State Policy

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

 

Published in News & Blog

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: 

Published in News & Blog
January 17, 2023

Comparing the Tax Cuts

The 2023 Legislature's annual seven-week General Session has begun! At the top of the agenda for the Governor and Legislative leadership: tax cuts. 

While Voices for Utah Children and many other advocates for Utah's most vulnerable populations are deeply concerned about the long-term detrimental effect of tax cuts on state and local governments' abilities to meet their obligations to Utahns (see www.InvestInUtahsFuture.org for more about that), we are also cognizant of the political reality that tax cuts are popular with Utah's political leadership (in contrast to public opinion).

If there's one thing Voices for Utah Children has learned following tax policy in recent years, it's that not all tax cuts are created equal. Hence this guide to the tax cuts being proposed this year.

Ranking the Tax Cut Proposals

Ranking Tax Cut Proposals

We rank the tax cuts by regressivity -- do they make our overall tax system more or less regressive than it currently is? Regressivity is about fairness. Utah's current overall state + local tax system is regressive/unfair in the sense that the highest income households pay a lower overall share of their incomes in state and local taxes than low- and middle-income households.

The chart above illustrates whether each individual proposed tax cut would make Utah's taxes even more unfair, or would it reduce the inequities in the current tax structure. We illustrate the impact of the proposals in the chart below two different ways:

1) By share of the tax cut: How does it slice the pie? Who gets the big pieces and who's stuck with the crumbs (or nothing at all)? 

2) By dollar amounts: How much does a family benefit each year at each income level? (though we did not have this data for the smaller tax cuts on the list)

Important Background Information

What are the major taxes in Utah and who pays them?

  • The sales tax: Our most regressive tax -- meaning it takes a bigger bite percentage-wise out of the incomes of low- and middle-income families than their high-income neighbors. (And same goes for the gas tax.)
  • The property tax: Not as regressive as the sales or gas taxes but still costs lower-income families a greater share of their incomes than higher-income families, including non-homeowners who pay it indirectly through their rent.
  • The income tax: Utah's only non-regressive tax. The only one that lines up with Utah's income distribution, following the 3/5--1/5 Rule: Three-fifths of all Utah income is earned by the top one-fifth of taxpayers, and three-fifths of the income tax is paid by that same high-income group. KEEP IN MIND: When the Legislature cuts the income tax rate, not only do they make our tax system more regressive overall, they also put more pressure on local property taxes, which tend to rise to make up for the lost education funding when the income tax rate is cut. As a result, cutting the income tax means a tax shift from state to local and from the highest-income Utahns to middle-class and low-income households. 

See more details about who pays which taxes in Utah and how our overall tax structure is regressive at www.ITEP.org/WhoPays/Utah

How Do These Proposed Tax Cuts Compare to Last Year?

2022 SB 59 Tax Cuts Summary

2022 SB 59 Tax Cuts Summary

Last year, the 2022 Utah Legislature passed SB 59 -- about $200 million of permanent tax cuts.

  • The majority of the breaks went to the highest income fifth of Utahns, those earning above about $130,000.
  • Just 6% of last year's tax cuts went to the bottom two-fifths of Utahns, those earning under about $60,000 a year.
Published in News & Blog

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. 

Published in News & Blog

Since the start of the pandemic, Utah has received nearly $600 million in emergency federal funding to ensure that our child care sector can continue to serve families despite nearly overwhelming COVID-era challenges. 

In one year, at the end of September 2023, most of that funding will be exhausted. The potential impacts of this “funding cliff” are: 

    • More child care program closures, 
    • Much higher child care costs for families, and 
    • More dramatic workforce turnover due to lowered wages. 

By this time next year, Utah’s working families with young children will be in even more serious trouble when it comes to child care. That is, if we don’t start talking about how to use state dollars to fund the programs that have kept child care programs stable and open over the past two years. 

Utah’s child care industry struggled long before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic exacerbated persistent issues in the sector such as:  

    • Tuition costs that are as high or higher than rent or mortgage payments, and 
    • Wages for providers so low that more than one-half (53%) of child care educators across the nation use public benefits to make ends meet.

Utah’s child care industry would not have been able to weather the COVID pandemic if not for $572 million in federal dollars, $325 million of that through the American Rescue Plan. This infusion of desperately-needed financial support: 

    • Kept hundreds of center- and home-based child care programs open even in the darkest moments of the pandemic;
    • Allowed more families to access child care subsidies with fewer out-of-pocket expenses; 
    • Funded higher wages and even a workforce bonus for early care and education professionals; and
    • Supported regional efforts to recruit new child care providers into the field, while paying startup and licensing costs for these new business owners.

