Guest editorial: We need more answers about Our Schools Now initiative
December 14, 2017
The Our Schools Now initiative that is designed to increase spending in Utah on education by about $700 million by increasing the income tax from 5% to 5.45% and the state sales tax from 4.7% to 5.15% raises a lot of questions which need to be answered before this initiative reaches the voters in 2018. Park City pays its teachers a lot more than is paid in most of Utah, and our teacher pay exceeds the national average. It isn't clear what if any salary enhancements are needed here to be fair to our teachers. The present pay scale for teachers in Park City starts at $50,700 and rises over 25 years to $79,597 for bachelor degree holders. It starts at $55,700 and rises to $88,209 for master degree holders. The national average teacher salary in 2017 is $58,950, as reported by the National Education Association. We need to know how much revenue we will receive in Park City from the initiative, if any.
Utah has been remarkably successful in efficiently managing education expenses, and its performance has been pretty good when compared to the majority of other states. According to the most recent US News report on Best States for Education, Utah is No. 9 overall in education, based on a No. 2 ranking in higher education and a No. 22 ranking in Pre K – 12. For high schools Utah is ranked No. 14. Education Week ranks Utah fairly highly on academic performance. For 2017 Utah is No. 15 under the Chance for Success criteria with a score of 81.3. (The average score was 77.6.) The 2017 K-12 Achievement score was 73.2, which exceeds the average score for all states of 71.0. Only 12 states have higher K-12 Achievement scores.
If the primary objective of the Our Schools Now initiative, which is partially funded by the Utah Education Association (the UEA), is to raise K – 12 teacher and other instructional staff salaries by approximately $12,000 per year to the national average, that can be done for about $400 million per year, which is a lot less than the $700 million per year being requested. Another goal of the UEA might be to increase the number of union dues paying members by adding teachers and staff to our schools. That and a desire to increase funding for higher education could explain the other $300 million per year that they are requesting. It isn't clear that providing 15% of the increased tax revenues, $105 million a year, to colleges is necessary, and we need to be told how that money is to be spent. This appears to be a political payoff to help build support from institutions of higher education for the initiative.
Increasing the amount of money spent on education doesn't automatically result in better performance. Without innovative capable leadership and a comprehensive and believable plan it is unlikely that the Our Schools Now initiative will succeed in improving education. We need to hear more about the plan, if there is one, for improving our schools, because more money without a good plan won't succeed.
Every year there are more demands for higher taxes and additional government expenditures in Utah. In the three years since 2014 the property taxes on my home have increased 29.2%, and Summit County is considering another big increase next year.
If we want to successfully compete for new businesses with other states, we have to keep our state and local taxes low and affordable. We can't have nearly 10% increases every year and expect relocating business leaders not to notice. We need to be prudent and not spend more than is absolutely necessary.