The article authored by Jay Evensen ("Don’t Count on Utahns Voting to Raise Taxes for Education," Feb. 17) is disappointing, not because Evensen is a cynic or that he doubts that the public will vote for Education First’s proposal to increase personal income tax 7/8ths of 1 percent to fund education. Simply put, the article is full of incomplete, inaccurate and misleading information. Evensen implies that the recently failed bond election in the Jordan School District is a bellwether referendum on Utahns’ willingness to support their schools and even raise taxes. The truth of the matter is that there have been 44 bond elections since 2005; 39 passed and five failed.
Opinion polls can be useful tools for decision-makers as they face important policy and financial decisions. There have been four major polls since 2013 dealing with education and taxes. Each poll was slightly different, but each had two common elements: first, Utahns see education as fundamentally important to the future of their children and essential for the continued prosperity of our state; second, each poll found that Utahns are willing to increase their taxes to support public education, if there are reasonable assurances of how the new funding would be spent.
In the Utah Policy poll referred to by Evensen, 68 percent of those polled were strongly supportive or somewhat supportive of a 1 percent increase in personal income tax to support public education. Evensen’s reference to a 54 percent negative response is simply “data cherry picking” to support his point. All of the aforementioned polls were covered by excellent stories in the Deseret News. The full polling data is in the Deseret News’ archives.
A third point made by Evensen is that innovation is difficult in a state with a strong teachers union. The Utah Education Association is much criticized, but they are not the political powerhouse and obstructionists that Evensen implies. Spending a couple of days on Capitol Hill will more than substantiate my point. Moreover, I applaud the many hardworking and dedicated teachers in this state, and I will add that the current UEA president is an accomplished teacher and leader.
Most disappointing is that Evensen simply misses the point. Education First and Prosperity 2020 are not about opinion polls and political strategies. The overriding goal of these organizations is to support and improve K-12 and higher education through proven strategies that include increasing fourth- and eighth-grade competency in math and reading, increasing high school graduation rates and increasing post-high school certifications and degrees.
Yes, policies and strategies for improved outcomes may cost more than is currently the case, but the investment pays long-term dividends for society. An effective and well-supported education system is good for students, for their families and for our state. In fact, the Deseret News has published editorials in favor of Prosperity 2020’s and Education First’s plan to improve education. And, indeed there is room for Evensen’s criticism and cynicism, to wit, that Utahns will not pay more for their children’s education. But those of us in this movement believe otherwise, and we will remain committed to the effort to improve schools, to achieve better student outcomes and to ensure a prosperous and secure future for Utah. And we hope that lawmakers will give Utahns the opportunity to vote on this important issue.
Richard E. Kendell is co-chairman of Education First and a policy adviser to Prosperity 2020. He was a former commissioner of Utah higher education. He can be reached at [email protected].