Perhaps the greatest impact was felt through child care stabilization grants offered through the state Office of Child Care. These grants helped child care providers defray the unexpected costs associated with the pandemic, and stabilize their business operations so they could continue to provide care. The grants also helped many providers pay their staff members $15/hour or more. Thanks to these grants, Utah has experienced much fewer child care program closures than many other states.

While very grateful for this support, early care and education providers across Utah tell us that the impending funding cliff has them feeling worried and even hopeless about the future of their work. What they will do when the stabilization grants end in September 2023, and this long-needed government support vanishes?

 A report based on surveys of child care providers in Kentucky reported that when federal American Rescue Plan COVID relief dollars run out in that state: 

    • More than 70% will be forced to raise tuition for working parents
    • Close to 40% indicated they would cut staff wages, and 
    • More than 20% said they would permanently close their child care center. 

Even before the pandemic, Utah had a 65% gap between the need for child care and the capacity of programs to provide it. When relief dollars end, this gap could widen, forcing parents to leave their jobs in an already desperate job market. The lack of accessible child care already accounts for a loss of $512 million in lost earnings, business productivity, and revenue each year in Utah. 

The end of ARPA funds could also mean wage losses in a profession already vastly underpaid at $10.47/hour (or $20,940/year) in Utah. 

State leaders can and need to find ways to continue these business-saving policies. With Utah lawmakers talking about overflowing state coffers and potential tax cuts, we know the money exists. These dollars can be redirected to make a real investment in the child care sector. Even small efforts like covering the costs associated with licensing or removing the bureaucratic burdens of city parking requirements can make an impact.  

This month, newly released Census Bureau data showed an incredible national decline in childhood poverty. Poverty fell to the lowest level on record in 2021 and it was the largest year-to-year decline in history. The decline is largely attributed to a combination of emergency pandemic aid and the child tax credit expansion. We know that access to quality, affordable, safe child care is a good investment in children and families. Let’s learn from the lessons of the last two years and make the investment in children and families that Utah needs. 

Published in News & Blog

Labor Day weekend is in the past, the “heat dome” has cracked, and we are well on our way into the 2022-23 school year. Oh, and the majority of Utah families still have no choice when it comes to their child’s kindergarten program.

Ensuring that all Utah families have access to the type of kindergarten program that is right for their child – be it half-day or full-day – remains a top priority of Voices for Utah Children this school year. The current reality in our state is that most families would prefer to attend optional full-day kindergarten (FDK), but aren’t able to access it at their neighborhood or charter school.

We are proud of the progress we and our many amazing partners have made together over the past several years:

  • From $7.5 million in state funding for optional full-day kindergarten programs in 2018 to $36.7 million available in for the current school year!
  • From fewer than 25% of Utah kids with access to optional FDK in 2018 to more than 40% with access in the current school year!

Nonetheless, Utah remains dead last in the nation in terms of kindergarteners who have access to a full-day program. Most states haven’t seen that low of a rate of participation in FDK for decades.

Many Utah parents want it, many Utah schools want to offer it, but the funding available to expand optional FDK is simply insufficient. As a result, in our state, a family’s home address remains the single greatest determining factor as to whether that family has the chance to participate in an optional full-day kindergarten program.

We believe 2023 is the year to turn this around – by passing legislation that guarantees future education funding for optional full-day kindergarten for as many families as would like to participate.

During the 2022 legislative session, Utah policymakers had the opportunity to pass such a bill: HB193, Full-Day Kindergarten, sponsored by Rep. Steve Waldrip and Sen. Ann Millner.  By the end of the session, however, the original bill had been scaled back in funding, and stripped of critical provisions that supported schools in expanding their optional FDK programs. The additional funding helped many schools increase access to optional FDK, but close to 60% of families still have no chance to participate.

With the support of thousands of Utah families with young children, our coalition partners are determined to pass a legislative solution in 2023 that will do right by all Utah kindergarteners, regardless of where they live in the state. Check out our Fall 2022 Full-Day Kindergarten video below, and visit the Utah Full-Day Kindergarten Now Coalition website for ideas on how to be part of the solution!

Published in News & Blog

New Economic Benchmarking Report Finds Utah Ahead of Texas in Most Key Metrics of Economic Opportunity and Standard of Living

Salt Lake City, August 31, 2022 - Voices for Utah Children released today the fifth in its series of economic benchmarking reports that evaluate how the Utah economy is experienced by median- and lower-income families by benchmarking Utah against another state.  This year's report, authored by Taylor Throne and Matthew Weinstein with support from intern Bryce Fairbanks from the University of Utah Department of Economics, compares Utah to Texas.  While the Economic Opportunity benchmarks come out nearly even, with Utah ahead in 11 and Texas ahead in 8, in the Standard of Living category Utah predominates in 20 categories and Texas in just two.

