowed Utah to make several positive changes in its childcare subsidy program. These changes have made it possible for more families to get help paying for childcare services. The changes have also helped stabilize and support childcare providers, whose businesses have been hit really hard by the pandemic.

In normal times, a family must make less than 56% of the state median income (SMI) to qualify for a childcare subsidy. That is $44,016 for a family of four people (or 168% of the federal poverty level). Thanks to COVID relief funding, families that make up to 85% of SMI to qualify for help. That is $65,498 for a family of four people. Child care subsidies are paid directly to a childcare provider when a child enrolls. In normal times, Utah only pays for each day that the child attends childcare. This means subsidies can be an unstable and unreliable source of income for providers. Thanks to COVID relief funding, Utah now pays childcare providers based on enrollment - so providers don't suffer financially when families have to quarantine, stay home from work or become ill. We think these changes, and others made possible by increased investment in the last year, should be permanent. This will help more families in Utah access safe, affordable and quality childcare. (Thanks. Now take me back to where I was!)

What makes Utah's early childhood care and education system so "sprawling" and difficult to coordinate? 

Currently, several different federal, state and local entities (including private businesses and non-profit organizations) are responsible for providing early care and education programs for Utah families with young children. 

Office of Child Care (OCC)

The Office of Child Care (OCC), in the Department of Workforce Services (DWS), provides child care subsidies to help thousands of low-income Utah families afford child care. In addition to state licensing requirements, OCC has a new “Child Care Quality System” that gives participating child care providers a designated quality level, based on a number of different factors. The Office of Childcare also manages the High-Quality School Readiness (HQSR) program funded by the legislature, through which a limited number of three- and four-year olds are able to participate in structured preschool programs. 

Office of Child Care Licensing (CCL) 

The Office of Child Care Licensing (CCL), in the Utah Department of Health (UDOH), is in charge of making sure child care providers maintain a basic level of health and safety in their child care businesses. 

Utah State Board of Education 

In addition, the Utah State Board of Education has guidelines for preschool programs that are provided through the public school system. Those guidelines are separate from the guidelines schools and child care providers must follow if they are participating in the state’s High Quality School Readiness (Preschool) performance-based grant program. 

Private Preschool Providers & Home-Based Preschool Programs 

There are also many private preschool providers throughout the state who are not required to be licensed by the Office of Child Care Licensing and who are not governed by the Utah State Board of Education. These are the kind of home-based preschool programs that provide only a couple of hours of instruction per day, for families who are willing and able to pay privately.

Head Start and Early Head Start Programs 

There are also dozens of Head Start and Early Head Start program sites throughout the state, which adhere to a completely different set of standards, set by the federal government, and which are largely independent of any state agency. 

(Whew, that's enough! Take me back to finish the letter, please.)

Published in 2020 Issues

With Amendment G winning 54% of the vote this month, many of our partners and supporters have been asking us: What’s going to happen next?

What changes will result from this Constitutional amendment going into effect January 1, 2021, along with the legislation triggered by it (HB 357)?

The short answer is, “Probably not a lot, at least not immediately, but possibly quite a bit over the long term.”

As a result of the passage of Amendment G, the Utah Constitution Article XIII, Section 5, paragraph 5 changes from

“All revenue from taxes on intangible property or from a tax on income shall be used to support the systems of public education and higher education as defined in Article X, Section 2.”

to the following:

“All revenue from taxes on intangible property or from a tax on income shall be used:

(a) to support the systems of public education and higher education as defined in Article X, Section 2; and

(b) to support children and to support individuals with a disability.”

The state’s budget leaders sought this change because they expect the long-term trend to continue of Utah’s higher education budget shifting from the General Fund (which is financed mainly by the sales tax) to the Education Fund (which is financed mainly by the income tax). This shift has made it possible to make more of the General Fund available for social and healthcare services. But once higher ed has shifted completely out of the General Fund, something expected to happen in the coming years, then budget writers will no longer have a mechanism to free up additional funds to meet the state’s obligations for healthcare and social services. This concern is what drove the decision to place on the ballot a Constitutional amendment to allow budget writers to begin to shift additional items (services for children and for Utahns with disabilities) out of the General Fund and have them financed by the income tax.

