As many people know, Utah has been last in the nation for decades in per pupil spending on education, trailing Arizona and Idaho.
Utah Foundation staff had expected the state to pull ahead of Idaho at some point during the past four years. It has finally happened with the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau data released today.
The Utah Foundation prefers the measure of education spending effort – or the amount spent on education per $1,000 in Utahns’ personal income. Utah has dropped down to 41st in the nation on this metric, after being a top-10 state in the 1990s. Nonetheless, per-pupil operational spending is an interesting measure.
However, spending is only part of the equation. What is most important are outcomes. According to Utah Foundation research, Utah’s students are somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of outcomes as compared to our peer states – even at our low per-pupil spending rate. See Making the Grade? K-12 Outcomes and Spending in Utah for a full exploration of that issue.
Outcomes for certain groups are of particular concern, such as kids from lower-income families and English language learners. Utah’s new funding formula for kids at risk of poorer academic outcomes has been updated in 2021. It will now increase annually with Utah’s major funding mechanism, the weighted pupil unit. And, due to recent legislation on the formula, the Utah Legislature is looking at the sufficiency of that funding, with the potential for it to increase about five-fold.
If the Utah Legislature does increase that funding, look out Arizona. Utah will be nipping at your heels.
 U.S. Census Bureau, 2019 Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2019/econ/school-finances/secondary-education-finance.html.
 Utah Foundation, Making the Grade? K-12 Outcomes and Spending in Utah, https://www.utahfoundation.org/reports/making-the-grade-k-12-outcomes-and-spending-in-utah/.
 Utah Legislature, Senate Bill 142, https://le.utah.gov/~2021/bills/static/SB0142.html.