Education funding: How much more do we spend before we fix it?

Education has long been “the third rail” of Utah politics. Grab the rail, and it will shock you. The education our children receive now, is vital to not only the future of our state, but the entire nation. Investing in education now, means educated adults later, which in turn provides a better work force and a stronger society. Not just economically, but in the idea of “community” as well. However, Education gets a free pass in the media, as well as the legislature as a whole. Lets sit back and think of a candidate who ran on an anti education platform. But, what tends to happen is that the legislator will often attach the topic of education to a proposed bill. In the form a tax increase, a cut from another part of the budget or whatever; and utilize the safety that the topic is based on. Because, who doesn’t want to help the children? Won’t someone just think of the children?!?!

When this occurs, It makes me wonder if we are missing out on the bigger question: Are we being effective with the money that we have? Utah is often criticized both internally and externally for the lack of per pupil spending [1] While ignoring that Utah spends more per capita for education than other states around us [2] . While the per pupil vs. per capita standards can be debated and may be valid, does it really validate the proposals we see coming through the legislature?

Many of the taxes in Utah go to fund education. Alcohol sales, income taxes, tobacco sales, fuel taxes, all form part of the 48.9% of Utah’s 13.3 **billion** dollar budget that is directed to education. [3] Often, proposals for tax increases are presented with the idea of “well, it’s helping the kids!” being attached as a rider, thus ensuring passage. Because again, nobody wants to be anti education/anti-kids.

Lets take alcohol and tobacco taxes as an example. For better or worse, a disproportionate majority of members of the Utah legislature are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The LDS Church has a philosophy of abstaining from either alcohol or tobacco. But conversely, we live in a modern society. It would be unrealistic (some would argue unconstitutional) to out right ban these products. It has become all to easy for it to become a yearly practice from both side of the political spectrum to propose an increase to “sin” taxes, using education and the children as logic for increasing these taxes.

So what is really going on? Is it about trying to fund education,and helping the kids. Or it is the opposition to the sales of these products?

It is fair to say Utah is a deeply republican state. For the most part those of us who do not subscribe to the political ideology of the GOP/Republican party reap the benefits of good fiscal management, consistent yearly budget surpluses which are great things. It is what makes Utah one of the best please to live. Where we enjoy a thriving economy, low unemployment, and good upward mobility, and areas one dilapidated being rejuvenated because companies want to move me. However, it also feels that is leads to proposals of increasing these taxes simply because it is politically safe to do so. Especially where conservative values are so strong against government intervention and tax hikes until it becomes something that is easy to ignore, like cigarettes, alcohol, or the like.

How much more money are we going to throw at education before we really fix it? If your car was having issues leaking oil, how much money and time would you throw at it before you fixed the problem by getting a new car with a warranty?

Funding our schools is a noble cause. One that everyone within the community needs to look at how we are addressing education not only as citizens, but parents within the home. Are we spending time reading with our elementary age kids, Do we talk with our junior high kids about what is going on within the classroom, or with our high school students about their transition to college, and how they will fund that attempt.

Also; are we helping families to learn skills that work to help development at home, so education becomes a partnership, working with the faculty and staff of the schools to make sure development both inside the classroom and within the home or the community?

Education is important for a strong and practical community. Ultimately, though; the investment is not solely a financial one. We in Utah have a strong history of knowing how to do more with less money, getting value for every dollar we spend. We also have a strong history of independence and taking an active role in the lives of our children and their development.

If we combine these values together. I think we can get past the dollars and cents issue, and see education funding as in investment, where we try to get more. Education funding is important, but when do we hit the point when the real reforms have to take place? We can keep trying to match each state around us on per-pupil funding, or we can find real solutions before just throwing as much money as possible at the problem.

This post was written by Adam Andrews and Shon Harris. 





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