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Utah’s public education system is severely underfunded. Utah’s lowest per capita spending is not something to be proud of. Rather, it is a blot on our state because it impacts the quality of our public education system.

Most Utahns, particularly those with children in school, are aware of the problem. Public school classrooms are bulging. School districts are facing an acute teacher shortage. Utah’s achievement scores are mediocre.

Why is all this happening? The answer is simple: Utah’s public education system is severely underfunded. Utah’s lowest per capita spending is not something to be proud of. Rather, it is a blot on our state because it impacts the quality of our public education system.

As a solution to this problem, a citizens group has formed to place an initiative on the ballot that would raise taxes and devote those additional funds directly to public education. Our Schools Now has some big-name, wealthy backers. The chances are good that the initiative will get on the ballot. And ballot access will almost assure passage and more money for public education.

The United Utah Party supports the Our Schools Now initiative. We are strong advocates of significant increases in funding for public education to solve these problems. In fact, we are the only political party calling for, as our platform states, “significant education funding increases along with accountability from Utah’s education system for its role in educating Utah’s future generations.”

However, there is another way — one that is simpler and much less expensive. It consists of legislators doing their job. Legislators should pass legislation that appropriately funds our public education system. If they would do so, we could save hundreds of thousands of dollars on a costly initiative campaign.

Legislators have the responsibility to make policy. And there is broad support for making that policy of funding education adequately. Poll after poll shows Utahns want public education to be better funded. And most are willing to raise their own taxes to do so.

The business community continually stresses the need for significant education funding. For example, Zions Bank CEO Scott Anderson called on the Legislature and the governor to fund a “moonshot” for public education. Corporate leaders know Utah needs to become a top-notch educational achiever to attract out-of-state companies to Utah and, even more important, to prepare our children for a future of competition for jobs with others who could be much better educated and trained.

So, we urge the Legislature to do the following:

Raise the income tax by at least the amount in Our Schools Now, if not more, and dedicate that amount specifically to K-12 public education. It would be best to make that increase progressive rather than regressive. In other words, graduate it so higher-income earners pay more and lower-income earners face a lower increase or, under a certain amount, none at all.

Assure that the funding goes directly to the classroom. That means it should be used for hiring additional teachers, raising teacher salaries to retain and recruit the best teachers and investing in technology that will assist individualized learning.

Having said that, we are realistic. Will this call for significant increases in public education funding suddenly spur the Legislature to action? Not likely. As with so many others in the past, our voice will be ignored by the legislative majority.

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That is one reason we have formed our own political party, so we can begin to offer candidates who, over time, will do the job our current legislators won’t. Our candidates will support significant increases in public education funding. And if Our Schools Now passes, they won’t try to water it down with micromanagement from the Legislature or attempts to gut public education funding for other purposes, such as school vouchers.

Utahns deserve legislators who will invest in education. If our current legislators won’t do it, it's time to replace them with people who will. The United Utah Party stands ready to do what Utahns want and our future requires.