July 1, 2011

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Article

It’s Time to Invest in Education

Sarah Ryther Francom

July 1, 2011

Education is consistently ranked as one of Utah’s top priorities among citizens, business leaders and policymakers, as it should be. The state’s economic vitality is only as strong as its workforce—and tomorrow’s workforce is sitting in today’s overburdened and underfunded classrooms. Though poll after poll ranks education as the No. 1 priority, actions speak louder than words.

A June 2011 report published by the Utah Foundation, a nonprofit organization that researches public policy issues in the state, found that Utah has experienced a “downward trend in [education] funding.” The report goes as far to call this downward trend “unprecedented.”

According to the report, the state’s per-pupil spending on K-12 public education has been the lowest in the nation since 1988. Reaching the national average would a require $2.2 billion investment.

It is often argued that Utah’s low per-pupil spending is due to the state’s unique demographics—our birthrate is high and our population is the nation’s youngest. While our unique population is indeed a challenge, it is not the sole problem. As the report demonstrates, the state’s effort to fund education has been in steady decline since the mid-1990s.

A variety of factors have impacted Utah’s education funding. For example, in 1996 voters approved an amendment to permit income tax revenues—which in the past were exclusively devoted to K-12 public ed—to be shared with higher education institutions. This change, according to the Utah Foundation report, led to a reduction in higher education’s funding from the state’s general fund, which in turn freed some of those general funds to be spent in areas outside of education. Another example is personal income—as it has declined, so have income tax revenues and, therefore, education funding. The report indicates that despite these hurdles, “state policymakers have placed a higher priority on growth in budgets for other programs or reducing taxes.”

It’s no secret that Utah’s educational system is suffering. The question is why is it suffering if it is a top priority? 

In this issue of Utah Business, we brought together a group of higher education leaders to discuss the challenges and trends their institutions are experiencing. The consensus among the group was that education, beginning with K-12 and extending through higher education, must be more than a claimed priority. If we want to be able to compete nationally and internationally, and if we want to ensure future economic prosperity, it’s time to put our money where our mouth is. The state’s future depends on it.

From the Editor

Sarah Ryther Francom

 

Correction: In our May issue, Axiom Financial’s 2010 total Utah loan volume should have been listed as $1,050,488,156. Also in May’s issue, Republic Mortgage Home Loans’ 2010 total Utah loan volume should have been listed as $1,050,488,156.00. We regret these errors.          

 

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