Are Utahns ready to pay more to educate their children?

Published: Sunday, Jan. 26 2014 5:20 p.m. MST

"It does not raise the tax rate. This is, technically, not a tax increase," she said. "Some people may call it that, because there are some that are currently paying no taxes that are now going to assume some responsibility for what they’re using."

When Jones presented the bill to the Education Interim Committee in October, some lawmakers suggested that she run a companion bill calling for a public vote on the issue of eliminating tax deductions. Jones was initially open to the idea but has since changed her mind, saying that the public's opinion on funding schools is clear.

"I feel like it’s our job as elected leaders to make the hard decisions and that would’ve been a non-binding bill," she said. "I’ve done polling enough to know that the people really want to improve their schools. They don’t want money to go into administrative costs, frankly, which this bill does not. This bill ends up in the school."

Osmond said that he's supportive of many aspects of Jones' bill, particularly that it directs new revenue to local control at the school level. He said he believes the state is not providing the resources necessary to achieve its educational goals. but he said that before he can formally support Jones' bill he needs more information on how it will impact Utahns.

"What I’m not clear on yet is what the impact will be on the families of Utah and especially the most at-risk families," he said. "So I’m holding my final judgement on it until I understand that financially, but In concept I support the direction that (Jones) is heading on this."

"66 by 2020"

Osmond's and Jones' bills come during a year with increased focus on the need for targeted investments to meet the state's long-term education goals, which include a charge that 90 percent of third-grade students read at grade level, a 90 percent statewide high school graduation rate and 66 percent of the adult population holding a degree or certificate, all by the year 2020.

In the year since the Utah Legislature formally adopted that package of goals, generally referred to as "66 by 2020," both public and higher education officials report that they are on track, but that maintaining momentum will be increasingly difficult and costly.

"We’re moving in the right direction in all of our indicators, but probably not moving at the rate right now that we need to move to meet all of those goals by 2020," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Martell Menlove said. "That first 2 percent (of improvement) is probably going to be the easiest to achieve and maybe the least expensive to achieve and so we’re also looking for some type of additional investment as we move toward those things."

Helping children

One bill that has already received formal support by the State School Board is SB43, which calls for the creation of a grant program to provide extended-day learning opportunities for elementary age children affected by intergenerational poverty.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, calls for $5 million in ongoing funding to provide up to two extra hours each day for student to receive tutoring on core subjects like math and reading.

"I think there will be a sense in the Legislature that this is something proactive we can do that will rescue these children out of poverty and dependency on welfare," Reid said. "All the data show that education is critical in providing the assets they need to be competitive in school."

Reid's bill targets at-risk students in first grade through sixth grade, but another bill by Osmond is discussed in conjunction with Reid's bill for its focus on preschool-aged children affected by intergenerational poverty.

Osmond's bill, SB42, calls for $6 million in annual funding to establish a grant program for school districts to expand their existing high-quality preschool programs. The pre-school programs are voluntary and are targeted toward students affected by intergenerational poverty and English language learners.

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