Another stark comparison showing appalling funding of education in Utah

Kim Burningham represents District 5 on the Utah State Board of Education. He served for 15 years in the Utah Legislature and was an educator for many years, twice named Outstanding Teaching of the Year.

Kim Burningham, Utah State Board of Education, District 5

In this post, I want to share with you a startling comparison regarding education funding in Utah. Certainly, you are aware that Utah continues to be at the bottom of the heap when it comes to per-pupil funding, but the following information about education funding in New Jersey provides a dramatic comparison.

According to the Digest for Education Statistics, 2010, produced by the U.S. Department of Education, New Jersey ranks highest in expenditure per pupil with $17,866. The U. S. average is $10,441, and Utah lags way behind at the bottom with $6,062.  Imagine, New Jersey spends almost three times as much per student as we do in Utah!

Now comes the startling news: According to an article in the New York Times, May 24, 2011, “Court Orders New Jersey to Increase Aid to Schools,” the New Jersey Supreme Court just ruled that cost-cutting measures in New Jersey were “unconstitutional and ordered lawmakers to raise spending for poor, urban schools by $500 million next year, despite a state budget shortfall estimated at $10 billion.”

Now I do not want to defend education expenditures in New Jersey, and frankly I suspect that some features of education spending in New Jersey are out of line and need “cost-cutting,” but I am absolutely overwhelmed at the stark comparison. The state that spends nearly three times what we do in Utah is found by the courts to be underfunding education!

What can be said of Utah! Our students are every bit as important as those in New Jersey, and their education should be appropriately supported. Apparently, at least some of our state leaders do not agree. To be frugal is laudable but to blatantly insist on inferior education for our children is appalling. When, oh when, will we, in Utah, place appropriate value on our students and their education!

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7 comments to Another stark comparison showing appalling funding of education in Utah

  • Mr. Burningham, I wonder if you or another Board representative could comment on a small but important way that the Board itself has control over education funding. Specifically, the Board has a vote in handing property tax revenue over to local redevelopment agencies. I live in Ogden where the 8-member Taxing Entity Committee includes two representatives from the local school district and one from the State Board of Education. It is widely understood that the Board representative always defers to the local school district reps and votes along with them. But these local school district reps are subject to immense political pressure from local elected officials and businesses. As a consequence, more and more property tax revenue goes to the RDA and less and less to the other taxing entities, including schools. This is supposed to be a temporary arrangement, but the committee keeps agreeing to extensions on tax increment collection, producing what are effectively permanent redevelopment districts where the tax increment never reverts to the taxing entities. Why does the Board not take a more active role in these votes, representing the interests of schools state-wide instead of deferring to local interests?

  • It’s true that Utah spends roughly $6,062 per student, about 51 percent of our total budget – which is up from 46 percent in 2008. It’s a struggle. We have more students per taxpayer than other states.

    Reaching the U.S. Average of $10,441 would cost Utah nearly $2.4 billion. Income Tax rates would have to increase from the current 5% to 9.4%. That’s almost double.

    To reach New Jersey’s per pupil expenditure of $17,029 would cost Utah nearly $5.9 billion. To pay for it, we’d have to more than triple our Personal and Corporate Income Taxes (5% to 16%).

    • Elizabeth Ziegler

      Thank you for submitting this comment and please accept my apologies for the length of time it took to approve it. I was out of the office Thursday and Friday and only occasionally near a smart phone. I approved it as soon as possible.

  • [...] Utah State Office of Education published a blog lamenting Utah’s low per pupil expenditures.  It’s probably worth reading.  We added a little perspective we felt was sobering but [...]

  • John Dunlop

    Wow! That would be some serious tax increases to get there. Not necessary. I also think that using the “national average” for pupil expenditure is very misleading. What about the waste and the heavy union cost of the northeastern states? To even mention New Jersey is crazy. The unions there have absolutely driven public education through the roof and it does not equate into a better education. In fact probably worse when you consider how the unions protect under performing educators. Why not consider running the same statistics for union vs. non-union states and see where those numbers come in? Where is the average then? It might be interesting to see. Having spent much of my life in the Northeast (New York State) and a few years in the Southeast (North Carolina) and now Utah for four years I have seen one extreme to the next. Yes, I do believe that New York State has some of the best education (a high school education in new York State is worth any college degree in Utah), but the high taxes are driving everybody out of the state. And honestly the better than average eduaction is not there because of the union teachers. It comes from simply holding educators to higher standards but at the same time compensating them for performance. Isn’t that the way you attract and retain the best employees in any business? The problem today, and yes here in Utah as well, is that we continue to lower the bar instead of raise it. Unbelievable!

    I think there can be a median point where good solid education is provided without driving people out of the state or preventing others from relocating in. Set high standards for teachers, monitor their performance and pay them accordingly. And regardless whether or not a teacher is in good standing with their bishop, if they are not performing, fire them. It’s not rocket science.

  • [...] According to a new Utah Foundation report, Utah continues to spend less per pupil on public education than any other state and has fallen from 8th to 26th in education spending as a portion of personal income since 1992. For some reason, how Utah compares with other states is typically the focus of most conversations about Utah’s public education spending efforts (for example, see here). [...]

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