Education

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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BROAD COALITION CALLS FOR INVESTMENT IN UTAH’S FUTURE RATHER THAN TAX CUTS, DOCUMENTS $5.6 BILLION IN URGENT UNMET NEEDS

Salt Lake City – On Monday, January 23, 2023 at the Utah State Capitol, a broad and diverse coalition of advocates for the poor, for disabled Utahns, for education, health care, clean air, the Great Salt Lake, transportation investment, and a variety of other popular Utah priorities held a press conference calling on the Utah Legislature to prioritize addressing Utah’s long and growing list of unmet needs over permanent tax cuts that undermine our long-term capacity to invest in Utah’s future.

Utah’s strong economy and rapid recovery from the pandemic, combined with the ongoing impact of federal spending, have generated unexpected state revenues amounting to a reported $3.3 billion available for FY2024. These revenues put Utah in a position to address chronic revenue shortages that have plagued numerous areas of state responsibility. Instead, state leaders have proposed roughly half a billion dollars in permanent tax cuts, tilted unfairly toward the high end of the income scale, as well as additional hundreds of billions in one-time tax breaks.   

These new proposed permanent tax cuts would be over and above the roughly $4 billion that the Legislature has already cut from annual revenues in recent decades, leaving Utah’s taxes at their lowest level in half a century, relative to incomes.

4b tax cuts since 1985 CANVA 2048x1381

In response, today the Invest in Utah’s Future coalition presented a list of urgent unmet needs amounting to $5.6 billion, over $2 billion more than the amount of the “surplus” revenues.

The advocates also pointed out that, according to data from the Utah State Tax Commission and the Utah Foundation, taxes in Utah are the lowest that they have been in decades, following repeated rounds of tax cutting. “Of course we all like paying lower taxes, but at a certain point we have to ask ourselves: Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Are we, as the current generation of Utahns, meeting our responsibility, as earlier generations did, to set aside sufficient resources every year to invest in our children, in our future, in the foundations of the next generation’s prosperity and quality of life?” said Matthew Weinstein of Voices for Utah Children.

Speakers also referenced public opinion surveys by the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute that found that only 25% of Utahns support tax cutting over investing in Utah’s future, consistent with other polls done in recent years by the same organizations as well as by Envision Utah and the Utah Foundation.

Here is the list of urgent unmet needs that Utah has not been able to address due to the state’s chronic revenue shortages:

 Budget Area Amount Details Contacts
 K-12: Reduce class sizes from 29 to 15  $1.1 billion ($612m K-6 only)  

Reduce class sizes/improve student/teacher ratio below the current Utah average of 29 (vs national average of 24) to optimum class size of 15.

Utah Education Association Director of Policy and Research Jay Blain
 K-12: Paraeducators   $312 million  

Expand paraeducators to all Utah elementary classrooms.

Utah Education Association Director of Policy and Research Jay Blain
 K-12: Increase school counselors   $130 million  Increase school counselors per student to the national standard optimum of 1:250. Utah’s current ratio is 1:648, compared to the national average of 1:455.    Utah Education Association Director of Policy and Research Jay Blain
 K-12: school psychologists, social workers and special ed teachers  $285 million Increase student access to school psychologists, social workers and special ed teachers. 

Current and optimal ratios are: 

School psychologists: Now 1:1950/Optimal 1:500

Social workers: Now 1:3000/Optimal 1:250

Special ed teachers: Now 1:35/Optimal 1:25
Utah Education Association Director of Policy and Research Jay Blain
 K-12 Education: reduce teacher attrition and shortages  $500-600 million  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 the majority-minority gaps in Utah’s high school graduation rates are worse than nationally and our younger generation of adults (age 25-34) have fallen behind their counterparts nationally for educational attainment at the college level (BA/BS+).   
 K-12 School Nurses  $78.5 million The Utah Dept of Health annual report “Nursing Services in Utah Public Schools 2021-22” found that it would cost $78.5m to hire an additional 785 nurses so as to have one nurse in every public school building. There are currently only 261 nurse FTEs in Utah’s public schools, a ratio of 1 nurse for every 2,583 students. One nurse in every building would improve that ratio to 1:644, which would still be worse than the national average.
https://heal.health.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/2022-Nursing-services-in-Utah-Public-schools-8-22-22-ADA.pdf
 Dr. William Cosgrove, Past-President, American Academy of Pediatrics – Utah
 Full Day Kindergarten  $70 million  Gov. Cox is proposing $70 million in the FY24 budget to make full-day Kindergarten available to all Utah families who would choose to opt in to it.  Voices for Utah Children Anna Thomas
Child Care $236 million

$236 million is needed to continue stabilizing the child care industry as federal funds are depleted. This funding will allow for the continuation of child care stabilization grants, retention incentives for early childhood professionals, the coverage of licensing-related fees in order to lessen the barriers to expanding, maintaining, and opening new child care programs, and regional child care outreach grants for rural and urban child care deserts.

