Education

As the November elections approach, one crucial issue on the ballot is the proposed amendment to end the constitutional mandate Utah voters passed decades ago, directing the legislature to use state income tax to fund public education. This proposal will show up on your ballot as Amendment A, and it is based on SJR10, Proposal to Amend the Utah Constitution - Income Tax [1], which passed during the 2023 legislative session.  

Voices for Utah Children is opposed to this change to Utah’s constitution. Here’s why. 

Utahns Approved the Constitutional Education Funding Mandate Nearly 80 Years Ago

Utah implemented its state income tax in 1932. In 1946, voters approved a Constitutional amendment that created the education funding mandate, allocating all income tax revenue exclusively for K-12 public education. This changed in 1996 when another amendment allowed higher education to dip into the income tax pot. And again, in 2020, Amendment G passed, which expanded the use of income tax revenue for social services supporting children and individuals with disabilities[2].

Think of Utah’s constitutional mandate (sometimes referred to as an “earmark”) as setting aside a portion of your paycheck specifically for your child’s school supplies, textbooks, and educational needs. The mandate ensures that a certain amount of public funding is always dedicated to supporting schools and students, helping to maintain academic quality, and providing necessary resources. 

Amendment A would remove this mandate, allowing state legislators to redirect this designated funding elsewhere, as they see fit.

This Change to Our Constitution Poses a Threat to Utah Schools  

Utahns feel a strong commitment to public education. According to Utah Foundation polling, public education consistently ranks as a top issue for Utah voters[3]. With over 90% of Utah's school-aged children attending public schools, many Utahns express positive views about their own schools. The proposal to change Utah’s constitutional education funding mandate does not reflect the priorities of the majority of Utahns in support of public education. 

Utah’s constitutional mandate for public education funding ensures a dedicated source of funding for public education for Utah children. If Amendment A passes and the constitutional mandate is removed, it could undermine the quality of Utah's public education. Our state's children need consistent and dedicated funding to maintain high educational standards and to ensure equitable access across different regions and demographics​. 

Our commitment to funding public education is enshrined in our state constitution. The legislature’s desire to change this is a significant issue that should not be taken lightly. Amendment A creates uncertainty around your child’s school funding. For example, for fiscal year 2025, individual income tax revenue is projected to be around $7.3 billion[4]. Without the clarity of Utah’s constitutional mandate, these funds can be easily diverted away from public education, leaving Utah’s children and teachers without essential support[5]. Already, state leaders have cut the income tax year after year, reducing funding that could be invested in our children's futures.

The Likely Impacts of Changing Our Constitution 

Funding Instability: Without the constitutional mandate directing the legislature to spend our income taxes on public education, state education funding could become subject to political whims. 

Increased Property Taxes: If the constitutional mandate is removed and the legislature reduces school funding, school districts will need to compensate for the lost revenue by increasing property taxes. This challenge would be even greater for rural districts, where the property tax base is limited. These less prosperous school districts may be unable to cover the shortfall. 

Equity Concerns: Utah’s current method of funding public education helps to balance educational opportunities across our varied communities. Some school districts are able to raise a lot of money, through wealthy residents with high-end property. Other school districts do not have access to that level of wealth, and rely on state funding to ensure equitable opportunities for their students. Removing the constitutional mandate could exacerbate inequalities.

Uncertain Future Funding Plans: If the constitutional mandate is removed, legislators must provide clear answers on how education will be funded. Without specific, transparent plans, there is a significant risk that public education funding would be deprioritized.

The Connection Between Amendment A and School Vouchers

Utah’s new school voucher program is also part of this equation. The school voucher program will allow thousands of Utah families to use taxpayer dollars to send their children to private school. The legislature has diverted over $80 million to this school privatization effort since its inception in 2023 - doubling the initial investment before even a single voucher had been awarded to any Utah families. It's important to note that lawmakers initially requested $150 million, signaling their intention to continue diverting public funds away from public education[6].

Lawmakers have made it clear that they plan to continue to increase funding for vouchers, regardless of program outcomes. If the constitutional amendment to fund public education is removed, the flow of resources away from neighborhood public schools and toward private schools could intensify. This will likely reduce the quality and equity of public education that 90% of Utah's children rely on[7]. 

What Lies Ahead? 