Voices for Utah Children's Economic Analyst Taylor Throne commented, "It seems clear that Texas has more to learn from Utah than vice versa. In terms of economic opportunity, Utah outperforms Texas for our labor force participation rate and our low unemployment rate (see page 13 of the report). In education, while both states are in the bottom 10 for investment, Utah claims much better 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores. At the university level, Utah invests more and enjoys stronger educational attainment levels (though our younger generation has lost the lead over the nation enjoyed by our older generations.) (See page 17.)  Utah ranks 1st in the nation for our low level of income inequality, while Texas ranks 38th. We also stand out for intergenerational mobility and rank #1 for education funding fairness while Texas ranks 34th (see page 21). In the second part of the report where we measure standard of living. Utah is the clear winner in most measures. Utah enjoys much lower rates of poverty and uninsured children (though both states rank at the bottom for insuring Hispanic/Latino children) (see page 25).The most recent Kids Count overall ranking has Utah 4th and Texas 45th (see page 29). Utah also has shorter commutes, higher homeownership rates, and more volunteerism and voter participation (see page 33)." 

Voices for Utah Children's State Priorities Partnership Director Matthew Weinstein commented, "The main takeaways from this report and the others in the series are that Utah's economic successes put us in a position to make the new upfront investments we need to make now -- in education, public health, poverty prevention, and closing racial/ethnic gaps -- so that we can achieve our true potential and follow in the footsteps of states like Colorado and Minnesota that have become high-wage states and achieved a higher standard of living, and do it in such a way that all our children can have a better future."  

The report release presentation took place online and can be viewed at https://fb.watch/ffuSPZ09MR/. The presenters included both Taylor Throne and Matthew Weinstein as well as a special guest, Brandon Dew, President of Central Utah Labor Council.  

View Report

 

Utah's Top Economic Advantages: Hard Work & Strong Families Allow Utah to Enjoy High Household Incomes and Low Poverty 

Can Texas Learn Any Lessons from Utah? 

Utah enjoys a higher real median household income than Texas, ranking #11 nationally, although past inequities have left a legacy of barriers causing significant gaps between the median wage of different racial and ethnic groups.  Utah's higher incomes are due largely to our high labor force participation rates and our preponderance of two-worker (often two-parent) households.  

 real median household income

Even though Texas has a larger GDP per capita and ranks ahead of Utah for business climate, Utah has a higher share of people working and fewer people looking and unable to find work. Utah ranks 1st in the nation for income equality by the GINI Index, 1st for K-12 funding equity, and has fewer people living below the poverty line.

Gini index

Utah is the clear winner by most standard of living measures. The most recent Kids Count overall ranking has Utah 4th and Texas 45th.  Utah also has shorter commutes, higher homeownership rates, and more volunteerism and voter participation. Utah also has a much fairer tax system.  Texas applies one of the highest tax rates in the nation (6th highest) to households with the lowest incomes and applies one of the lowest tax rates (9th lowest) to households with the highest income. This is because Texas has no personal or corporate income tax to offset the regressivity of their major revenue sources: sales, excise, and property taxes.  As a result, Texas is one of the highest-tax states in the nation for lower-income residents, and one of the lowest-tax states for the wealthy.

homeownershi_prates.png

Can Utah Learn Any Lessons from Texas? 

Texas leads in early childhood education for pre-k and full-day kindergarten participation. Texas also has a much smaller gender wage gap than Utah, which ranks as one of the worst states for gender equality. When disaggregated by race and ethnicity, Texas has a smaller gender wage gap than Utah for every race and ethnicity except Latino and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women.

fulldayk

Policy Implications

Strengthening the Labor Force

Utah and Texas are both far below the national average for median (50th percentile) and 10th percentile hourly wages, likely due to the fact that both are among the 20 states that never raised their minimum wages above the 2009 federal minimum of just $7.25 (now at its lowest level since 1956), and both states are among the 27 that discourage union membership through “right-to-work” laws. 

