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Looking for leaders

Published January 11, 2013 1:01 am

Get serious about school funding
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah public schools need more money. Teachers are underpaid, many youngsters desperately need early-childhood education — preschool and all-day kindergarten. Too many older students need remedial help to reach a level of academic achievement that means they're ready for college, technical training or a good job.

When some conservative members of the Legislature say money isn't the answer to all our educational problems, they're right. But in a state that spends far less on education per pupil than any other state, where classes are the largest in the nation, where teachers are not making a competitive wage and a third of them leave during their first five years, the need for more revenue is obvious.

So Rep. Jim Bird's idea to increase funding for schools should be considered by legislators who are serious about improving education in the Beehive State as a point of discussion that might lead to other, better ideas.

A bill sponsored by Bird, who plans to introduce it in the upcoming legislative session, would earmark 10 percent of the gross profit from state liquor sales for public education. This page has opposed earmarking in general, but every possible method of boosting support for public education deserves a thorough discussion.

However, this proposal, while worth a look, would hurt other services now funded by liquor-sales revenue. What Utah needs is additional revenue specifically for education, not merely a shift of revenue from other worthy programs. Instead, the Legislature has taken the opposite tack.

Spending on education has been flat between 2008 and 2011, while transportation spending doubled from $976 million in fiscal year 2006 to $1.9 billion in 2011.

Utah's single-rate 5 percent income tax enacted in 2008, together with budget cuts prompted by the Great Recession, hit education to the tune of about $1 billion. Utah millionaires came out ahead by $15,000 annually, thanks to the tax shift. Those making $500,000 a year kept an average additional $3,200.

When a legislator in 2010 proposed increasing income tax to 6 percent on incomes between $250,000 and $750,000 per year, and 7 percent on earnings above $750,000 — fewer than 2 percent of Utah taxpayers — to boost education by $100 million a year or more, he was largely ignored. For years, various versions of a fairness bill to reduce tax exemptions for large families — those who fill Utah's large classes — were defeated. Real leadership on education funding doesn't exist.