Utah public school funding up more than $1 billion since 2012

SALT LAKE CITY – Funding for Utah public schools has increased by more than $1 billion since 2012, according to a briefing Tuesday to members of the Utah Legislature’s Public Education Appropriations subcommittee.

From FY11 to FY19, the total change in revenue has been $1.22 billion, which committee co-chairman Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, described as “really, really remarkable.”

Hillyard said after voters rejected nonbinding Question 1 in November, which asked Utahns whether to raise motor fuel tax and use the revenue to offset money being taken from the General Fund — from education and to transportation — some educators said the experience “was a kick in the teeth.”

The question failed with just 35 percent of voters voting in support and 65 percent voting no.

“In fact, of the money we’ve funded in public education, without that, has been really, really remarkable,” Hillyard said.

Although the Question 1 failed, the 2018 Legislature’s compromise with the citizen initiative group Our Schools Now also included the creation of the Teacher and Student Success Account as part of HB293. Under the compromise, the group dropped its $700 million-plus tax initiative, which would have sought to raise sales tax and income tax rates to fund education.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, also appropriated $65.1 million in restricted funds to the account.

Bob Marquardt, representing the Our Schools Now organization, told lawmakers that the organization looks forward to working with lawmakers.

“This year, we hope to work with you to pass the Teacher and Student Success Act and fill in the details of what was passed by this Legislature last year. Enormous effort has gone into crafting the bill over the past few years by elected officials, education leaders, the business community and civic organizations,” Marquardt said.

The bill, which has not yet been made public, is sponsored by Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, and Rep. Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs.

“The Teacher and Student Success Act creates a new funding stream for education that is directed at making teachers even more successful in improving the proficiencies of our students. We do believe the first priority should be to fund growth, an increase in the WPU (weighted pupil unit) to cover inflation. But this will provide another alternative to fund education,” Marquardt said.

Educators know what works in improving student outcomes, he said. Some key factors include early learning, professional development, support personnel, counselors and technology, among others.

“Compensation is critical to attract educators to the profession and keep them in classrooms over their careers. What has been missing are the resources to fund these proven programs,” Marquardt said.

The act would direct money to the classrooms to improve outcomes.

“How the money is spent and the resulting outcomes must be on every school’s website so there is transparency and accountability. Schools that don’t improve as measured by the state’s accountability system will lose control of the money to turnaround experts in the local school district,” Marquardt said.