Utah last in education funding

Published: Thursday, May 26 2011 5:47 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah again ranks last in the nation for per-student spending according to U.S. census data from 2009 released this week.

According to the report, Utah spent $6,356 per pupil for the 2008-09 school year. The national average was $10,499.

Utah increased its education spending by nearly $700 per child from the previous school year, when Utah spent $5,765. But officials at the State Office of Education say they don't think that's accurate, since it appears the census didn't have accurate enrollment figures.

According to one table in the report, enrollment numbers for elementary and secondary schools fell by nearly 24,000 from 2008 to 2009. State education officials are confident enrollment actually increased by about that amount, and that the census simply put the 2008 figures in the 2009 column and vice versa.

"I know we didn't shrink," said Todd Hauber, associate superintendent for business services.

Hauber said the state office has contacted the U.S. Census Bureau about the seeming error but hasn't yet heard back.

"Those numbers make a lot more sense if you flip them," he said. "They're close enough, but they're definitely not the right years."

According to the report, the states closest to Utah in spending in 2009 were Idaho, which spent $7,092, and Arizona, which spent $7,813.

Hauber said the gap between Utah and the other states could shrink when the reports for 2010 and 2011 come out. It's possible Utah might move up a slot or that the disparity between high-spending states and low-spending states will lessen.

"Somehow, those numbers are going to change and we'll get closer into the pack," Hauber said.

Some state education budgets took major hits in 2010 and 2011 school years, he said, and it's likely states like California and Arizona will fall multiple spots in the rankings as a result.

"The gap between us and the next lowest one could shrink," Hauber said, but it isn't likely Utah will get knocked out of last place.

The state with the highest 2009 spending ranking was New York, with $18,126 per student, followed by the District of Columbia, which spent $16,408 per student.

E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com

Twitter: mollyfarmer

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