A new report on per-pupil spending provides proof that Utah's student population is largely underserved at public schools.

Data released Thursday by the Utah Foundation suggest that overall, Utah spends about $3,700 less per pupil than the national average — spending $2,100 less per pupil on instruction and about $1,600 less on support services.

While most states are increasing per-pupil funding significantly over the years, funding for education in Utah remains low and local administrators believe that "low instructional expenditures, and the resulting large class sizes and lower teacher salaries, are detrimental to educational quality," according to the report.

Researchers have stated that "there is reason to fear that without changes in the way funds are spent, Americans could end up with a more expensive, but not necessarily more effective or equitable, system of public education," the report says.

However, researchers have acknowledged that additional funding could make a difference.

The report, entitled, "What Can $3,702 Buy? How Utah Compares in Education Spending and Services," says $3,702 is the gap between state and national per-pupil funding for education. During 2005-06, Utah spent an average of $5,437 per student, compared to $9,138 nationally. States demographically similar to Utah spent between $7,700 and $10,000 per student.

"Having larger class sizes, lower-paid teachers, fewer librarians, larger school districts, and higher student-to-staff ratios in almost every category are indications of schools adapting to low resource levels," said Utah Foundation President Stephen Kroes. "But by merely getting by within these constraints, our schools do not appear to be poised for excellence."

Gaps in funding in Utah, as compared to national spending trends, occur on many levels including compensation for teachers and other instructional employees, student and staff services, administration, operation and maintenance, transportation, health services, curriculum development, instruction services and general administration.

The report states that Utah has the largest number of students per teacher in the nation, with an average ratio of 22.1 to one, while the national average is 15.7 to one. Utah would need to hire an additional 9,481 teachers in order to bring its pupil/teacher ratio down to the national average and it would cost the state $1,043 per student to do so.

"Utah cannot hope for better educational outcomes by doing more of the same," said Elizabeth Escandon, author of the report. "We need to make sure we're spending our current dollars as effectively as possible, and then increase spending to fund proven programs or promising pilot programs."

Researchers have found that school counselors can positively impact student achievement, according to a study done by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Utah, however, falls short on the number of counselors available to students as well, having one for every 3,000 students, which is nearly four times the national average of 778 students served by each counselor.

Spending for Utah students, by and large, pales in comparison to other states, but some school officials feel low spending on district and school administration, operation and maintenance of buildings, and pupil transportation reflects Utah's cost advantages and is not generally harmful to education outcomes. They believe the way money is being spent now allows districts to save money over time.

However, when Utah's peer states are providing pupil-teacher ratios 40 percent smaller, nearly twice the guidance counselors, twice the number of librarians, and district and school sizes that are a fraction of the size of Utah's, some of these factors are surely affecting learning outcomes, the Utah Foundation says.

The complete 16-page report is available online at utahfoundation.org.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com