Along with the state’s expanding population, Utah’s student enrollment continues to grow. But K-12 education funding is not keeping up with that growth or inflation, according to a report from a children’s advocacy organization.
Authored by Voices for Utah Children, the report states that Utah’s per student education budget fell by 1.9 percent from 2017 to 2018.
After adjusting for inflation, the report found that Utah spent $9,473 per student last year, $31 less than it spent in 2008.
Patrice Schell, the fiscal policy analyst for the organization, said the decline comes after nine years of economic expansion in the Beehive State.
“It’s very discouraging,” Schell said. “It seems like you are taking a step forward and next thing you know, you are taking a step backward.”
Voices of Utah Children released its biennial Children’s Budget Report on Tuesday. The report looked at various areas of the state budget such as education, health, food and nutrition and early childhood education. It found that Utah is spending almost $7,000 per child.
The report comes as the Utah State Board of Education is asking lawmakers to increase the weighted pupil unit, or the amount of money it receives per students, by 5.5 percent to generate an additional $176 million. On Tuesday, the Public Education Appropriation Subcommittee recommended raising that amount by about 4 percent, to generate an additional $128 million. The recommendation now heads to the Executive Appropriation Committee, which can choose to take the subcommittee’s recommendation or change the amount.
Schell is also worried about a $200 million tax cut that Herbert is proposing and what that will mean for education funding, especially as some economists are predicting another recession in the near future.
“They just need to really think about how those tax cuts are going to impact the future and whether — with a coming recession — there’s going to be enough funding,” Schell said.
The report also found a slight decrease in state spending for child welfare programs, but an increase in funding for children’s health care, food and nutrition and early childhood education.
Nathan Kunz, an University of Utah economics major and the co-author of the report, said their most surprising find is that the state education budget is not keeping up with growth.
Kunz pinned the decline to the shift in Utah’s age demographic because of the state’s falling birth rate. That means that the K-12 student population has grown faster than the overall child population, the report states.
In 2009, there were just over 500,000 K-12 students in Utah. That number has grown by 100,000 students, according to the report.
Kunz also noted that the state’s rising graduation rate means that more students are staying in the public education system.
“You know, you have more kids in school, the dollar is going to spread more thinly and so if we want to keep up, we are just going to have to spend more,” Kunz said.