SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's overall K-12 education budget dropped in 2018 by $41 million, the first decrease in seven years, according to the 2019 Utah Children's Budget Report.
Every two years, Voices for Utah Children, a nonprofit focused on children's healthy development, releases the updated report to look at public investments in children and families over time. Tuesday, the organization released this year's report and officials said it was a mixed bag.
One good thing was the 45 percent increased funding since 2008 for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, according to Nathan Kunz, an undergraduate research intern from the University of Utah and co-author of the report. Utah's total child population rose only 11.6 percent during the same 10-year span.
State education funding makes up 79 percent of Utah's Children Budget and the remaining 21 percent comes from federal funds.
"In order to affect good policy change for kids, you need to have good data," said Terry Haven, interim CEO of the nonprofit.
The report analyzes seven program areas affecting children: K-12 education, health care, food and nutrition, early childhood education, child welfare, juvenile justice, and income support.
K-12 per-pupil spending decreased by 1.9 percent in the 2017-18 fiscal year, and although Utah has experienced economic expansion over the last nine years recovering from the Great Recession, per-pupil spending is still 1.3 percent lower than the pre-recession peak.
Investing in children is something Patrice Schell, tax and budget analyst for organization, said is crucial.
"The children of Utah are our future," she said. "We are committed to creating opportunities for Utah's children to provide them with the resources necessary to become successful individuals."
She also said investing in children can reduce poverty, dependency, substance abuse and crime.
For more than 30 years Utah has ranked 50th nationally for per-pupil education spending, falling directly behind Idaho. According to the report, in order to beat Idaho for 49th place, Utah would have needed to budget an additional $129,314,784 for the 2016 fiscal year, the most recent year U.S. Census data is available.
State investment on a per-child basis was 9 percent above its pre-recession level, but down 1.3 percent in 2018. Excluding education, state spending per child was up 9.6 percent since 2008, but down 3.7 percent since 2016.
According to the report, Utah is spending 9 percent more per child in the overall Children's Budget compared to its pre-recession peak. But while the K-12 share of that budget has risen to 91 percent, Utah is still investing 1.3 percent less per student in the K-12 education system than before the Great Recession.
Kunz said the reason for the confusing trends are the shifts to Utah's age demographics, explaining that the state's falling birth rate means the K-12 student population has grown faster than the overall child population.
The state's rising high school graduation rate keeps students in school for longer.
"Unfortunately, state education investment has not kept up. Policymakers have invested more dollars every year, yet those increases have not kept up with the rising student population," the report stated.
According to the report, the state has also failed to keep up with inflation, which amounted to 17 percent over the past nine years.
"We still want to make sure that they remember that students are our first priority and we hope that they agree with that," said Kenneth Limb, principal of Mountain View Elementary in the Salt Lake City School District.3 comments on this story
Limb said he believed legislators do agree with that sentiment but said he wants to keep this issue in the forefront of their minds. However, the dip in funding is disappointing, he said.
"We do have more money than we've ever had, so my hope is that education gets more money than we've ever had as well," he said.
Other highlights of the report include a 45 percent increase in early childhood education funding from 2008 to 2018, where Utah's population of young children did not increase during the same time period.
Additionally, there was a 4.1 percent drop in funding for child welfare and a 10.5 percent decrease in juvenile justice funding between 2008 and 2018.