The removal of Utah’s constitutional mandate and years of income tax rate cutting have long-term implications for public education. Utah schools still have large class sizes and lack an adequate number of paraeducators, counselors, and nurses. Ending the constitutional mandate could potentially affect everything from teacher salaries and school infrastructure to student performance and community well-being. 

Is Amendment A good for kids? These serious and potential impacts lead us to believe that it is not. Voices for Utah Children is opposed to changing Utah’s constitution in a way that puts our state on the path toward defunding public education. We hope that you will oppose it, as well. 

Endnotes 

[1] Utah Legislature. "S.J.R. 10 Proposal to Amend the Utah Constitution - Income Tax." Accessed June 21, 2024. https://le.utah.gov/~2023/bills/static/SJR010.html.

[2] Romboy, Dennis. "Utah's Constitutional Amendment to Change How State Funds Education." Deseret News, October 5, 2020. Accessed June 21, 2024. https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/10/5/21502931/amendment-g-constitutional-amendment-education-child-advocates-say-doesnt-add-up/.

[3]  "Utah Priorities Project Report: 2024," Utah Foundation, April 2024, https://www.utahfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/rr819.pdf.

[4]  Utah Legislature. "Comprehensive Annual Financial Report 2023." Accessed June 21, 2024. https://cobi.utah.gov/2024/1/overview.

[5]  Voices for Utah Children. "What Does Eliminating Utah's Income Tax Mean for Kids?" Accessed June 21, 2024. https://utahchildren.org/newsroom/speaking-of-kids-blog/item/1249-income-tax-elimination-kids-impact.

[6] Utah Legislature. "House Bill 215 - Utah Fits All Scholarship Program." Accessed June 21, 2024. https://le.utah.gov/~2023/bills/static/HB0215.html

[7] Utah News Dispatch. "Teacher union files lawsuit against Utah FITS All School Choice Voucher Program." Accessed July 3, 2024. https://utahnewsdispatch.com/2024/05/29/teacher-union-files-lawsuit-against-utah-fits-all-school-choice-voucher-program/.

Published in News & Blog

The 2024 Utah Legislative Session ended at midnight on Friday, March 1. For the Voices for Utah Children team, this session included supporting a lot of community engagement, working hard to protect the programs that protect Utah kids, and trying not to get distracted by outlandish efforts to "solve" problems that don't actually exist in Utah.

As usual, there were many, many missed opportunities for state leaders to improve the lives of Utah kids. Nonetheless, we managed to pull off some great victories - as always, in partnership with many supportive community members, our great partner organizations and supportive public servants.

We hosted six different public engagement events at the Capitol over seven weeks. Working closely with our community partners, we stopped some truly terrible legislation that literally threatened the lives of Utah kids who rely on Medicaid and CHIP. Thanks to many supportive child care professionals and working parents, we kept Utah's child care crisis in the media spotlight throughout the session. 

For a deeper dive into our efforts in various policy areas, as well as a recap of what happened to the many different bills we were tracking, check out the virtual booklet below! 

Download a Copy

The original version of this legislative recap misidentified the city of residence of a member of the Utah State Legislature. This has been corrected. For more information, please contact .

Published in News & Blog

Governor Cox unveiled his budget last week, and the general direction of the budget is positive. Voices for Utah Children is interested in some specific components of the budget that directly impact Utah children and their families:

Public Education

$854 million increase, including a 5% jump in per-pupil funding and $55 million for rural schools

This is a much-needed investment in public education. We support the focus on rural schools and are anxious to see the details as they emerge. Public education consistently polls as a top priority for Utahns of all political parties and backgrounds.

Support for Utah Families

 $4.7 million to expand Utah’s child tax credit and $5 million for accessible child care

We appreciate the fact that the Governor has begun to address the urgent needs of Utah families with young children. However, both allocations fall far short of the amount required to truly support and elevate these young families’ current needs. A truly impactful child tax credit would require an investment of at least $130 million, and the benefits in reducing child poverty in Utah would be substantial. Our recent report on child care in Utah clearly illustrates the need for bold action to support families in the workforce, who are struggling with the cost and unavailability of child care. The Governor’s $5M project will help very few Utah families and does not address the true need.

Housing

$128 million for homeless shelters and $30 million for deeply affordable housing

We support the Governor in his effort to better support the homeless residents of our state. We encourage a greater focus on expanding support for homeless children specifically. Early care and education opportunities for young children as well as more supportive programs for their parents and caregivers are critical to helping families find stable housing and better future opportunities. Investing in deeply affordable housing will help many Utah families.

