Gov.’s Budget for Education Compared with the Need

Utah State Board of Education Member Kim Burningham

Kim Burningham, Utah State Board of Education, District 5

 A band-aid approach to education funding

The legislature will soon be in session. Talk regarding the state’s education budget will multiply, and many of the arguments will be familiar. “This is the year of education,” will be the slogan of many politicians. Will it?

In mid-December, Governor Herbert announced his proposed budget for the 2014 fiscal year. Not surprisingly, and for me hopefully, he proclaimed, “My top budget priority is…education.” Careful examination must follow.

What will be the impact should the Legislature adopt the Governor’s recommendations–or anything like it? Can we expect significant improvement in education funding?

The objective of this analysis is to compare the educational need with the proposed budget.

When funding is so low, class sizes escalate, the ability to attract high quality teachers to the field declines, support services for students either decrease or are eliminated.

The educational need

The evidence of Utah’s low education support is abundant and current:

  • Utah’s per student funding level trails all over states miserably. (Just this past week, the January 2013 “Quality Counts” report produced by Education Week once again names Utah the least supportive in “educational spending” than any other state.)
  • Furthermore, Utah’s tax effort in support of education has declined dramatically. (A Utah Foundation report, June 2011, said “Utah’s downward trend in funding effort…has been unprecedented,” and describes a drop in effort where Utah was in the top 10 in the mid 1990s and had by 2009 dropped to 26th.

When funding is so low, class sizes escalate, the ability to attract high quality teachers to the field declines, support services for students either decrease or are eliminated. The result, even though parents and the remaining educators try heroically, is the decreasing quality of education.

The Governor’s recommendation
Fortunately, the recommendation of the Governor is unlike those of several years ago when even student growth was not funded. The two most significant highlights of the Governor’s proposal:

  •  Full funding of growth plus one-time funding for a previous error: $95,700,000
  •  An increase in the funding of the W.P.U of 1.16 percent: $26,200,000

Besides these two “big ticket” items, the Governor proposes funding several important programs: college and career ready assessment, early intervention, computer adaptive testing infrastructure, and improvements in the 4th-8th grade STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) instruction. He recommends partial restoration of “at-risk” funding. There are other important, but smaller priced, recommendations.

In many respects, the proposals reflect fairly closely the proposed budget offered by the Utah State Board of Education.
For all of the above, I congratulate the governor.

Two items proposed by the State Board of Education are not to be found or differ significantly in the Governor’s budget, most notably $20,000,000 to provide for improvement in quality instruction by restoration of much needed professional development. The State Board also recommended a 2 percent increase in the W.P.U. instead of the 1.16 percent recommended by the Governor.
Of course, all of this is preliminary. What the Legislature will yet do is before us.

Does the budget meet the need?
Although the proposal is indeed an improvement, it is foolhardy to suggest it fits the need. We will still be by far the lowest funded education system in the United States, and state effort to fund education will not be retrieved.

An analogy occurs to me: when a patient is severely hemorrhaging, you must stop the bleeding, but also provide medical relief for the causes. The Governor’s budget aims to stop the blood-letting, but does not yet address a major cause: lack of educational support.

The State Board’s proposal to increase the W.P.U. by 2 percent would have been a very modest increase to start a reversal. The 1.16 percernt increase is, I believe, basically a status quo measure. Those analysts with whom I speak suggest the lower amount may fund retirement costs, but educators will not likely see any increase in actual compensation.

Also disappointing is the lack of significant funding to improve instruction. Educators need support to improve teaching quality.

Although the Governor does recommend a $13.2 million dollar funding for new technology infrastructure in the districts. This is not quite ½ the amount recommended by the State Board of Education. Education reform demands improved computer technology and requires more dramatic attention.

An analogy occurs to me: when a patient is severely hemorrhaging, you must stop the bleeding, but also provide medical relief for the causes. The Governor’s budget aims to stop the blood-letting, but does not yet address a major cause: lack of educational support.

I believe to see the genuine improvement we all desire, we must address the root causes. Cause involves many things, but an important key is adequate funding. This can only be accomplished when we increase revenue in some significant way.

For example:

  • Eliminate preferential tax exemptions (millions of dollars lost annually)
  • Re-examine severance taxes in the booming fuel production industry for appropriate increases
  • Eliminate artificial tax freezes on local revenue
  • Increase the special fuel tax
  • Other options

If we want students adequately prepared for the future, we need a stronger education system. To address the problem, we need a stronger financial state effort.

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2 comments to Gov.’s Budget for Education Compared with the Need

  • Rochelle

    We must also hold districts accountable for creating frivolous situations that compel parents of special needs students (which does not necessarily mean remedial students) to file due process hearings because said district has been less than truthful in an investigation and the district refused mediation. When a district’s evaluation recommends a certain placement because what that district has been doing hasn’t worked or is far below the disabled student’s intellectual level, that district needs to follow the recommendations or be the one who initiates the hearing because they disagree with its findings. They should not be able to cost the taxpayers more money than nee be to outlitigate the parents by extending the process for as long as possible. The final expendature is that the student isn’t given the proper tools and has to rely on public assistance as adults. Why? To avoid providing the minimum that student needs? Why doesn’t the Board on which you sit allow parents to come in and show that compliance investigations by the USOE are falsified? No names need be mentioned in public.

  • Ralph Coleman

    I feel that more time should be used to be certain that the students are ready to move on and get out of the numbers rut, it is not debilitating to fail. It is a part of the learning process, we have tried to not have students, that are not learning at a rate for their grade level, repeat that level to get the knowledge required to progress at a normal rate. There are some who excel and some who lag behind, we need to accommodate both. To fail is to learn and grow, contrary to popular believe.

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