Campaign begins to get you to vote for a gas tax hike to pay for education in Utah

Posted at 2:17 PM, Aug 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-21 21:05:40-04

WEST JORDAN, Utah -- Teachers at Heartland Elementary School burst into applause as the boxes of notebooks, crayons and other school supplies were brought into the gymnasium.

Teachers at Heartland Elementary in West Jordan divide up donated school supplies for students. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

A gift from West Jordan's Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary, a group of police officers' spouses, they will help ensure students have everything they need to start the school year.

"We understand what it’s like to be in a role where you’re oftentimes underappreciated and our teachers are in charge of our future," said Kelley Sanders, who helped organize the school supply drive.

"We like to help the community in any way we can," added Farrah Rodriguez, another of the organizers of the drive.

Teacher quickly spread the donations out on lunch tables and divided them up. Sixth grade teacher Brad Linnarz said he's used to spending $300 out of his own pocket on supplies for his classroom.

"It’s amazing getting supplies like this. I’m a father of two and spending my own money to get supplies like this," he told FOX 13.

School supplies are something that backers of the "Our Schools Now" campaign believe schools will get more of, if Question 1 on the November ballot passes. On Tuesday, they formally launched a campaign to convince voters to approve it and kick more money directly into Utah's chronically underfunded education system. TV commercials will begin airing on Thursday. Billboards have gone up along Utah highways.

"This is an innovative and new way of (putting) funds straight to the classroom. These funds will be put in the classroom, not district administration. Not school construction," said Austin Cox with Our Schools Now.

Organizers of Our Schools Now show off a TV commercial and signs to convince voters to approve Question 1. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Question 1 asks voters to approve raising the gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon. Our Schools Now said it roughly equates to $4 a month extra for the average Utah driver. Spread out, they believe it will be about $150 more per student for schools to spend.

That money can go for school supplies, or salaries to hire more teachers to reduce class sizes or whatever a school believes it needs. It would pass through districts, but a committee made up of school leaders, teachers and parents gets to decide how to spend it, Cox said.

Linnarz said he believes an extra $150 per student would go a long ways to help struggling classrooms.

"It would be amazing just being able to bring more funds into the school to get the students the supplies they need, not have to scrounge around to get things together to teach the students," he said.

But a tax hike is a hard sell to voters. The idea of a ballot question came out of a compromise with Our Schools Now during the legislative session earlier this year. The Utah State Legislature, facing the possibility of a ballot initiative, struck a deal with Our Schools Now backers. They kicked more money to schools in exchange for the citizen referendum being dropped and the ballot question. (A ballot question is a citizen "opinion" on a topic, but it still requires lawmakers to enact it.)

Governor Gary Herbert has been a vocal proponent of Question 1. He's expected to appear in future TV ads to urge its passage.

"I haven’t heard of it but I would definitely support it," said Sanders. "I’ve got four kids that are starting school this year and I was amazed at the costs associated with it."

"I’d probably have to think about that a little bit," Rodriguez told FOX 13. "Of course, I would support anything for the future of our children but I think there’s other ways that we can support our children."

It's voters like Rodriguez that Our Schools Now is hoping to reach with its ad blitz ahead of the November ballot.

"We’re not throwing money at it. This is going to improve student achievement by funding things proven to increase student achievement," Cox said.