Behavioral/Mental Health 

$8 million for behavioral and mental health

This is not enough to address the current mental health needs of Utahns – in particular, those of our children and the folks tasked with raising them. We need more mental health professionals and greater access to services. We know this is a major concern for the Governor and we encourage increased strategic investment in this area.

It is also important to acknowledge and applaud some items the Governor wisely left out of his proposed budget:

No Proposed Tax Cuts 

Utahns want to see more invested in our children while they are young, to prevent greater challenges later in life. It is our children who suffer most, when politicians toss our tax dollars away on polices that mostly benefit the wealthiest 1% of Utah households.

No Proposed Funding for Vouchers

Public funds should not be redirected to private entities. Utah needs an annual audit of the current program, to assess who is benefitting from school vouchers. In other states, the results are not good – vouchers are looking more and more like a tax break for wealthy families.


Bold Investments Needed for Utah's Children

Governor Cox's budget focuses on increasing funding for education, families, and affordable housing.

These are all areas where we believe bold investment is needed. We support the Governor in addressing these issues, but cannot overlook how this budget falls short in the face of the ongoing struggles faced by Utah families with children.  

We encourage our Legislature to use the Governor’s budget as a roadmap and increase the allocations to the amount needed.

Published in News & Blog
January 10, 2024

Our 2024 Legislative Agenda

At Voices for Utah Children, we always start with this guiding question: "Is it good for all kids?" That remains our north star at the outset of the 2024 legislative session, and is reflected in our top legislative priorities.

So, what’s good for all kids in 2024?

A Healthy Start!

A healthy start in life ensures a child's immediate well-being while laying a foundation for future success. We are steadfast in our commitment to championing policies that prioritize every child's physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Central to this commitment is our focus on improving Utah’s popular Medicaid and CHIP programs, which are pivotal in the lives of many Utah children and families. 

This legislative session, a healthy start for kids looks like:

  • Empowering Expectant Mothers: We support a proposal from Rep. Ray Ward (R-Bountiful) to increase access to health coverage for low-income and immigrant mothers-to-be.
  • Increasing Access to Health Care: We support bills that aim to improve access to the vital healthcare services children and parents need, especially for those on Medicaid and CHIP.
  • Protecting Health Coverage: We oppose any effort to defund, and exclude deserving children from, the Medicaid and CHIP programs that help thousands of Utah kids every year. 

Early Learning and Care Opportunities!

The formative years of a child's life lay the foundation for their future, shaping their cognitive abilities, socio-emotional skills, and passion for learning. We will support efforts to increase access to home visiting programs and paid family leave, but ensuring consistent, quality, and affordable child care is our top priority.

This legislative session, early learning and care opportunities for kids looks like:

  • Bolstering Access to Quality Child Care: We support the efforts of both Rep. Andrew Stoddard (D-Sandy) and Rep. Ashlee Matthews (D-Kearns) to extend the successful Office of Child Care stabilization grant program that has supported licensed child care programs statewide.
  • Investing in High-Quality Preschool: We support an anticipated legislative proposal to streamline Utah’s existing high-quality school-readiness program and to make it available to more preschoolers statewide. 
  • Recruiting and Retaining Child Care Professionals: We support Rep. Matthews’ proposal to expand access to the Child Care Assistance Program for anyone working in the child care sector.
  • Building New Child Care Businesses: We also support Rep. Matthews’ proposal to continue funding for work to develop and support new child care programs in rural, urban, and suburban areas.

To view a more comprehensive list of our 2024 early care and learning legislative priorities, click here

Economic Stability for Families with Children!

Economic stability forms the bedrock of thriving families and vibrant communities. To ensure that young families in Utah have the support they need to afford basic necessities, we will advocate for increasing families’ access to Utah's earned income and child tax credits.

This legislative session, economic stability for families looks like: 

  • A Little Extra Help in the Early Years: We support HB 153, Rep. Susan Pulsipher’s (R-South Jordan) bill to expand Utah’s new Child Tax Credit, (currently only for children ages 1 to 3), to apply to children between 1 and 5 years of age. We also strongly recommend helping even more Utah families with young children by making the tax credit available for families with any child between birth and 5, and expanding it to include the thousands of lower- and moderate-income families who are currently excluded.
  • Credit for Working Families with Kids: We support HB 149, Rep. Marsha Judkins’ (R-Provo) bill to expand Utah’s Earned Income Tax Credit so that more lower- and middle-income families with children can benefit. 

