Tyler Skeen: Utah’s education spending is a national disgrace

Students in Utah deserve the same opportunity as those in any state.

I truly believe that the future of this state is being hamstrung by the legislature refusing to invest in the next generation. People have celebrated the fact that we are no longer dead last in the country on spending per student per capita, but it’s not that significant of an improvement being ranked 50th in the nation, instead of 51st.

The bigger issue is that we have been competing with Idaho in a race to the bottom for the lowest spending on education in the nation. Utah spent $8,968 per student in 2022 which is a third of what New York has spent for each student: $28,704 per student. This spending is a disgrace, as are the plans for spending on a voucher program for private schools.

People may cite that we have ranked highly in overall education metrics such as testing and quality of life, with rankings as high as 13th in the nation. This is true and an amazing statistic considering we have been dead last in education spending for longer than my entire K-12 education. But while these studies and favorable statistics are not wrong, I think these metrics alone mask the opportunities every student has lost due to this bare minimum spending approach to education — especially in STEM fields.

I currently attend college at William and Mary in Virginia, and I’ve been meeting a lot of people who have gone to schools in states with some of the highest spending in the country, including New York, D.C., New Jersey and Virginia. They have shown me the true losses Utahns have incurred by not spending on education.

These students have been able to work in labs for years and study things they are interested in with the facilities to accommodate students’ wants at their own high school. They’re not conducting groundbreaking research, to be clear, but their experience is invaluable when professors decide who to let into their lab with limited spots.

The opportunity to work in a lab and get hands-on experience is what people in the industry and professors want to see before they let someone use up their valuable time. It isn’t just the ability to work in a lab, students also lose the ability to participate in programs like IGEM, which is an international competition for biology and biochemistry.

Students also have less opportunity to get to know their teachers with the highest student-to-teacher ratio in the country.

I believe that the students in Utah deserve the same opportunity as those in any state. These students deserve to learn what it is like in the real world and to pursue their interests, whether that is academic competition or just getting to know their teacher better.

The people I met at West High School are still some of the most brilliant, naturally gifted people I have ever met. They deserve the chance to show the world what they are capable of.

While the state legislature has valued the future of Utah as the second worst in the country, if we spend a little more on the generation of tomorrow the benefits are incalculable.

Tyler Skeen

Tyler Skeen is a 2022 graduate of West High School and is researching chemistry at William and Mary with a special focus on biochemistry, antibiotics and multivalent bioconjugates.