In the FY21 budget passed by the Legislature in March and then adjusted in June (the FY21 budget year runs from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021), just 4% of the higher education budget came from the General Fund and the remaining 96% from the Education Fund. The chart below shows how the higher education budget has been divided between the two funds in recent fiscal years:

Higher ed GF EF 2014 2021

Source: Office of Legislative Fiscal Analyst annual publication “Budget of the State of Utah” at https://le.utah.gov/asp/lfa/lfareports.asp?src=LFAAR

While the trend has not been a straight line, the general direction has been to shift the higher education budget out of the General Fund and into the Education Fund. And, indeed, two of the last three budgets have seen 96% of the higher education budget come out of the Education Fund.

This trend has also been facilitated by the fact that income tax revenue has been growing faster than sales tax revenue.

Assuming these trends continue, we can expect to see the FY22 and future year budgets begin to make gradually increasing use of income tax revenue to finance social and healthcare services for children and Utahns with disabilities, two items that until now were only funded from sales tax revenue (through the General Fund).

What will be the impact of Amendment G on education funding?

As part of the political deal that produced Amendment G, the Legislature passed HB 357, with implementation contingent on voter approval of Amendment G. HB 357 contains three main provisions intended to provide education advocates with compensation for losing the Constitutional earmark of the income tax for education:

  • It requires that “when preparing the Public Education Base Budget, the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst shall include appropriations to the Minimum School Program from the Uniform School Fund… in an amount that is greater than or equal to:

(a) the ongoing appropriations to the Minimum School Program in the current fiscal year; and

(b) … enrollment growth and inflation estimates…”

This is intended to avoid what happened in the Great Recession a decade ago, when annual appropriations were not sufficient to keep up with inflation and enrollment growth, and it took almost a decade to restore real per-student education appropriations.

  • It requires that 15% of education revenue growth go into a new “Public Education Economic Stabilization Restricted Account” to be saved for recessions until it reaches 11% of the full Uniform School Fund. This is intended to build up a new reserve fund of about $400 million to finance the first commitment mentioned above, the commitment that education funding will always increase by enough to cover enrollment growth and inflation, even in times of recession. This new annual 15% savings requirement will mean smaller education funding increases in good times and larger ones in bad times, in effect smoothing out the annual changes in education funding. It does not change the overall amount available for education budgets over the full course of each economic cycle.
  • HB 357 allows local districts to reallocate capital funds to cover operating expenses in recession years. This is something that was allowed on a one-time basis in the Great Recession a decade ago. Now it will be allowed in any year when the Legislature makes use of the new Public Education Economic Stabilization Restricted Account.

What impact will Amendment G and HB 357 have on funding for social and healthcare services for children?

On the positive side, budget writers will now have increased flexibility to use income tax revenues that are now going to education for social and healthcare services for children and Utahns with disabilities. On the negative side, there are no new revenue streams and no rolling back of past tax breaks, and HB 357 does promise an increased commitment to education in recession years (presumably including the current one), so that seems to imply that there will be less available for everything other than education, at least in the short term.

What impact will this have in the coming year?

This depends on how much revenue there is. Will there be enough new education revenue to cover inflation and enrollment growth? And if not, how will the state budget cover that commitment supposedly contained in HB 357 since the new Public Education Economic Stabilization Restricted Account does not yet have any money in it? The Legislature may face the same difficult choices as in the last recession a decade ago between funding enrollment growth and inflation in the education budget or funding life-saving social and healthcare services. And if they choose to keep their promise to fund enrollment growth and inflation in the education budget in the absence of sufficient education revenues, then that commitment will come at the expense of other areas of the state budget, such as social and healthcare services for children.

One wild card here is the question of how the calculations will be impacted by the unprecedented drop in student enrollment that was reported this fall. Student enrollment had been projected to grow by 7,000; instead it fell by over 2,000. This drop is probably a temporary blip due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Legislature may see it as an opportunity to go with a low-ball estimate of enrollment for FY22 when it meets to pass that year’s budget this coming winter. Doing so would certainly make it easier to keep its commitment to fund enrollment growth and inflation even in the current downturn.

What impact will this new arrangement have in the longer term?

On the negative side, the fact that Amendment G and HB 357 provide for no new revenue streams to roll back any of what now amounts to $2.4 billion every year in tax breaks enacted since 1995 (18% of public revenues) does not bode well for education, for social and healthcare services for Utahns in need, or for any of the many areas of state responsibility that suffer from chronic revenue shortages because of these revenue losses.

On the positive side, the promise made by the state’s leaders to always at least fund inflation and enrollment growth could potentially lead to an increased commitment of existing state resources to education than might have otherwise taken place. If that happens, and since the need for resources in other areas is not going to change, there is the possibility that members of the state’s budget leadership might move closer to public opinion, which has expressed consistent -- and growing -- willingness to pay more to achieve improvements in areas of state responsibility like education, transportation, and air quality, as evidenced by the results of the following public opinion surveys this year:

If that happens, then we will be able to say that Amendment G led to positive changes in state fiscal policy for the benefit of all of Utah’s children. But if not, then we may well be in for many years of budget writers using their newfound flexibility to grant substantial increases to one area of the budget one year and another the next, making different areas of the budget compete with each other to be that year’s “favored child,” but leaving none better off in the long run.

THIS PAPER IS ALSO DOWNLOADABLE AS A PDF HERE.

WE ALSO PRESENTED THIS PAPER AS A SLIDESHOW ON A FACEBOOK LIVE EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=380455343223086&ref=watch_permalink 

Published in News & Blog

Amendment G one pager 10 5 20(view this as a pdf here)

The state's leading child research and advocacy organization Voices for Utah Children announced its opposition to Constitutional Amendment G in an online press conference today (Monday, October 5, 2020).  

Constitutional Amendment G is the proposal to amend the Utah State Constitution to end the Constitutional earmark of all income tax revenues for education.  Since 1946 Utah has dedicated 100% of income tax revenues to education, initially defined only as K-12 education and, since 1996, including also higher education.  The State Legislature voted in March to place on the ballot the question of also allowing these funds to be used for other purposes -- specifically for programs for children and for Utahns with disabilities.  

The arguments made by proponents and opponents are summarized in an online document prepared by the state election administrators in the Lt Governor's office. According to that document, "the state spends about $600 million annually of non-income tax money on programs for children and programs that benefit people with a disability."

Voices for Utah Children CEO Maurice "Moe" Hickey explained the organization's decision to oppose the Amendment: "We believe that the proposed Amendment not only won’t solve Utah’s state budget woes, it is likely to delay the real fiscal policy changes that are needed. Over the past decade we have been continuously ranked last in the country for per pupil spending. This is a caused by our growth in number of students, combined with a lowered tax burden in the past decade. A major question we have to ask is “if the current Constitutional earmark has failed to help Utah invest more in education, how will getting rid of it improve matters?” The unfortunate reality is that getting rid of the Constitutional earmark of income tax for education does nothing to solve the real problem, which is the fact that nearly every area of state responsibility where children are impacted – education, social services, public health, and many others – is dangerously underfunded."

Health Policy Analyst Ciriac Alvarez Valle said, "Utah has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the country at 8% or 82,000 children, and we have an even higher rate of uninsured Latino children at almost 20%. It is alarming that even during this pandemic, children and families are going without health insurance. There are so many ways to reverse this negative trend that began in 2016. Some of the solutions include investing in our kid’s healthcare. By investing in outreach and enrollment efforts especially those that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for our communities of color, we can ensure they are being reached. We also have to invest in policies that keep kids covered all year round and ensures they have no gaps in coverage. and lastly, we have to invest in covering all children regardless of their immigration status. By doing these things we can ensure that kids have a foundation for their long term health and needs. It's vital that we keep children’s health at the forefront of this issue, knowing that kids can only come to school ready to learn if they are able to get the resources they need to be healthy."

Health Policy Analyst Jessie Mandle added, "All kids need to have care and coverage in order to succeed in school. We are no strangers to the funding challenges and the many competing demands of social services funding. Without greater clarity, more detail, and planning, we are left to ask, are we simply moving the funding of children’s health services into another pool, competing with education funding, instead of prioritizing and investing in both critical areas? Sufficient funding for critical children’s services including school nurse, home visiting and early intervention, and school-based preventive care remains a challenge for our state. We have made important strides in recent years for children’s health, recognizing that kids cannot be optimal learners without optimal health. Let’s keep investing, keep moving forward together so that kids can get the education, health and wraparound services they need."

