Even though enrollment is declining, Utah will spend more than ever on education in Fiscal Year 2025.
Even though there is no relationship between education spending and performance, Utah will spend more than ever on education in Fiscal Year 2025.
Even though the WPU increased by 6% in Fiscal Year 2024, Utah will spend more than ever on education in Fiscal Year 2025.
Even though “over the last twenty years (FY 2005-2024), combined state and local ongoing funding increased a nominal 5.9% annually on average”, Utah will spend more than ever on education in Fiscal Year 2025.
Come hell or high water, Utah will spend more than ever on education in Fiscal Year 2025.
With the exception of pandemic-related interruptions, for the first time ever, the number of students enrolled in Utah schools dropped from the previous year. In fact, the number of students enrolled will drop by more than 40,000 over the next decade. Given that, what if we took this unprecedented decrease in enrollment figures as a reason to recalibrate our education spending?
In their October 2023 report titled “Opportunity Knocks”, the Kem C Gardner institute presented three possible options that could be considered:
1. Hold harmless for inflation and enrollment growth, i.e. not adjust for the enrollment decline, but adjust for inflation and any enrollment increases in the future. This strategy holds per pupil funding flat over time (instead of letting it decline with the decline in students) and could allow the income tax rate to be reduced from the current 4.65% to “a rate in the high 3% to low 4% range”. With a reduced need for revenues, sales taxes, local property taxes and excise taxes could also be reduced.
Alternatively, and with the passage of the Constitutional Amendment to remove the earmark on income tax, the savings could be spent on other government functions and programs, such as Medicaid, childcare, housing services and transportation.
2. Continue to invest at historical growth rates (nominal 5.9% annually), i.e. do the same thing we’ve been doing and hope for different results.
3. Increase funding further than historical growth rates (nominal 8.4% annually), i.e. double down on the current philosophy that more money will improve outcomes.
Option #1 is obviously the best choice. It is more than fair by holding education funding at current levels and still adjusting upward for inflation even though the student population will start to reduce significantly over the next decade.
Education has been the biggest recipient of taxpayer dollars since the inception of the state, and always will be. For the last twenty years at least, demands for increased funding for education have been met. However, instead of record levels of high school graduation, rising ACT scores, on-grade reading and math levels, or any tangible improvement to student outcomes, the education system has become bloated with administration, student outcomes have flatlined, and the cries for more money have multiplied.
The Kem C Gardner Institute report notes, “To the extent state and local policymakers decide to continue increasing per-student funding over the coming decades, they may also wish to closely examine the link between specific funding approaches and ultimate student outcomes. Not all spending increases equally impact student outcomes.” We wholeheartedly agree with this philosophy and encourage this approach. Education funding must be directly attributable to student outcomes, and we must maximize our spending by investing only in programs, practices, teachers, and educators which best improve these outcomes.
We urge legislators to use this change in enrollment rates to recalibrate education spending. Students deserve it. Teachers deserve it. Taxpayers deserve it. Utah will spend more than ever on education in Fiscal Year 2025, but let’s make sure we’re spending it right.