Source: www.utahcareforkids.org/get-involved/2023-legislation

Jenna Williams  

Pre-K and Child Care $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.  
Afterschool Programs $3.6 million Utah’s 303 afterschool programs serve 43,000 kids but still leave 99,000 unsupervised every day after school. During the 2021 “21st Century Community Learning Center” grant competition in Utah, $1,062,816 was available and there was $4.6 million in requests, indicating a $3.6 million funding gap. Utah Afterschool Network Director Ben Trentelman 
Health Insurance: Children: Cover All Kids $5 million It would cost Utah about $5 million to remove barriers to health insurance coverage so that all Utah kids can access health insurance. Utah currently ranks last in the nation for covering the one-in-six Utah kids who are Latinx and in the bottom 5 states for all children. Source: Voices for Utah Children and www.100percentkids.health Voices for Utah Children Ciriac Alvarez Valle

Health Insurance:

New parents
$10 million

HB 84 would cost $3m to extend post-partum Medicaid coverage for new parents from the current 60 days to one year.

HB 85 would cost $7m to extend Medicaid coverage to pregnant women with household incomes up to 200% of poverty level.
Voices for Utah Children Ciriac Alvarez Valle
 Mental Health & Substance Use Disorder Treatment Uncertain 

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

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)

Amounts not determined to address large gaps in workforce capacity, but two bills this year are:  

HB 66: $11m for additional Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams and 2 additional Receiving Centers in rural parts of Utah

HB 248: $5m for additional Assertive Community Treatment Teams
 
 Disability Services  $31 million

The DSPD disability services waiting list has more than doubled in the last decade from 1,825 people with disabilities in 2011 to 4,427 in 2021. The FY20 $1 million one-time appropriation made it possible to provide services to 143 people from the waiting list, implying that it could cost $31 million to eliminate the waiting list entirely. 

In the 2022 session, the Legislature added $6 million in ongoing and $3 million in one-time money to shorten the disabilities waiting list. This year, Rep. Ward is sponsoring HB 242 to dedicate additional base budget funding to reduce the waitlist by 200 people each year.
 Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities – Jan Ferre  
 Rural Utah Economic Development $20 million   Rural Utahns should not feel that they need to abandon their home communities and add to the growth pressures along the Wasatch Front in order to provide for their families. Rural economic development would benefit all Utahns and reduce disparities between the Wasatch Front and other areas of the state. $20 million was one estimate for funding for economic development projects like the San Rafael Energy Research Center (Emery County) and renewable energy projects around Beaver County, both serving areas where primary jobs such as Smithfield Foods have left recently, and renewable energy projects have the potential to stabilize county economies.   Community Action Partnership of Utah - Stefanie Jones and Clint Cottam –  
 Reduce/Eliminate Benefits Cliffs  Uncertain  The existing benefits cliffs in many public anti-poverty programs – where public assistance disappears suddenly rather than phasing out gradually when someone gets a raise or takes a new, higher-paying job – act as an unintended obstacle to the efforts of low-income people to work their way out of poverty.   Circles Salt Lake – Kelli Parker
 Sexual and Domestic Violence Victim Services  

$310 million

OR

$68 million
 

Our economy incurs steep economic costs as a result of sexual and domestic violence. The Center for Disease Control estimates that over a lifetime the costs for a female survivor are $103,762 and for a male survivor $23,414. These include medical costs, loss of employment or interruption of paid work, criminal justice system costs, among others. A coalition of victim service providers and state agencies estimates the annual funding needed as $310 million ongoing to meet standard of care for all victims of domestic and sexual violence OR $68 million ongoing to fund the most basic level of services at only the current level of demand for services.

Erin Jemison, Director of Public Policy, Utah Domestic Violence Coalition (UDVC)
 Housing  $346 million per year for 10 years  

Among extremely low-income renter households, 71% pay more than 50% of their income for housing, which is considered a severe housing burden. $346 million per year of state funding over the next decade will make it possible to build affordable housing  statewide for people earning less than 50% AMI, based on a state cost share of $80,000 per unit, and Utah is short 43,253 units.

