Editorial: Utah’s education funding debate deserves spotlight
December 11, 2017
It's no longer a secret that Utah is dead last in per-pupil spending on education. It's a reality administrators, teachers, parents and — most importantly — students have had to live with for years.
A group of business leaders and other Utahns are trying to change that, however, through the Our Schools Now initiative that aims to generate roughly $700 million annually for education through increases to the state income and sales taxes. The group must gather 113,000 signatures statewide to put the idea before voters on the 2018 ballot, and efforts are underway to rally support for the petition in Summit County .
If asked, Summit County residents should sign on the dotted line, even if they aren't entirely sold on the initiative. The Legislature has failed for years to dramatically improve the state's abysmal per-pupil spending — lawmakers have allocated more money to education in recent years, but not enough to boost Utah above any other state — so Utahns deserve a prominent stage to debate whether increasing funding for education is important enough to pay more taxes.
There are, to be fair, reasons to cast a skeptical eye on the Our Schools Now proposal. Detractors say the tax hikes — the income tax rate would be raised from 5 percent to 5.45 percent, while the sales tax rate would rise from 4.7 to 5.15 percent — would be a burden on Utah families and would ultimately hurt the state's booming economy.
Meanwhile, supporters also present a strong argument, countering that the roughly $1,000 per pupil the measure would generate is critical to ensure students are prepared to succeed in the competitive 21st century job market. They say it would also help slow a teacher shortage caused by educators leaving the field at an unprecedented rate, often because they aren't paid enough or aren't given the proper resources to do their jobs.
If the initiative makes it on the 2018 ballot, residents can decide which side of the issue they're on and vote accordingly. But regardless of the proposal's merit, education spending is a worthy debate, and we would be well served by having it under the spotlight of a midterm election. Even if residents ultimately decide not to support the measure, it's possible the attention will spur new ideas of how to funnel more money into the classroom or encourage lawmakers to find a better legislative solution to our woeful spending.
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As any teacher or parent can tell you, last in the nation is not good enough. Whether Our Schools Now ultimately succeeds or not, a signature to allow voters to decide its fate sends a clear message that it's time to talk about how to do better.