Getting By with Less: Two Decades of K-12 Education Revenue and Spending

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Over the past twenty years, Utah’s K-12 education funding effort – or the amount spent per $1,000 personal income – has decreased from 7th highest in the nation to 37th. The decline has resulted in a nearly 29% decrease in tax revenue, which equates to a $1.2 billion reduction of funds available annually for public K-12 education. This would equate to an increase in funding of nearly $2,000 per pupil, or an average of over $1.2 million for each of Utah’s schools. (see page 5).

This report looks closely at four major tax and policy changes that have impacted K-12 education funding. In addition, this report examines recent funding. For example, $110 million has been added to K-12 education annually over the past five years. However, inflation and population growth consumed about $88 million annually, leaving only $22 million per year in new investment – an 0.8% annual increase (see page 14).

The report concludes by noting that Utahns will need to decide whether they are satisfied with current outcomes at current levels of spending. Those outcomes have shown some improvement in recent years, although challenges remain. Alternatively, Utahns would need to determine whether they are willing to see their taxes increase in an attempt to provide more children with opportunities for success in K-12 and to continue on to higher education.

funding-and-spending-effortKEY FINDINGS:

  • Without the mid-1990s changes and downward pressures on tax rates from Truth in Taxation, property taxes could have been bringing in an additional $600 million annually (see pages 11-13).
  • From 1995 until today, income tax changes have resulted in an annual reduction of more than $350 million to public education (see pages 7-8).
  • To reach the national average in per-pupil spending, Utah would need to increase total K-12 education spending by 70%, or $2.9 billion, doubling spending from state sources (see page 15).
  • In 1996, Utah’s income tax – which had been directed entirely to K-12 education – was identified as a source of funding for higher education, freeing up sales tax dollars for other state needs. As a result of a voter approved Utah constitutional amendment, income taxes are providing a large proportion of higher education revenues – more than $800 million in 2017 (see page 9).
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