Turning Education Funding Around

Written by: Dan Bammes

Governor Gary R. Herbert was asked about the recent Utah Foundation report on growth in Utah’s public school population during his monthly news conference at KUED on Thursday, May 14th. The report Reaching Toward 2050: Education in the Midst of Population Growth urges the creation of a long-term, statewide plan for Utah’s public schools and includes an explanation of how past policy changes have limited the funding base for the expected growth of Utah’s K-12 population to almost one million students by 2050.

Video courtesy KUED

In response to the question, the governor said,”We need to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples.” He followed that with a thought about Utah’s per-pupil spending, which has consistently been the lowest in the nation, though he says the state is getting a good “bang for the buck.” The Utah Foundation report also looks at funding effort, defined as the share of Utahns’ personal income spent on the public schools. Where it had been among the top ten states a generation ago, Utah’s education funding effort is now 31st. Per-pupil spending and education funding effort aren’t directly comparable, but looking at the same “apple” over time, it’s clear that the Utah isn’t dedicating the same proportion of resources to public schools as it did in the 1990’s.

To his credit, Governor Herbert proposed and won $512 million in new legislative appropriations for public education in the state budget for the coming year. This is a significant increase and begins to reverse the downward trend in school funding effort. The governor also cited improved performance by minority students in Utah’s public schools — a finding supported by a recent study by the public policy research group Civic Enterprises.

Governor Herbert was then asked about his own prospects for re-election. In his response, he referred to recent work to develop a ten-year statewide plan for education. Creating such a plan is something the report strongly recommends, citing work by business and community groups such as Prosperity 2020 and Education First. Part of that planning process will no doubt include a focus on maintaining adequate resources for Utah schools going into the future.

Note: Utah Foundation President Steve Kroes is a member of Governor Herbert’s Education Excellence Commission, and in that role he is working to develop the education plan Governor Herbert referred to.

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