Education Funding

There’s no denying Utah’s schools need more money. When it comes to funding per student, Utah is dead last in the nation. Better Utah knows that each year the legislature talks, but rarely takes action to overhaul our education system (see recent OpEds on this subject here and here). Here is our look at the key facts and bills you should know about that impact Utah’s education system.

SB 80: What you need to know

There is a funding disparity among Utah’s school districts, which receive much of their local funding from property taxes; districts with a higher tax base have more money to spend than poor and rural districts.

In an effort to solve the problem, Sen. Fillmore introduced SB 80, which attempts to make local funding more equitable among districts. It does nothing to increase overall school funding in Utah, however, and critics are concerned it may undermine a system already in place to build in equality between districts. This is why groups like the Utah Education Association and Better Utah are opposing this bill.
Each of Utah’s 130+ public school districts is guaranteed a basic amount of funding due to Weighted Pupil Units (WPU), which is determined through a formula based on the number of students a district serves. SB 80 would take one-third of funds allocated each year for new education spending – each year’s increase in the WPU – and give it to the poorest school districts.

 

The Utah Education Association (UEA) opposes this bill since each school district depends upon an increase in the WPU. Redistributing the funds does not necessarily result in “adequate education funding.” You can learn more about adequate education funding here.

Education Funding: Getting Down to Brass Tacks…Tax (pun intended)

Aside from SB 80, there are more proposals looking at education funding than people at Trump’s inauguration. Translation: more than some would think, but quite a bit less than the key leaders actually think…..

Although it is not a bill this year, Our Schools Now is an initiative Utah business and community leaders have proposed that would raise state income tax by 7/8 of one percent, yielding $750 million in new funding to be spent solely on education. A Utah Policy poll found two-thirds of Utahns would favor this increase, which could be on the ballot in 2018.

The Legislature, not wanting to be outdone by a bunch of business leaders with proper education and real-world experience, has put forth a few counter-proposals, such as restoring the sales tax on food and or raising the gas tax. Many oppose these proposals because they are regressive – placing additional burdens on low-income people – and would not be earmarked specifically for education.

In contrast, Sen. Dabakis’s Income Tax Amendments bill (SB 141) would have raised funds for education by increasing the state income tax only for Utah’s wealthiest residents. SB 141 was rejected by the Senate Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee.

If you support or oppose any of these bills, contact your senator and representative to let them know how they should vote!