Editorial: Our Schools Now compromise is encouraging, but more funding still needed
On Monday, Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law the school funding compromise lawmakers reached with leaders of the Our Schools Now ballot initiative during the legislative session.
It marks the end of the debate surrounding Our Schools Now, which sought to raise the state income and sales tax rates in order to generate $700 million annually for education. But it must not be the end of the push for better education funding. There is more work to be done to ensure our teachers and the students they educate are given every necessary tool to succeed.
To be clear, the compromise is a good thing for schools throughout Utah. Instead of voters determining the fate of the entire initiative in November, when there would be a significant chance of the measure failing, a major funding increase is now guaranteed, largely due to a freeze on the statewide property tax that funds education. The tax rate typically decreases every year as assessed property values rise.
Officials say the compromise could result in an additional $845 per student by 2023 on top of an additional $292 million next school year — though the full per-pupil amount depends on the Legislature increasing the gas tax by 10 cents during its next session.
That’s not nothing. But it’s still not enough, especially coming from a starting point of having the worst-funded public education system in the country. Take, for instance, the Park City School District, which is a prime example that the state’s funding woes are far from over. The compromise Herbert signed Monday dictates that the state will take a significant amount of the additional tax revenue generated within the Park City School District’s borders and disperse it to poorer districts throughout the state.
Given the state’s current funding levels, redistributing school funding makes sense, even though it’s detrimental to Park City. Students who aren’t fortunate enough to be raised in a district with a sizeable tax base like Park City’s still deserve a quality education, after all.
The issue, though, is that a properly funded education system would not require taking significant amounts of money from one district — and the educational opportunities the money would provide — to give to other districts.
To its credit, the Our Schools Now push started an important conversation and ultimately spurred action from the Legislature. But until lawmakers allot enough money to public education that they no longer have to redistribute large chunks of revenues from places like Park City, there will be plenty of room for improvement.
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The days are becoming shorter and students in the Park City School District headed back to classes on Tuesday, two of the surest signs the summer is ending soon.