Justice for Youth!

We want to ensure that all youth, including those who come into contact with the juvenile justice system, have access to interventions and supports that work for them and for their families. We are dedicated to advancing policies and recommendations that contribute to a more fair and equitable juvenile justice system for all Utah youth.

This legislative session, justice for youth looks like:

  • Prioritizing School Safety: We are monitoring bills from Rep. Wilcox (R-Ogden) and the School Safety Task Force, including: HB 14, “School Threat Penalty Amendments” and HB 84, “School Safety Amendments.” We remain hopeful that these efforts will support a secure learning environment for all students, without contributing further to the School-to-Prison Pipeline. 

Be an Advocate!

As we chart the path forward, one thing remains abundantly clear: the well-being, growth, and future of Utah's children rely on the decisions we make today. Each legislative session presents an opportunity—a chance to reaffirm our commitment, reevaluate our priorities, and reimagine a brighter, more inclusive future for all. 

Together we can continue to make Utah a place where every child's potential is realized, their dreams are nurtured, and their voices are heard.

Below are some ways you can get involved this session. 

Stay Informed with our Bill Tracker

Stay informed about important legislation we are watching and reach out to your local representatives to let them know how you feel about legislation that is important to you. We make it easy for you to subscribe and watch bills that you are most concerned about. 

VIEW TRACKER

 

Join us for Legislative Session Days on the Hill

Join us at the Capitol, where we offer attendees the opportunity to engage in the legislative process on a specific issue area (health and/or child care). You'll have the chance to attend bill hearings, lobby your legislators, connect with fellow community advocates, and watch House and Senate floor debates. Click the button below for the dates/times of our meetings and to RSVP.

RSVP TODAY

 

Celebrate Utah's Immigrant Community 

In collaboration with our partners at UT With All Immigrants, the Center for Economic Opportunity and Belonging, and I Stand with Immigrants, we are organizing Immigrant Day on the Hill. Join us to discover ways to engage in Utah's civic life. Enjoy food, explore resource tables, participate in interactive activities, and entertainment. Everyone is invited to attend this free event!

Event Details: February 13, 2024, 3:30pm-5:30pm at the Capitol Rotunda, 350 State St, Salt Lake City, UT 84103

RSVP TODAY

Published in News & Blog

The care for the children in our state and communities can be measured by our public investment in our smallest humans. From the fiscal year 2008 to 2022, Voices for Utah Children divided all state programs concerning children into seven categories, without regard to their location within the structure of state government to quantify the level of public funding and identify trends. The seven categories are:

  1. K-12 Education
  2. Health
  3. Food & Nutrition
  4. Early Childhood Education
  5. Child Welfare
  6. Juvenile Justice
  7. Income Support

An appendix of our tables, sources, methodology and description of programs can be found here. 

How Much We Spend

The interactive circle chart below compares how much we spend by category, program, and source of funding, just use the filter and click the category to zoom in.

  • K-12 Education makes up 92% of the state-funded portion of the Children’s Budget, while the federal-funded portion is more diversified across categories.

Spending Trends

We compare the budget to FY2008 because that was a peak year in the economic cycle before The Great Recession and all figures have been adjusted for inflation, so they are comparable across time.

  • From FY2008 to FY2022, total public investment in children increased by 43%, growing much faster than Utah’s public-school enrollment (district & charter schools) by 26%, or the child population ages 0-17 by 13% from 2008-2021.

The federal share of the Children's Budget has fluctuated between 18-26% but had its biggest increase at the beginning of the Great Recession and the Covid-19 Pandemic. This is also when state funding for the Children's Budget has declined, for example real state & local K-12 education funding fell by $206 million since FY2020, the largest two-year decline since the Great Recession in 2008-2010. Several years after the Great Recession the federal share of the Children’s Budget decreased and the state share started to increase again, something that will hopefully happen again as pandemic relief funding rolls back. 

