A strong and successful education system is one of the most important components in Utah’s deservedly long list of economic and lifestyle accolades. It offers families the options to find a place where young people can learn the skills and knowledge necessary to identify and pursue their dreams.
Utah schools — charter and district alike — use property and income tax revenue to provide the choices and quality our families expect. Given our unique demographics (lots of kids) and geography (most of Utah’s land does not generate meaningful property tax revenue), the Legislature needs as much budget flexibility as possible to meet the expectations of Utah’s families, children and people with disabilities.
While dedicating income tax revenue to public and higher education worked for the past 25 years, our modern economy demands a more flexible budget structure. That’s why I’m voting for Amendment G.
One of the biggest challenges we face in improving our strong and successful education system is the boom and bust funding that income tax revenues (which pay for public education) go through. When the economy grows, and income tax swells the state’s coffers, public education sees sizable funding increases. When the economy suffers, so too does public education. Sometimes that means public education doesn’t even receive funding for the increase in students, or to cover the cost of inflation.
To fix that, the 2020 Legislature approved House Bill 357. HB357 puts public education funding on a stable, upward trajectory. First, HB357 guarantees that the Legislature will pay for increases in the number of students in Utah public schools. Second, HB357 requires the Legislature to set aside 10% of the annual growth in income tax revenue exclusively for public education. That is, the Legislature will pay that 10% growth to public education first — and then decide how else to allocate the remaining growth in income tax revenue.
Finally, HB357 requires the Legislature to follow the biblical Joseph’s example, and save a portion of funding when income tax revenues are flush, to help public education funding when Utah’s economy struggles.
To make those options possible, the Legislature needs Amendment G. By permitting the Legislature to use income tax revenue for children and people with disabilities, Amendment G gives the Legislature the flexibility to match our economic choices, and the resulting tax revenue streams, with the expanding expectations we have of state government.
Naysayers argue that Amendment G isn’t necessary for the stabilization account or to put more income tax money toward public education. That simply isn’t true. The Legislature must fund the needs of all of state government with the revenues available. Without Amendment G’s flexibility, the Legislature won’t be able to afford the benefits of HB357. They stand or fall together.
Without the flexibility Amendment G creates, the Legislature simply won’t be able to stretch our limited income and sales tax revenues to meet the needs of Utah’s students, children and people with disabilities. Vote for Amendment G.
M. Royce Van Tassell is executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools.