Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Third-grade teacher Glenda Adams works with her students Monday at South Jordan Elementary School. "It's kind of sad we don't have more," Adams said of Utah's low per-pupil spending.

Utah school reformers point to our low per-pupil spending and say we must spend more so we can achieve better. They point to states like Massachusetts, which has similar demographics to Utah but spends far more money and scores at the top in the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests.

On the other hand, those who favor the status quo point out that Utah gets "more bang for the buck" and that we're just above the middle of the states on NAEP, despite having the lowest per-pupil spending.

8 comments on this story

The second group is more correct than they know. NAEP allows each state to decide how many students to exclude from the testing (for disability or limited English abilities). Massachusetts consistently designates a higher percentage of its students for exclusion than Utah. Massachusetts and Utah have very similar demographics. Therefore, a higher exclusion rate would almost certainly improve test score averages in Utah.

Moreover, a huge part of per-pupil spending is teacher salaries. Massachusetts has a much higher cost of living than Utah, so naturally they spend more money per pupil.

All of which is to say, let's compare apples to apples before making sweeping policy changes.

Steve Setzer