For more information on the current and ongoing needs visit https://nlihc.org/gap/state/ut 

Utah Housing Coalition

Tara Rollins  
 Housing for Seniors  $67.5 million  

$37.5 million a year for 10 years will fund rehabilitation of 500 units per year at a cost of $75,000 per unit. If we don’t fund preservation of affordable housing for seniors we will lose valuable units.

$30 million per year will make available rental gap funding of $500 per month for 5,000 units so that seniors can afford to stay in their rented units.

https://www.utahhousing.org/preserving-senior-affordable-housing-report.html 

https://nyuds.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=b8318f874017488ea9bdd51a296e59ef for senior housing report
Utah Housing Coalition Director Tara Rollins
 Homeless Services  $154 million 

$100m in one-time funds to produce 2,000 units of deeply affordable housing

$19m ongoing for tax credits and housing trust fund

$5m to the housing trust fund to produce 1,000 new units of affordable housing over the next 10 years

$30m one-time for projects to eliminate unsheltered homelessness for families with children: The total number of people needing emergency shelter services in Utah increased by 14% in 2022.  For families with children the increase was 33%.  This is why, for the first time in over 20 years, families with children were turned away from the family shelter in Midvale during the months of September, October and November of last year because there were not enough beds to meet the need.  $30 million would help purchase a motel to convert into a second family shelter and purchase land that can be dedicated to produce mixed income housing developments that include permanent supportive housing for families with children headed by parents with disabling conditions that have been homeless for six or more months.
 

Coalition of Religious Communities - Bill Tibbitts

 Air Quality in Schools $5 million  Funding to continue the successful implementation of this year’s federally-funded program placing air purifiers in every classroom in Utah, which will reduce the risks both from COVID and from Utah’s air pollution and is expected to result in improved school performance, even more than standard interventions such as reducing class size by 30%, or “high dose” tutoring. (Source: Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment) UPHE Director Jonny Vasic -
 Air Quality: Promote Transit $25.5 million  

The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) experienced an increase in ridership during Free Fare February in 2022. Tens of thousands of riders, including many new to public transit, enjoyed the services, and stress on our transportation system and environment was lessened.

Governor Cox’s Budget Recommendations for FY24 includes a $25 million, one-year pilot for statewide zero-fare transit. This pilot would include the state’s three transit systems that are not currently zero-fare: Cedar Area Transportation System, SunTran, and the Utah Transit Authority. The governor also recommends $500,000 for a zero fare transit study to analyze the impacts of the pilot.

During Free Fare February, 87% of entities that subsidize UTA fares for their users continued paying subsidies to help enable the zero fare period. The Governor’s proposal calls on UTA fare subsidy partners to continue paying subsidies for their users during this one-year pilot period to cover $13.1 million in additional costs.

This pilot will provide Utah families price relief to help offset the burden of gasoline prices, gasoline tax indexing, and inflation, while also allowing researchers to analyze factors related to permanent decisions about zero fare transit

Steve Erickson -

 Improve UTA transit service   $175.6 million

$10.9m to match UTA projections to fully supplement free fares for a year. (In all, UTA projected $35.9 in fare revenue for 2023)

$3.5 million to address UTA’s driver shortage ($20/hr*2,080 hours*60 operators + 40% for benefits, taxes, etc.)

$30,000 to match CATS (Cedar City’s transit system) to fully supplement free fares for a year based on budget projections.

$136,000 to match SunTran (St. George’s transit system) to fully supplement free fares for a year based on budget projections.

$159 million to clear UTA’s debt to free UTA to expand and improve service.

