Utah gets short shrift when it comes to federal funding for educational purposes. A recent study confirms the sad fact: Utah receives $130.26 per pupil from Washington. The national average is $207.86, and some states get more. Alaska, for instance, chucks $971.92 per student in federal money into its school cash register.Now, I ask you: Would Uncle Sam treat some of his nieces and nephews better than others when he is handing out the education goodies?
Unquestionably. Look at the figures and they'll tell you that Utah gets short shrift when it comes to federal funding for educational purposes. A recent study confirms the sad fact: Utah receives $130.26 per pupil from Washington. The national average is $207.86, and some states get considerably more. Alaska, for instance, chucks $971.92 per student in federal money into its school cash register.How did we earn the honor of being at the bottom of the totem pole?
Two factors work to reduce Utah's share of the national pie, according to Laurie Chivers. She used to deal with the state's education finances and now sees the national view as an aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch.
First of all, the formulas for dividing up federal education funds are based on 1980 census figures. That means Utah's extra-high growth during the past decade is ignored. For several years in the 1980s, Utah had the highest birth rate in the nation. The state still is not far down the line, although the rate has declined somewhat.
The steady influx of babies created a school-age population that is the highest, percentage-wise in the country. No other state has fewer taxpaying adults supporting the education of more children.
States whose taxpayers make less effort get more money, and that isn't right. Those states that have lost population in the school-age groups since 1980 are getting a disproportionate share of the federal money, at least until the census base changes.
The shift to 1990 census data as a basis for determining what the states receive from federal programs will help, but not until 1992 or 1993, she said.
The second factor that shortchanges Utah, Chivers said, is the inclination of federal agencies, including the Department of Education, to look at local effort as a standard for providing assistance.
Utah's taxes provide the lowest per-pupil expenditure in the country. The feds look at that bottom line figure and dole out their funds accordingly. That isn't a fair way of looking at things, says Chivers. While Utah's per-pupil expenditure is low, the effort made by taxpayers is necessarily high because of the disproportion between children and adults.
The federal government's penchant for basing state shares on poverty standards also creates disparities, the state's school superintendents pointed out in a recent gathering. The number of students receiving free or reduced-cost lunches isn't necessarily a good measure of a district's need, said Cache Superintendent Clark Puffer. Some families that qualify for the lunch reduction don't ask for it.
The superintendents were concerned with the distribution of funds for vocational education. A remake of the federal guidelines will funnel the funds directly to districts instead of the state, and the new formula will enrich some districts while decimating others.
"Fair" is likely an elusive dream when it comes to distributing federal funds to the states, but Utah needs a better shake than it's getting.
Hatch says he will try to influence changes in the formulas to increase Utah's share. Our other congressional delegates should join the effort to help ease the state's educational stresses.