Funding Sources: Federal vs. State

When the categories are disaggregated by source of funding, Food & Nutrition, Income Support, Health, and Early Childhood Education programs are mainly funded by federal sources, and Child Welfare, K-12 Education, and Juvenile Justice programs are funded mainly by state sources. And since Amendment G passed and allowed the income tax to be used to fund programs for children (in addition to K-12 and some Early Childhood Education & Nutrition Programs), the Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice, and Health categories are funded primarily by the income tax. In FY2022, 98% of Juvenile Justice, 100% of Child Welfare, and 88% of Health categories of the state funded Children's Budget were funded by the income tax totaling to $475 M.

When examining the state-funded portion of the budget since FY2008 each category has a different story. 

  • Juvenile Justice programs declined the most in dollar amount, $32.9 M or 28% mainly due to a reduction in correctional facility and rural programs and it also had an increase in early intervention services which advocates consider to be a goal of juvenile justice reform.
  • Child Welfare programs declined by 16% or $21.8 M, mainly from the Service Delivery program which funds caseworkers to deliver child welfare, youth, and domestic violence services. 
  • Income Support declined 49% or $2.1 M and appears to be more cyclical, rising and falling with the Great Recession. Interestingly, the TANF grant is a mix of state and federal funds, and only a small amount goes to Income Support or cash assistance.[i]  
  • Food & Nutrition increased by 56% or $19.7 M due to an increase in liquor & wine tax revenues which supports the school lunch program.
  • Early Childhood Education had the largest percentage increase of 109% or $42.0 M mainly from the Upstart program but increasing in every program except Child Care Assistance.
  • Health has increased by 80% or $139.3 M from the Medicaid and CHIP program but also had a 58% or $12.4 M decrease in Maternal & Child Health. 
  • The category that has increased the most in dollar amount is K-12 Education.

K-12 Education Funding

State and local sourced funding for K-12 education increased by $1.6 billion in constant 2022 dollars from FY2008 to FY2022, but per-pupil spending only increased from $10,212 to $10,537 per student. This means that even though more is being spent in total dollars, it barely covers the increase in students during the same time.

In 1948, 100% of the income tax was allocated to public education, an increase from 75% when it was originally imposed in 1931. It was expanded in 1996 to include higher education, in 2021 to include non-education services for children and people with a disability, and may be expanded again depending on a 2024 ballot measure placed by the Utah Legislature.  

The income tax rate has been reduced in 1996, 2006, 2008, 2018, 2022, and 2023.  The graphs below illustrate a timeline of these changes and Utah’s total elementary and secondary public schools (district & charter) funding effort (including capital) as a percentage of personal income and rank compared to other states.

Unfortunately, the result is a downward trajectory and likely explains our second to last place in per-pupil funding in the country.[ii]

Utah's Education Funding Effort as a Percent of Personal Income

graph1

 

According to the fiscal notes, the last two bills that reduced the Income Tax rate in 2022 and 2023 estimated a loss of $1.3 billion in the Income Tax Fund from FY2022-2025 with more ongoing.[iii]

State & Local Funded Portion of K-12 Education

Another result of these changes has been shifts in the funding source for K-12 education. From the fiscal year 2008 to 2022, the federal-funded portion increased by 74% and the state-funded portion declined by 3%.

Meanwhile, Local sources have increased by 12%, possibly to meet the needs of their communities while state-funded sources decline and putting greater pressure on sources like the property tax which is more regressive than the income tax because it takes a greater toll on low-and middle-income families.

Rank of Utah's Education Funding Effort Compared to Other States

graph 2

We Need to Prioritize Children in the Budget

While Utah doesn’t have the most kids than any other state, we do have the highest share of kids in our population. And we as a community are entrusted to make sure they are cared for, safe, and have the tools they need to achieve their aspirations. As the Utah Legislature drafts, holds hearings on, debates, and passes the Utah state budget we hope they prioritize our most vulnerable and precious group, Utah’s children.

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[i] https://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/tanf_spending_ut.pdf 

[ii] https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances.html 

[iii] https://le.utah.gov/~2022/bills/static/SB0059.html, https://le.utah.gov/~2023/bills/static/HB0054.html These fiscal notes show the loss from the income tax fund but they are not disaggregated by changes from the income tax rate or tax credit portion of the bills.

Published in News & Blog

Congratulations, Utah parents and educators! Together, we did it. Funding for optional full-day kindergarten is now a reality for schools statewide. 

