A new report from Utah Foundation says the state needs a long-range education plan to prepare for population growth.
The report highlights tax policies Utah has implemented over the past 20 years that it says have chipped away at the state’s education funding effort. And it proposes the state create a 10-year-plan to help pre-empt such policies in the future. Shawn Teigen is the research director at Utah Foundation. On the bright side, he says the state is adding more workers per number of students, which makes it easier to pay for public education. But, he says it’s not going to solve the problem.
“In good economic times, if we continue to make policy changes that potentially negatively affect education,” he says, “any potential gains from having more workers per student is going to be washed out.”
The report shows how property tax cuts, a reduction in the maximum allowable, state-mandated basic levy for schools, and the implementation of “truth in taxation”, have all eroded education funding over the last 20 years. Voters also passed an amendment in the 1990’s to allow higher education to dip into income tax revenue, once reserved for the k through 12 public school system. At the same time, general fund dollars have flowed away from higher education and into other areas of the budget, like transportation.
Teigen says the decrease in Utah’s tax burden over the years has impacted education more so than other areas of the budget.
“And if you look at our national test scores over the past 20 years, we used to be near the top ten,” he says. “We’re now at the middle of the pack.”
Education in the Midst of Population Growth is the fourth report in a series looking at anticipated population growth through 2015. The Utah Foundation has already explored overall population growth, infrastructure and water.
The report can be found here.