Education Policy Analyst Anna Thomas: "We often hear that UT is dead last in the nation in per pupil funding. We have also heard from such leaders as Envision Utah that millions of dollars are needed to avert an urgent and growing teacher shortage. What we talk about less is the fact that these typical conservative calculations of our state’s underfunding of education don’t include the amount the state should be paying for the full-day kindergarten programming most Utah families want, nor does it include the tens of millions our state has never bothered to spend on preschool programs to ensure all Utah children can start school with the same opportunities to succeed. Utah currently masks this underfunding with dollars from various federal programs, but this federal funding is not equitably available to meet the needs of all Utah children who deserve these critical early interventions. The state also increasingly relies on local communities to make up the difference through growing local tax burdens - which creates an impossible situation for some of our rural school districts, where local property tax will never be able to properly fund early interventions like preschool and full-day kindergarten along with everything else they are responsible for. Our lack of investment in early education is something we pay for, much less efficiently and much less wisely, later down the road, when children drop out of school, experience mental and physical health issues, and get pulled into bad decisions and misconduct. If kids aren’t able to hit certain learning benchmarks in literacy and math by third grade, their struggles in school - and often by extension outside of school - multiply. We should be investing as much as possible in our children to help ensure they have real access to future success - and can contribute to our state's future success. You don’t have to be a math whiz - third grade math is probably plenty - to see that the general arithmetic of Amendment G, and the attendant promises of somehow more investment in everything that helps kids - just doesn’t add up. We have multiple unmet early education investment obligations right now. Beyond that, we have many more needs, for children and for people with disabilities, that we must be sensitive to as a state especially during a global pandemic. How we will ensure we are investing responsibly in our children and our future, by having MORE expenses come out of the same pot of money - which the legislature tells us every year is too small to help all the Utah families we advocate for - is still very unclear to me. Until that math is made transparent to the public, we have to judge Amendment G to be, at best, half-baked in its current incarnation."

Fiscal Policy Analyst Matthew Weinstein shared information from the Tax Commission (see slide #8) showing that Utah's overall level of taxation is now at its lowest level in 50 years relative to Utahns' incomes, following multiple rounds of tax cutting. He also shared recent survey data from the Utah Foundation showing that three-fourths of Utahns oppose cutting taxes further and are ready and willing to contribute more if necessary to help solve the state's current challenges in areas like education, air quality, and transportation. He also contrasted the public's understanding that there's no "free lunch" with the unrealistic election-year promises made by our political leadership -- more money for both education and social services if the public votes for Amendment G -- even though Amendment G does nothing to reverse any past tax cuts and address the state's chronic revenue shortages.

The organization shared a one-page summary of the arguments (available here in pdf format) for and against the proposed Constitutional Amendment: 

Amendment G one pager 10 5 20

Voices for Utah Children has also published a full five-page position paper that is available in pdf format

This press conference was broadcast live at

Media coverage: 

Published in News & Blog

Amendment G one pager 10 5 20

The state's leading child research and advocacy organization Voices for Utah Children announced its opposition to Constitutional Amendment G in an online press conference today (Monday, October 5, 2020).  

Constitutional Amendment G is the proposal to amend the Utah State Constitution to end the Constitutional earmark of all income tax revenues for education.  Since 1946 Utah has dedicated 100% of income tax revenues to education, initially defined only as K-12 education and, since 1996, including also higher education.  The State Legislature voted in March to place on the ballot the question of also allowing these funds to be used for other purposes -- specifically for programs for children and for Utahns with disabilities.  

The arguments made by proponents and opponents are summarized in an online document prepared by the state election administrators in the Lt Governor's office. According to that document, "the state spends about $600 million annually of non-income tax money on programs for children and programs that benefit people with a disability."

Voices for Utah Children CEO Maurice "Moe" Hickey explained the organization's decision to oppose the Amendment: "We believe that the proposed Amendment not only won’t solve Utah’s state budget woes, it is likely to delay the real fiscal policy changes that are needed. Over the past decade we have been continuously ranked last in the country for per pupil spending. This is a caused by our growth in number of students, combined with a lowered tax burden in the past decade. A major question we have to ask is “if the current Constitutional earmark has failed to help Utah invest more in education, how will getting rid of it improve matters?” The unfortunate reality is that getting rid of the Constitutional earmark of income tax for education does nothing to solve the real problem, which is the fact that nearly every area of state responsibility where children are impacted – education, social services, public health, and many others – is dangerously underfunded."