The Utah Legislature passed HB477, "Full Day Kindergarten Amendments," sponsored by Rep. Robert Spendlove (R-Sandy). This bill establishes the same flexible, stable funding stream for full-day kindergarten as currently exists for all other grades of public school, first through twelfth. Last week, Governor Spencer Cox signed this historic bill into law! 

(Click here to jump to our four-minute explainer video, which is also included at the bottom of this page)

Does this mean that next school year, every family in Utah will have the opportunity to enroll their kindergartner in a full-day program in their neighborhood school? Unfortunately, no. It DOES mean that the number of families who will have access to full-day kindergarten will increase dramatically - we estimate between 60% and 65% of kindergarteners will be able to enroll in an optional full-day program during the 2023-24 school year. This is is a huge leap from fewer than 25% just five years ago!

The passage of HB477 means that next school year (2023-24), every district and charter elementary school will have the opportunity to offer optional full-day kindergarten, using this new state funding stream. 

In order to offer more full-day kindergarten, schools must have more classroom space, more teachers, and more equipment like tables and chairs. Some school districts and charter schools have spent the last several years making plans to overcome these challenges, and will be ready to offer optional full-day kindergarten to most, if not all, of their local families in the coming school year. 

Some elementary schools are not quite ready to take advantage of this opportunity. These schools will need some time to overcome the challenges of: 1) limited classroom space; 2) recruiting new teachers; 3) purchasing new materials and equipment; 4) busing adjustments; and other practical issues. This is true particularly in some of our large, suburban school districts, such as Jordan, Davis and Alpine. Other small- and mid-size districts face some of these issues, as well. 

We estimate that it will take between three and five years before all Utah families have the opportunity to enroll their child in a full-day kindergarten program. Based on the popularity of newly expanded full-day programs in different parts of the state, we expect to see more than 90% of parents opt for full-day kindergarten for their children when it becomes available to them. 

The best way to find out whether your local elementary will be offering optional full-day kindergarten during the 2023-24 school year is to contact the current principal of that school (or the director, in case of charter schools) and ask them directly! Not only will this help you to plan for your family's schooling schedules, but it will help our local education leaders assess how much community interest exists for more optional full-day kindergarten. 

In case you were worried, the new law preserves parents' right to enroll their child in a half-day program, and does not make kindergarten mandatory. There is nothing in the law that tells districts and charters how much optional full-day kindergarten they must offer to their communities, or how soon they have to do so. HB477 was created to be as flexible as possible, allowing local communities to decide the right mix of half- and full-day programming for them. 

Thanks to all the hard work of education leaders, insistent parents and committed community advocates, we have finally accomplished state funding for optional full-day kindergarten in Utah! We especially appreciate the commitment of the United Way of Salt Lake and the Utah PTA, our core partners in the Utah Full-Day Kindergarten Now Coalition.

Of course, this would not have happened without the support and leadership of State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson, Sara Wiebke, Christine Elegante and other superhero staff at the Utah State Board of Education. We owe a lot to our bill sponsor, Rep. Spendlove, and the other legislative champions like Senator Ann Millner who have been key to this effort in the past (former Reps. Lowry Snow and Steve Waldrip, we are looking at you!). 

Published in News & Blog

At two large pre-legislative events in the second week of January, hundreds of attendees heard Utah's Senate President proudly assert that Utah was the only state that increased education funding during the pandemic. 

Every year, especially around the end of every legislative session, Utah's political leaders proclaim that they are putting record amounts of funding into education. 

Unfortunately, these claims are contradicted by the data published by the Utah State Board of Education in its Superintendent's Annual Report

Real FY21 and FY22 State + Local Education Funding Did Not Rise -- It Fell

 Real State Local K 12 Education Funding

These data are from the USBE Superintendent's Annual Reports, adjusted for inflation using the standard CPI-U inflation index from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. They show that Utah's real (inflation-adjusted) state + local education funding fell in both FY21 and FY22, both in total and on a per-student basis. (During those two fiscal years, the Utah Legislature passed over $300 million in income tax cuts.) 

