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Utah Foundation on state’s per-pupil spending: ‘We’ve been dead last for a long, long time’

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Posted at 7:28 PM, Jun 03, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-04 00:06:52-04

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah—After three decades, Utah still ranks last in the nation for per-pupil spending. While a lot of it has to do with large class sizes, education advocates said the state’s recent income tax cuts could also be to blame.

Utah currently spends roughly $6,555 per student, while the national average is $10,700 per student.

“We've been dead last for a long, long time, in terms of per-pupil funding,” said Shawn Teigen with the Utah Foundation. “If you look at funding effort, that is something where we used to be quite good, and where now, we've slipped over the last couple years.”

Utah ranks 51st in the nation for per-pupil spending.

“The latest numbers from the census bureau is from 2013, and per-pupil funding, Utah is the lowest in the nation,” said Mark Peterson with the Utah State Office of Education.

Education advocates say, while it is difficult to increase the amount they spend on students because of Utah’s large class sizes, state legislators should focus on what they do with the funds available.

Teigen said the state’s recent income tax cuts are also part of the problem.

“There have been some policy changes over the past 20 years that have affected that tax base, and has effectively lowered taxes for everybody in the state,” he said. “Unfortunately, that has impacted the money going into education.”

The state is allocating $512 million of additional funding for education this year, but that will not be enough to lift Utah out of its low ranking. It would take an additional $2.7 billion of taxpayer money  to match the national average of $10,700 per student.

Peterson said taxpayers who are concerned about Utah’s per-pupil spending can influence their government leaders by letting them know how they would like to see their money spent.

“I believe parents should make known to their legislator, to their local board member, to their state board member, where they want to see public schools going,” he said.

Peterson says additional funds would be welcome, because more students are on their way.

“We would like more money, it would certainly be welcome,” he said. “Most of our growth that's coming in the next five years is already here, they just haven't turned six yet."

Some state legislators have recommended increasing the income tax slightly each year to create more education revenue. But Peterson says, as long as Utah’s economy remains healthy and taxpayers continue earning more money, more funding will be available for education in the state.