However, the state can brag about its effort to increase school spending. Between 2012 and 2013, Utah schools marked the largest percentage gain in per-pupil funding — 5.6 percent.
It still wasn't enough to lift Utah off the bottom rung of the ladder, as taxpayer dollars continue to be absorbed by an atypically large student population.
"We've got an economic and demographic reality that we can't leap over," said Mark Peterson, spokesman for the Utah State Office of Education.
Peterson said the national rankings can mask the effort being made in Utah to increase school spending. Because the U.S. Census Bureau report is based on 2013 data, it does not reflect additional funding approved by Utah lawmakers in 2014 and 2015.
And the report also showed that Utah spends less on school district administration and more on teachers and classroom instruction than most states, which Peterson cited as evidence of efficiency within the school system.
"Yes, additional money would be welcome," he said. "But the important thing is to spend whatever money you have wisely."
Last week, in a speech to Utah Taxpayers Association members, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Brad Smith dismissed repeating the "same old tired statistic" of Utah ranking last in the nation.
"There is no virtue in rising higher on that list," he said. "And there is no particular vice in being low on it."
Instead, Smith said, Utahns should focus on student achievement data. Smith was not available for comment Tuesday.
But Stephen Kroes, president of the Utah Foundation, said the last two decades have racked up corresponding drops in Utah's education performance and the state's funding "effort" — the proportion of personal income dedicated to public schools.
In the mid-1990s, Kroes said, Utah ranked in the Top 10 for school funding efforts and the Top 15 for performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
But the state has dropped by both measures to the middle of the pack as Utah schools have become more diverse and funding has failed to keep pace with income growth as lawmakers cut and flattened taxes in 2007 and funneled income taxes to other programs.
"What we've been seeing as a general trend for the last 20 years is that public schools have taken all of the hit from reduced taxes in the state," he said.