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Utah governor takes his education message to Congress

He says no to tax increase in favor of economic development

Published: Monday, Feb. 4 2013 7:15 p.m. MST

Josh Rackham, a student at Davis Applied Techonolgy College, trains in machine tool technology in Kaysville, Monday, Feb. 4, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Six days into the 2013 Utah legislative session Gov. Gary Herbert said he is not wavering from his economy-first approach to getting more money for education, rejecting tax increases as counter to developing the workforce Utah needs.

On Tuesday, Herbert takes that message to Washington, D.C., to testify before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. His invitation came as a result of his efforts to align Utah's educational goals with the needs of employers and the state's goal of 66 percent of Utah's adults holding a post-secondary degree or certificate by the year 2020.

"You can’t have continued, sustained economic growth and expansion without a skilled labor force," Herbert said. "That means education and that means appropriate education, things that line up with the demands of the marketplace."

How to fund that education effort is at the heart of the current legislative session.

Public education in Utah has long been dogged by funding concerns, with a large student population resulting in the lowest per-pupil spending and some of the largest class sizes in the country.

Utah Democrats have described the state of public education as "catastrophic" and, like other critics, called on the governor and Legislature to take a serious look at the long-term direction of education in the state and move beyond simply funding growth each year to making large-scale investments in Utah's schools.

A recent poll by Exoro and the University of Utah's Center for Public Policy and Administration found that a majority of registered Utah voters would support increasing taxes if the money went to education.

But Herbert said the revenue that follows economic expansion is the key to funding education and a tax increase would only threaten the state's financial stability.

"Raising taxes would not, in fact, put more money into education, it would stifle a fragile growing economy right now, and the end result would be actually less money," he said.

"Higher tax rates, slower economic growth and expansion equals less income tax monies to be paid into our coffers and less money for education. That would be a faulty way to go about providing more money to education."

In interviews Monday, Herbert discussed his PACE plan for achieving the 2020 goal, known as "On PACE to 66 percent by 2020." Currently 43 percent of adult Utahns have either a degree or a program certificate.

The goal has been adopted by the State Board of Education, Utah System of Higher Education, Governor's Education Excellence Commission and Prosperity 2020 — a public/private partnership aimed at improving educational outcomes. A resolution to support the 66 percent benchmark is currently being considered by the Legislature.

"We’ve proposed nearly $300 million of new money in this budget alone to put into education," Herbert said. "If we could continue to do that, and I think we are capable with a growing economy to do that, we’d have significant improvement in our educational outcomes."

The PACE plan — which stands for preparing young learners, access for all students, completing certificates and degrees and economic success — calls for targeted investments to expand early intervention and at-risk support programs, expand enrollment and scholarships and provide resources for women pursuing or returning to complete higher education.

It calls for tripling the number of certificates awarded through the Utah College of Applied Technology, which Jared Haines, UCAT spokesman, said requires an annual increase of roughly 13 percent.

Haines said enrollment initiatives have kept UCAT on track to meet the goal, but many programs, particularly those in high demand for employment, require increased funding to avoid a wait-listing bottleneck.

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