It's hard to put a happy face on the news that Utah's per-pupil investment in the state's children, which has been dead last among all states for many years, dropped another 8 percent in the past four years.
But count on Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, to try.
Stephenson, coyly avoiding the issue of Utah's perennially dismal spending on public schools, said a new report on state education expenditures just shows that "our efforts have reduced the otherwise dramatic impact that could have resulted in Utah" from the Great Recession.
What Stephenson never admits and again ignores is that Utah's schoolchildren have been struggling for decades in a continuous recession created by the Legislature's stinginess. A national recession simply pushed them further into a deficit of commitment that has kept them far below the next-lowest state in terms of resources that could provide them an adequate education.
Stephenson is right that 21 states cut spending even more than did Utah. But those states were ranked far above Utah in per-pupil investment in education long before 2008.
Yes, the impact of the Great Recession could have been worse. But what Stephenson might have said, to be more fully accurate, is that funding for public schools in Utah, compared to other states, was already so low that an 8 percent reduction was small potatoes, indeed. Utah's student population continued to rise, and there was no money allocated for about 22,000 additional kids. The Legislature has done nothing to make up for those growth years.
School districts have had no recourse but to raise property taxes to keep schools afloat. Legislators can distance themselves from those increases and continue to crow about keeping state taxes low, although poll after poll has shown Utahns are willing to pay more for better schools.
Stephenson is quick to point out that the Legislature finally funded student growth for this fiscal year and raised base per-pupil spending by about 1 percent. Sorry, but it's hard to be congratulatory over that accomplishment when fewer Utah teachers are faced with the largest class sizes in the nation that are growing larger by the year. Utah has the largest families in the nation, and those families do not pay their fair share.
It's time legislators faced facts: Utah public education will continue to deteriorate until they increase revenue for schools by ending the income-tax deductions for large families, raising taxes on extraction industries or a combination of such actions.
Ignoring the problem won't make it go away.
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