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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Academy Park Elementary school students ask Utah Jazz player Matt Harpring some questions while celebrating their first place finish in the Utah Jazz Scholastic Read-a-Thon in West Valley City.

"An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest," said Benjamin Franklin. "If a man empties his purse 'into his head,' no man can take that away from him."

And in Utah, many factions — including this newspaper — would like to see the Utah Legislature do a little more heady "purse emptying" when it comes to education.

In recent sessions of the Utah Education Association, statistics were trotted out to show most Utahns are on the same page when it comes to funding education. According to a Dan Jones poll, 71 percent of Utah residents believe class sizes are too large, and 66 percent believe funding for Utah schools is too low. Utah also remains last in the nation in per pupil expenditure.

Naysayers say that's because Utahns tend to have bigger families.

True. But it doesn't take a math teacher to show that bigger families should equal bigger investments in education.

And where should those funds come from? According to those who responded to the poll, from corporate income tax. UEA president Kim Campbell claims the state keeps giving tax breaks to corporations in order to draw them to Utah, when the truth is an educated work force and a chance for quality education — not tax incentives — are the real magnets. And corporations look at per pupil expenditures and class sizes when assessing education.

There is truth to that, too. Tax breaks always come at an expense, and if that expense is education, they can be self-defeating. Tax issues, however, are never simple. Corporate income taxes come out of the pockets of workers and consumers. The answers to Utah's budget woes have to be broad and as harmless to the economy as possible.

In the end, however, priorities are what count the most. Legislators must demonstrate what they often say, that education is as big a priority for them as for their constituents. Education is not an expense — like snow removal — but bread on the water that will return to enhance not only the state, but the lives of the individuals they represent.

Franklin again: "The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance."

Times are tough, but that doesn't mean Utah lawmakers can't reprioritize to put education first.