Record editorial: When it comes to funding education, we can no longer get by with less
Dead last isn’t good enough.
That has been apparent for years, but the Utah Legislature, despite steps in the right direction, has been unwilling to allot enough money to public education to drag the state from the bottom of the heap in per-pupil funding.
We have a chance in this election to put the onus on lawmakers to change that.
Nonbinding Question 1 will gauge voter support for a 10 cent increase to the state gas tax to fund road construction projects, which would free up other revenues for public education. A yes vote would send a message to lawmakers, encouraging them to pass the gas tax increase when they convene in January.
The nonbinding question stems from a compromise between lawmakers and Our Schools Now, a group that sought to place a proposition on this year’s ballot that would have raised the income tax to generate $700 million annually for education. As part of the agreement, the Legislature bumped school funding last winter by $292 million. The proposed gas tax increase would funnel roughly an additional $120 million into classrooms, or about $150 per student.
It’s certainly not a perfect solution to Utah’s education funding woes. But it represents a step forward in a state where, despite solid test scores, many schools strain to provide the basics of a 21st century education.
Even the Park City School District, considered one of the wealthiest in Utah, relies on an outside organization, the Park City Education Foundation, to pay for many of the programs that make up the first-rate education students receive. The North Summit and South Summit school districts, like other districts all over the state, make do without that support, meaning even a moderate funding increase is critical.
Opponents of the gas tax hike argue it would disproportionately affect rural Utahns, who drive more than their urban counterparts. It’s a point well taken. That element is a major flaw of the plan, particularly considering that rural areas are some of the places that need the additional education funding most.
Nonetheless, it’s a wise investment. The extra money we’ll cough up at the pump will pay for more school supplies or for better wages for teachers or for innovative programs that will set our students up for success.
As a state, we’ve gotten by for a long time with last-in-the-nation per-pupil spending. That’s no longer good enough. It hasn’t been for a while. When we return our ballots, let’s make sure the Legislature knows.
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