State Education Funding Has Fallen While Local Education Funding Has Risen

FY2022 real per student state K 12 funding

We have heard legislative leaders assert every year that they have appropriated record amounts for education. We have also sometimes heard them say that local education funding (from property taxes) has not kept up, and that is the reason that overall education funding is inadequate to reduce Utah's largest-in-the-nation class sizes or address our high rates of new teacher turnover. Yet the data from USBE show two trends that contradict these claims, as illustrated in the chart above: 

    1. Real per-student state education funding was 2.5% lower in 2022 than in 2008 (the peak year for education funding before the Great Recession). 
    2. Real per-student local education funding was 12% higher in 2022 than in 2008. 

It is also worth noting, in this context, that permanently cutting the state income tax rate, as the Legislature has done in recent years and is considering doing once again this year, tends to put additional pressure on local property taxes to make up the difference for schools. The income tax and the property tax are the two main sources of funding for education. If policymakers intentionally and repeatedly undermine one of them, that inevitably creates pressure to increase the other (or allow it to increase naturally, as has happened the last two years with property taxes as home values have shot up).  

Can We Have Record Education Funding and Record Tax Cuts?

Legislative leaders have used their incorrect claims that Utah increased education funding during the pandemic to bolster their case that Utah can have it all -- record high levels of education funding and record tax cuts. But USBE data reveal that, in fact, we cannot have it all, that tradeoffs exist, and that hard choices must be made. If we have record tax cuts, we likely will not have record levels of education funding. If we want to strengthen education finance for the long-term betterment of our children and our state, we ought to consider what we are giving up when we give in to the tax cut temptation.  

One Final Comment: Inputs vs Outcomes

Needless to say, this entire discussion concerns only inputs to, not outcomes of, our K-12 public education system. But, as one superintendent wisely observed over a decade ago, "We cannot have the best school system in the country and be the lowest in the country in funding. We can't be first if we're always last." 

While there is little doubt that Utah does more with less in our public schools better than probably any other state, there are several key educational outcome measures that most concern Voices for Utah Children: 

  • Our high school graduation rates are no higher than or below national averages for nearly every racial and ethnic category. 
  • Our high school graduation rate gaps between haves and have-nots and between majority and minority groups are larger than nationally.
  • Our rate of college degrees, an area where Utah's older generations outpaced the nation, has fallen behind the nation's among our younger generation, the Millennial generation, based on Census data for Utahns age 25-34

Closing these gaps and regaining our once enviable lead will require substantial new investments at every step in the pipeline, from expanding pre-K and full-day kindergarten options to reducing class sizes and new teacher turnover in our elementary, middle, and high schools, to ensuring that more of our sons and daughters finish what they start at our public colleges and universities. 

 Note: The charts in this blog post are from Voices for Utah Children's forthcoming "Children's Budget Report 2023" that will be published in February 2023.

Both graphs are available for download here

Methodology and Location of Data  

Utah’s education funding rises each year, but so does the student population. And prices rise due to inflation, which has been worse the last year than in 40 years. So how can we judge whether education funding is really going up, as our political leaders always claim? There is one metric considered to be the gold standard for this purpose: inflation-adjusted per-student spending. To calculate this metric, you need three pieces of data. The locations of these items are detailed below:

1. State, Local, and Federal Education Spending

Source: Utah State Board of Education Superintendent’s Annual Report at www.schools.utah.gov/superintendentannualreport

Direct Document Link: Statewide Total: Revenue and Expenditures by Fund, June 30, 2022 https://www.schools.utah.gov/file/674392fc-3946-4ba2-ba19-da7f024f3fe5 

Comments: In the charts above, we used the state and local education spending data

2. K-12 Student Population

Source: Utah State Board of Education Superintendent’s Annual Report at www.schools.utah.gov/superintendentannualreport

Direct Document Link:  Fall Enrollment by Grade Level and Demographics, October 1, School Year 2022-2023  https://www.schools.utah.gov/file/5c8e2fac-55dc-4f0a-bf6a-6889133e4ffe 

Comments: Be sure to use the fall enrollment data from the fall of the year you are analyzing. For example, for FY/SY22, use October 2021 enrollment data.   

3. Inflation Index CPI-U

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statisticshttps://www.bls.gov/data/home.htm 

Direct Document Link:  All Urban Consumers (Current Series) (Consumer Price Index - CPI) https://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/surveymost?cu  U.S. city average, All items - CUUR0000SA0....then use “Annual Averages”  

Google Sheet with all collected data, sources & formulas

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1fTy8wKHY6Di33eRLTcM7Ce1B5Caw10sb/edit#gid=534909710

 

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