With nearly $600 million in additional revenues available for spending this legislative session, lawmakers must follow through on their commitment to create meaningful, and equitable, education reform for Utah’s students.
A combination of lucrative revenue growth, a budget surplus and federal tax changes have given lawmakers the gift of ample resources to solve the problems and fund the bills on their docket. We support the Legislature's revived focus on education spending and reform this session — particularly lawmakers’ desire to eliminate funding disparities between socioeconomically stratified school districts.
Broadly, educational investment is a budget item that enjoys the support of both parties and the governor. Gov. Gary Herbert celebrated that the revenue growth provides “the opportunity to make much-needed investments in education, an issue that is a top priority for both my administration and Utah’s Legislature.” The Legislature also passed four education bills unanimously on the first day of the session, completing an overhaul of the education code that had not been revised since the 1950s.
With the code updated, however, the Legislature is now presented with the more difficult challenge of policy reform. Members of the House and Senate disagree over what form that, and the associated spending, might take. Currently, both chambers are debating what policy measures would best achieve the reforms sought. On the table are proposals for teacher bonuses, freezing the state property tax levy and redistributing income tax revenues among districts to make education funding “less volatile.”
We support the initiatives outlined by the governor’s “Utah Education Roadmap” to ensure all students have access to excellent care and instruction — irrespective of their background. We believe resource allocation should reflect the value that Utah places on its students and teachers.
Some ideas for reform include a pay raise for Utah’s teachers with the intent of "elevat(ing) the education profession" through better compensation, with bonuses for “teacher leaders” who take time to mentor other teachers. The plan also includes the expansion of professional development initiatives within and among districts so that teachers can ensure their pedagogical skillsets remain sharp throughout their careers.
Additionally, we support both the governor and the Legislature’s call to make all levels of education more equitable. Some proposals target the young, expanding extended-day kindergarten for all students, as well as increased pre-school services for “at risk” students "likely at risk of academic failure" to ensure their education gets off to the right start.
While the policy specifics will be determined by the Legislature through debate, we agree with the governor that "educational organizations must seek action to remove institutional barriers, particularly in higher education, to ensure our best efforts moving forward for all respective students in Utah.” Additional funding alone will not remove these barriers or create better outcomes. Innovation and customized learning for students occur when teachers are empowered to challenge the status quo and focus on the unique needs and talents of each student.2 comments on this story
Some ideas for achieving this goal entail redistributing funding so that districts with lower income tax revenue will still be provided the resources needed to help students succeed. The governor’s plan also includes additional state funding for “at risk” students as an “add-on to per-pupil funding” to the tune of roughly $100 million per year.
In the forthcoming policy debates held by the Legislature, we urge lawmakers to consider thoughtfully each proposal and the extent to which it achieves the goal of ensuring Utah’s educational system is innovative, student-centric, effective and equitable. Lawmakers should leverage the current budget surplus by applying it to an investment in Utah’s future — an investment that will pay dividends.