One of the most disturbing, long-lasting realities in Utah has been our funding of education. For more than two decades, we have had the lowest spending per pupil of any state in the country. In fact, we spend almost $5,000 less per pupil than the national average. Turning this trend around is about much more than our standing in comparison to other states. It is about giving our children the education they need and deserve.
Currently, all of the money that our state brings in from income taxes is set aside for education funding. This is an important policy for us to maintain.It allows funding for public schools to be spread evenly throughout the state, allowing us to support schools in low income areas. Unfortunately, the legislature has proposed a constitutional amendment to change this aspect of education funding. If it were to pass, income tax revenue would go, in addition to education, to funding services for children and people with disabilities. While both of these areas are vital and should have increased funding, the legislature should look elsewhere for the needed funds. Education is critical to our long term success as a state, and current funding is inadequate to meet the needs of our children. Many public schools are dependent on donations from parents for basic school supplies and other expenses. Perhaps this approach works in our wealthier school districts, but it places an undue burden on those who can least afford it in our other neighborhoods. I will work to ensure that income tax revenues continue to be reserved for education funding.
Keeping this policy will not, however, solve our funding problem by itself. We must also look elsewhere to increase funding for education. Recently, teachers from the Salt Lake City area held a rally at the state capitol. They called for a 6% increase in the amount of spending per pupil. The legislature is only offering a 4% increase. Our teachers know what our students need to succeed. I trust them and their judgment. I will work to increase our education spending past the current 4% and as close to 6% as I can. This will require making difficult choices, but we have to do something about this now. It is an investment that will pay off in the future. Our youth will become better prepared to meet the needs of the modern workforce. As their household incomes increase, so will our state tax revenues.. It will allow us to pay our committed, selfless teachers the salaries they deserve. Doing so will help increase teacher retention. Today, almost 4 out of 10 new teachers leave the profession within the first five years. This turnover is damaging our students, because experienced teachers are more effective in the classroom. As we increase education spending, we can provide the teachers and other educational resources that our children need to surpass us in achievement and quality of life. That is the dream that all Utahns are fighting for.