Addressing the Legacy of and Present Barriers Causing Racial & Ethnic Gaps

Racial and ethnic gaps are evident in almost every outcome where race and ethnicity are disaggregated, such as high school graduation rates, wages, gender pay gaps, poverty rates, and uninsured rates. It is important to note that these gaps were caused by social, economic, and political structures and policies that have perpetuated racial inequality, elaborated in our report. Such policies have had very serious consequences for people of color, especially children of color. And as in the rest of the nation, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these hardships. Addressing these gaps through investments in early childhood and K-12 education, specifically where there is a high concentration of children of color (which includes many communities along the Wasatch Front, including Ogden, Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, West Valley City, Midvale, and Provo) would likely increase educational attainment, wages, and standard of living overall and would therefore contribute to reducing racial and ethnic gaps in the future.  

Restoring Education Funding Effort

The link between education and income is well-established. States with higher education levels generally have higher levels of worker productivity, wages, and incomes. Voices for Utah Children has demonstrated elsewhere that Utah’s education funding effort has fallen from top 10 in the nation in the 1990s to the bottom 10 states today. While Utah “does more with less” in education compared to other states, will we be able to continue to advance without addressing the underfunding in our public education system? Utah has racial/ethnic educational outcome gaps which are larger than the national average, our pupil-to-teacher ratio is 3rd worst in the nation at 23:1 vs the national average of 16:1, and teacher pay has also fallen by 2% over the past 50 years, while teacher salaries nationally have increased 7%.

At the college level, Utah historically was always ahead of the national average for attainment of bachelor’s degrees and above. But Census data show Utah’s lead shrinking relative to the nation with each successive generation, to the point now that Utah millennials (ages 25-34) have fallen behind their peers nationally, despite relatively generous state support and low tuition levels. In addition, for young adults who do not seek to complete a college degree, apprenticeships and other skilled training programs or ensuring state contracts pay the prevailing local wage are two policies that have proven their value for achieving higher wages.

Can Utah Become a High-Wage State?

Utah has gone from being a low-wage state a generation ago to middle-wage status today, a considerable accomplishment. One question Utah leaders may now wish to consider is, is that good enough? Should we declare, “Mission Accomplished”? Or is Utah in a position, like Colorado and Minnesota before us, to become, over time, a high-wage state and set our sights on taking the necessary steps today to achieve that goal over the years and decades to come?

Chart UT med hrly wage rank 2000 2021

Similarly, how do we include those earning the lowest wages in the gains Utah has made and will potentially make in the future?  Utah is not even a half percentage point lower than the national share of workers earning poverty-level wages and lags behind the nation’s 10th percentile wage, ranking 33rd.  Even as the state with the lowest income inequality ranking in the nation, Utah suffers from a tremendous gap between low-income workers and the rest of the income scale.

The main lesson that emerges from the Working Families Benchmarking Project reports comparing Utah to Colorado, Minnesota, Idaho, Arizona and now Texas is the following: Higher levels of educational attainment translate into higher hourly wages, higher family incomes, and an overall higher standard of living. The challenge for policymakers is to determine the right combination of public investments in education, infrastructure, public health, and other critical needs that will enable Utah to continue our progress and achieve not just steady growth in the quantity of jobs, but also a rising standard of living that includes moderate- and lower-income working families from all of Utah’s increasingly diverse communities.

The 41-page report is available for download here

 

MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE BENCHMARKING PROJECT:

The Spectrum: https://www.thespectrum.com/story/news/2022/09/02/report-compares-utah-texas-economy-standard-living-homes-jobs/7970912001/ 

KSL News Radio: https://kslnewsradio.com/1974565/new-report-ranks-utah-above-texas-in-aspects-of-economic-opportunity-and-standard-of-living/

Salt Lake Tribune:  https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/commentary/2022/09/15/matthew-weinstein-taylor-throne/

Published in News & Blog

Families living with health insurance, and without: New storybook highlights why all Utah children need health insurance

Throughout the pandemic, health insurance has been a critical lifeline for Utah families to stay healthy and avoid medical debt. Yet many Utah children and parents are still unable to access any form of health insurance; they are denied coverage due to their immigration status. A new digital storybook, released by Voices for Utah Children, highlights families’ real-life experiences with health insurance and medical care. The stories reveal how having health insurance- or not having it- can alter a child’s life course.

The digital book is a collection of accounts shared by children, parents and caregivers across Utah. To protect the privacy and sensitive material shared, names were changed. The book includes accounts of children growing up without health insurance; the short and long-term positive impact of CHIP and Medicaid for children; immigrants and asylees finding the care they need; and children being denied care due to immigration status, while their siblings born in the United States can access care.

The storybook humanizes a problem that is often ignored: today in Utah, thousands of Utah children are still shut out of health coverage. As one DACA- recipient recounts in the book, growing up her families was “Too scared of the cost to go to the ER.”