Health Policy Analyst Ciriac Alvarez Valle said, "Utah has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the country at 8% or 82,000 children, and we have an even higher rate of uninsured Latino children at almost 20%. It is alarming that even during this pandemic, children and families are going without health insurance. There are so many ways to reverse this negative trend that began in 2016. Some of the solutions include investing in our kid’s healthcare. By investing in outreach and enrollment efforts especially those that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for our communities of color, we can ensure they are being reached. We also have to invest in policies that keep kids covered all year round and ensures they have no gaps in coverage. and lastly, we have to invest in covering all children regardless of their immigration status. By doing these things we can ensure that kids have a foundation for their long term health and needs. It's vital that we keep children’s health at the forefront of this issue, knowing that kids can only come to school ready to learn if they are able to get the resources they need to be healthy."

Health Policy Analyst Jessie Mandle added, "All kids need to have care and coverage in order to succeed in school. We are no strangers to the funding challenges and the many competing demands of social services funding. Without greater clarity, more detail, and planning, we are left to ask, are we simply moving the funding of children’s health services into another pool, competing with education funding, instead of prioritizing and investing in both critical areas? Sufficient funding for critical children’s services including school nurse, home visiting and early intervention, and school-based preventive care remains a challenge for our state. We have made important strides in recent years for children’s health, recognizing that kids cannot be optimal learners without optimal health. Let’s keep investing, keep moving forward together so that kids can get the education, health and wraparound services they need."

Education Policy Analyst Anna Thomas: "We often hear that UT is dead last in the nation in per pupil funding. We have also heard from such leaders as Envision Utah that millions of dollars are needed to avert an urgent and growing teacher shortage. What we talk about less is the fact that these typical conservative calculations of our state’s underfunding of education don’t include the amount the state should be paying for the full-day kindergarten programming most Utah families want, nor does it include the tens of millions our state has never bothered to spend on preschool programs to ensure all Utah children can start school with the same opportunities to succeed. Utah currently masks this underfunding with dollars from various federal programs, but this federal funding is not equitably available to meet the needs of all Utah children who deserve these critical early interventions. The state also increasingly relies on local communities to make up the difference through growing local tax burdens - which creates an impossible situation for some of our rural school districts, where local property tax will never be able to properly fund early interventions like preschool and full-day kindergarten along with everything else they are responsible for. Our lack of investment in early education is something we pay for, much less efficiently and much less wisely, later down the road, when children drop out of school, experience mental and physical health issues, and get pulled into bad decisions and misconduct. If kids aren’t able to hit certain learning benchmarks in literacy and math by third grade, their struggles in school - and often by extension outside of school - multiply. We should be investing as much as possible in our children to help ensure they have real access to future success - and can contribute to our state's future success. You don’t have to be a math whiz - third grade math is probably plenty - to see that the general arithmetic of Amendment G, and the attendant promises of somehow more investment in everything that helps kids - just doesn’t add up. We have multiple unmet early education investment obligations right now. Beyond that, we have many more needs, for children and for people with disabilities, that we must be sensitive to as a state especially during a global pandemic. How we will ensure we are investing responsibly in our children and our future, by having MORE expenses come out of the same pot of money - which the legislature tells us every year is too small to help all the Utah families we advocate for - is still very unclear to me. Until that math is made transparent to the public, we have to judge Amendment G to be, at best, half-baked in its current incarnation."

Fiscal Policy Analyst Matthew Weinstein shared information from the Tax Commission (see slide #8) showing that Utah's overall level of taxation is now at its lowest level in 50 years relative to Utahns' incomes, following multiple rounds of tax cutting. He also shared recent survey data from the Utah Foundation showing that three-fourths of Utahns oppose cutting taxes further and are ready and willing to contribute more if necessary to help solve the state's current challenges in areas like education, air quality, and transportation. He contrasted the public's understanding that there's no "free lunch" with the unrealistic election-year promises made by our political leadership -- more money for both education and social services if the public votes for Amendment G -- even though Amendment G does nothing to reverse any past tax breaks and address the state's chronic revenue shortages.

The organization shared a one-page summary of the arguments for and against the proposed Constitutional Amendment: 

Amendment G one pager 10 5 20

The organization also published a full five-page position paper that is available in pdf format

Published in Press Releases
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