Report: Big drop in Utah's effort to fund education

Published: Thursday, June 30 2011 4:29 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Funding for education in Utah isn't the priority it once was, according to a report released earlier this week by a local think tank.

"In reality, Utah is not exerting a heavy effort and has not since the 1990s," the Utah Foundation report states.

A high-priority issue for voters is funding public education, so the report examines "how willing Utahns and their elected officials are to collectively commit tax dollars to education."

In 1992, Utah ranked eighth in the country for education funding based on revenues generated for education per $1,000 of personal income. Based on 2009 numbers, Utah ranked 26th. The report states that Utah collected $47.69 per $1,000 of personal income for education in 2009 compared to $56.44 in 1992.

"There has been a significant decline in the public education funding effort since 1995, a trend that, despite additional funds from the economic stimulus package and the recent state budget surplus, still continues," the report states.

In the past decade, the Utah Foundation released several reports that explained Utah had an "education paradox," due the state's young population and high birth rate, resulting in a proportionally low number of taxpayers supporting a large population of students. Consequently, even though the state spent less per child than any other state in the nation, taxpayers were still spending a higher proportion of their income on public education.

That paradox no longer applies, though, according to this week's report.

Decreased state and local taxes and a shift in spending along with a legislative decision to allow higher education a portion of income tax revenues have caused the decline, according to the report.

"By the late 1990s and early 2000s ... Utahns were spending less of their incomes on education because they were spending less on state and local government overall," the report states.

"Not that actual appropriations have diminished over time, but the funding levels have grown slower than Utah's economy, as measured by personal income," according to the report.

E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com

Twitter: mollyfarmer

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