However, there are glimpses of hope on the horizon. In the 2022 General Session, the Utah Legislature considered a bill that would allow all income-eligible children to enroll in Medicaid or CHIP, regardless of their background or immigration status. The bill, sponsored by Senator Luz Escamilla and Representative Mike Schultz, passed the Senate with broad support, but ran out of time in the House.

The book lifts up the stories behind the 2022 legislation. Previous reports from Voices for Utah Children have estimated the significant state savings if all children have coverage. The digital storybook shows the emotional, physical and financial costs families pay when their children are denied health insurance, and the life-changing benefits when families are able to get coverage.

Download Storybook Today!

Published in News & Blog

This Session, one of Voices for Utah Children’s top priority bills received very little public attention despite its behind-the-scenes activity. Below we will unpack what happened, lessons we learned, and what we believe the path forward should be so we can reach 100% Kids Coverage in Utah.

First a little background, during the 2021 Legislative Session, we were thrilled to see many statements in support of children’s health insurance coverage. Speaker Wilson highlighted children’s coverage and Utah’s high rate of uninsured kids during his opening Session remarks and supported funding for CHIP outreach. On the Senate side, Senator Escamilla championed a bill to Cover All Kids, which former House Leader, Representative Gibson, sponsored on the House side. While the bill did not make it through in the final days of the Session, it seemed well-positioned to pass in 2022.

Onto 2022…

This year Senator Luz Escamilla ran Senate Bill 185. Like her bill last year, SB 185 ensured all Utah children could get covered and stay covered by allowing income -eligible Utah children access to Medicaid and CHIP, regardless of immigration status. In addition, SB 185 restored funding for continuous eligibility for Medicaid children. Senator Escamilla skillfully navigated SB 185, with approval from the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee and broad support on the Senate floor. On the House side, Majority Leader, Representative Mike Schultz, stepped up as the House Sponsor to usher the bill across the finish line. But unfortunately, the bill was never brought to the full floor for a vote in the House.

So what happened this year?

Although SB 185 made it out of the Senate with little objections or pushback, it ran into obstacles in the House. The bill arrived in the House without enough time for a committee hearing. While it could have gone through without one, members of the House did not have the full time to discuss and familiarize themselves with the bill and work through question or concerns.  Although the bill never came to the floor for a full vote, it did have strong bipartisan support. Cover All Kids got even closer this year, but still fell short.

Going forward, we must discuss any questions or concerns directly. We invite lawmakers to join us in having honest conversations about the children we are leaving behind in our state, the children we are deciding not to cover. All children growing up in Utah need health insurance to thrive, regardless of their immigration status. To deny some children access to health care is unconscionable.

It is time we amplify the many voices, the stories, the statewide energy and support for Covering All Kids.  Lawmakers are ready; Utahns are ready. It’s time we act to Cover All Kids.

Learn more about the stories and join our campaign at https://www.100percentkids.health/take-action

Published in News & Blog

This Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) Advocacy Convening is for our grassroots partners in the childcare and early education fields, who want to be help build a better child care system to serve Utah families! 

This ECCE gathering will be an interactive, accessible half-day event for parents (and other who are responsible for young children), child care providers, community advocates, and early education advocates from all over Utah.

** For attendees traveling from off the Wasatch Front, free lodging is available for the evening of Friday, April 1, in downtown Salt Lake City. You must register by 12:00 p.m. on March 21 in order to take advantage of this offer. 

LOCATION


  • IN PERSON: Capitol Board Room 204 (2nd Level) at the Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City

  • ONLINE: Zoom access provided in the week prior to the event to registered attendees 

DATE


This training is being held on a Saturday (April 2)  in order to be more inclusive of early education professionals who are busy caring for and teaching children throughout the work week, as well as the working parents who rely on these folks while they themselves are on the job. 

TIME


The training will begin at 9:00 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. 

SCHEDULE


  • 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. - Breakfast Social with free hot breakfast provided by Elizabeth's Catering 
  • 9:00 to 9:30 a.m. - Welcome and Overview
  • 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. - Panel Discussion with Utah Legislators
  • 10:30 to 10:45 a.m. - Break
  • 10:45 to 12:15 p.m. - Interactive Child Care Advocacy Strategizing for 2022-23 
  • 12:15 to 12:30 p.m. - Free hot lunch served by Elizabeth's Catering
  • 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. - Lunch discussion with Panel of National Child Care Advocacy Leaders
  • 1:15 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. - Small group planning for 2022-23 Advocacy Action
  • 2:00 to 2:30 p.m. - Wrap Up and Appreciations   

There is no cost to attend, but in-person participation is limited. Participants can attend either in person or onlineRegistration must be completed by Friday, March 25.

Register Today

Published in Events