A report by the Utah Citizens’ Counsel shows a cumulative loss of billions in public education spending in Utah due to tax cuts and funding shifts.*
If you were to assemble a group of the most brilliant, forward-thinking, data-driven Utahns, that group would look a lot like the Utah Citizens’ Counsel.
Composed of some of the state’s senior thinkers and leaders, members of the Utah Citizens’ Counsel have dedicated their post-retirement years to improving the welfare of all Utahns, not just those with deep pockets.
They met Wednesday, on National Human Rights Day, to reveal the findings of a year long analysis of Utah’s public policies. Those results were condensed into a series of recommendations for not only lawmakers’ consideration, but the general public as well.
It is worth noting that the group, academic-focused that it is, insists that their policy recommendations be measurable. As such, their recommendations provide a key alternative metric to the Forbes-based statistics that so many Utah lawmakers rely on. Utah may be the best managed, most business friendly state in the Union, but it should also be friendly toward the rest of us. The Citizens’ Counsel hopes to achieve just that.
The recommendations, which I’ll get to in a minute, are rooted in the group’s Declaration of Utah Human Rights. Released to the public earlier this year, the document details a list of rights the Citizens’ Counsel uses to articulate their policy positions. The rights should be hung next to the Bill of Rights in every classroom in the state. They’re that important.
Although the declaration articulates seven general Utah rights, just five of those rights were measured and discussed this year. Those included access to healthcare, public education, personal security, social support systems and the environment.
Article 3. All Utahns have the right to a public education that ensures literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, character development, and the capability for responsible citizenship to help secure a promising future for Utah in a complex, interdependent, and competitive world.
As one might imagine, the findings on education are damning, especially as public education routinely finds itself at the top of issues Utah voters are most concerned about.
“Utahns have been proud of their public education system and the effort made to support it financially,” reads the report. “Since the 1990s, however, that effort has steadily declined, a trend that is actually worse than the appropriations suggest because expenditures have neither kept up with inflation nor with Utah’s growing school population.”
Just how much has spending declined? By over $1 billion in 2014, according to the report. Year over year, there’s been a cumulative loss in education funding of billions of dollars since 1996 due to tax cuts and funding shifts.
The Citizens’ Counsel recommends seven opportunities for correcting what is an appalling oversight on the lack of Utah lawmakers. Chief among those are targeting the state’s growing Hispanic population for early education efforts and reversing the past decade’s worth of tax cuts. In other words, a 5% income tax rate isn’t paying our education bills.
The full report can be found at www.utahcitizenscounsel.org. It’s worth reading, and it’s worth using it to monitor the performance of your elected leaders as the 2015 Legislative Session gets underway.
*This post originally said that $15 billion was cumulatively lost since the early 1990s. That was a mathematical misunderstanding on my part. Though billions have indeed been cut, that earlier figure was inaccurate.