$2 million to fund a matching grant from the federal government to study the feasibility of a passenger rail route connecting Boise to Las Vegas via Salt Lake and points in between.
 Curtis Haring, Utah Transit Riders Union    
 Hunger $1 million  It is clear that the state needs to do more in providing funding and other resources to help support local community food pantries. Utahns Against Hunger – Gina Cornia –
 Utah EITC  $57 million  Last year Utah became the 31st state with our own Earned Income Tax Credit, but we're one of the few who make it non-refundable, even though over 85% of the value of the federal EITC -- and the key to its poverty-reducing and workforce-enhancing power -- is its refundability. In 2022 under Gov. Youngkin, Virginia made their state EITC refundable. ITEP analysis shows 71% goes to the lowest-earning quintile and nearly all to the lower-income half of Utahns.   Voices for Utah Children – Matthew Weinstein –  
Gov. Cox’s proposed refundable tax credit   $54 million  Utah's Taxpayer Tax Credit shields most low-income workers from the income tax, which is a good thing because it makes our overall tax system less regressive. Now Gov. Cox is proposing to make it even better by making up to $250 of this credit refundable.  Drew Cooper, United Today Stronger Tomorrow
Eliminate the sales tax on unprepared food $200 million The food tax is the most regressive tax. One-third of it is paid by the lowest-income half of Utah households, who earn less than a sixth of all Utah income. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, low-income families pay 36% of their income on food while higher-income families spend only 8%. This is why 37 states do not charge any sales tax on food. Drew Cooper, United Today Stronger Tomorrow
Save the Great Salt Lake $333 million Gov. Cox is proposing $133m in new resources to save the Great Salt Lake and $200 million to help reduce water waste in agriculture. Source: www.sltrib.com/news/2022/12/30/dear-legislature-heres-2023/ Utah Rivers Council –Matt Berry
Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion as it relates to undocumented Utahns   Our public fiscal policies – how we generate and expend public investment dollars – have a direct impact on whether we are widening or narrowing the gaps between different groups in Utah. The Utah Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion must be more than just words on a page. slchamber.com/public-policy/utah-compact In particular, Utah is home to 95,000 undocumented men, women, and children. They work hard and pay taxes and need and deserve access to the same public services as every other Utahn. Comunidades Unidas – Brianna Puga –
The economic case against tax cuts   Tax cuts are usually enacted to provide additional stimulus to the economy. Given our very low unemployment rate, along with ongoing inflationary pressures, now is not really the right time for new economic stimulus. The future is uncertain – some economists expect we may face a recession in the coming year, though there’s a wide variety of opinions about the likely timing and severity of such a possible event. Additional tax cuts right now won’t do much to affect that. However, investing now in the many unmet needs we face, particularly in the areas of water and climate, education, child-care, and the many other needs listed here this morning, will put us in a better position to thrive whatever the coming years bring us in terms of economic conditions. Univ. of Utah Economics Prof. Thomas Maloney PhD

 TOTAL

 

$5.6 billion – over $2b more than the amount of "surplus" revenue for FY2024

 

 

 The press conference was broadcast live on Facebook: https://fb.watch/ieyT_0Zi14/?mibextid=RUbZ1f 

INVEST press conf FB screenshot

Media coverage: 

 Additional one-pagers distributed by some of the coalition members: 

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By Sariah Villalon (Voices Policy Intern)


We live in a digital world where social media has become integral to our society. It has broadened our communication, allowing us to connect and share information with anyone around the world. It has helped bring awareness to many issues and achievements within our society. But let's face it, unintended risks and consequences come with every innovation. One of them is its effect on our mental health, especially our young people's mental health.

Over the years, there has been an increase in depression, anxiety, and suicide among the youth, especially among girls. Social media may influence these mental health problems through social comparison, cyberbullying, and exposure to other toxic content (Nesi, 2020). 

Governor Spencer Cox recently addressed the relationship between social media on the mental health of our youth and how we could improve the mental health of our youth in Utah. Some of his recommendations are the following:

  • Hold social media companies accountable by providing tools for parents to safeguard their children,
  • Implement a cell phone-free environment in schools to reduce distraction for students.
  • Encourage parents to set an example for their children by spending quality social time with one another without social media use.
  • Educate their children on what is appropriate to say on these platforms.
  • Monitor their children's social media use by using different tools.
  • Have an honest conversation about social media

There are multiple good points that the governor pointed out. We agree that social media companies need to be held accountable for the algorithm and design of their apps that provide a toxic environment for their users. A couple of legislative efforts have been created to hold social media responsible. But is it enough?

We do not see so much urgency from these big techs. Even if they get fined, they could pay everything off quickly. It also puts too much burden on the parents to monitor and safeguard their children. We also have to be honest that we cannot blame everything on these companies. So, what can we do?

We need to hold these social media companies responsible by making them contribute to funding social media education for the youth. Organizations such as Digital Respons-Ability train parents, students, and educators on digital citizenship.

We cannot escape the digital world, and it will only progress from here on. We need to teach our youth how to use the technology and social media they have properly. Removing phones during school time will not solve our problems. By educating the youth, they can be better equipped to make informed decisions for their lives and improve their learning.

Another is research on the effect of social media on youth mental health. As we know, mental health is multi-faceted. We cannot just say that one factor causes mental health problems. We need more longitudinal studies on its effects to counter better or mitigate its adverse effects.

More importantly, let's talk more openly about our mental health. Let us educate ourselves and share our experiences with our children so they can also be aware of their well-being. Give them the resources to improve or manage their mental health. When children are more knowledgeable, it can increase their chances of knowing when and where to get the help they might need. 

Learn more on how we can help through this video. You can also download this infographic on Youth Mental Health & Digital Media for more information. 

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