Education spending

SALT LAKE CITY — Two weeks ago, the Census Bureau reported — again — that Utah ranked dead last in spending per student. But on Wednesday, it released a different education statistic where Utah is among the tops in the nation.

Utah finished No. 10 among the states for how much of state and local government spending goes to education: 33.1 percent in 2008. That's according to an annual survey of state and local government spending.

In short, even though Utah's spending per pupil may be low, a greater share of state and local government spending goes to education in Utah than in most states.

Sen. Curtis S. Bramble, R-Provo, chairs the Senate Education Committee and said the recent study is consistent with how he and his colleagues approach education.

"It demonstrates that Utah has a high level of commitment to education," Bramble said.

While reports like the one that came out two weeks ago cast a somewhat negative light on state education funding, Wednesday's report shows the priority policymakers have for education, the senator said.

"All in all, I know that my colleagues in the state Legislature place a very high priority on educating our children," he said.

Utah's spending a third of its revenue on education is well above the national average of 29.1 percent. Vermont spent the most among the states, at 36 percent. Alaska spent the least, 23.3 percent.

The Census said governments in Utah reported spending $7.47 billion on education out of the $22.2 billion they spent overall.

Utahns for Public Schools, a coalition of parents and teachers, believes that despite the findings of the report, the state could and should be doing more.

"Utah children are going without at a time when investing in their education is vital," stated Holly Langton, executive director of the group, in an email exchange. "Utah students deserve smaller class sizes where they can get more individual attention, and quality educational opportunities must be available to all students."

Two weeks ago, the Census reported that Utah was dead last in per-pupil spending at $5,765 per student in 2007-08. Idaho was second-lowest at $6,931 — but that was still 20 percent higher than what was spent in Utah.

Nationally, schools spent $10,259 per student on average. That is almost twice as much as in Utah.

State spending has been reduced in departments across the board, Bramble said, yet for the 2010-2011 school year, the Legislature held funding at the same dollar amount per pupil — $2,577 — as the previous year rather than cut funding. It did not, however, provide funding for the estimated 11,000 students that will enter the system in the fall.

"The Legislature has been walking the walk on education funding," he said.

Demographers note that Utah has the nation's largest family sizes, so taxpayers tend to support more students than in other states.

Those unique demographics include large household size, a young population and the amount of land the federal government owns that the state cannot collect property tax on, Bramble said.

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