By Cheryl Catts
Officials say Utah education spending is down and is now the lowest per-student in the nation.
Mark Peterson, public relations director for the Utah Office of Education, said a slow economy over the last few years has meant a decrease in income tax, which is where the funding comes from.
“When income tax goes down as people lost jobs and didn”t get raises … revenues are down so expenditures are down,” Peterson said. “Seventy-two percent of public school”s budgets come from the state and almost all that money comes from income tax, which by law can only be spent on public and higher education.” Peterson also said the lack of funding represents the atypical demographics in the state.
“Demographics are kind of a killer in Utah,” Peterson said. “Almost one out of every four Utahns is a public school student.”
Principal of American Fork High School, Glen Clark, said the decrease in spending has made it hard to help students pass basic skills tests or to pay for textbooks.
Clark also said secondary education class sizes have increased, making it hard for teachers to give students feedback and individual attention.
“Statewide we see support services are diminishing to almost disappearing,” said Linnea Barney, member of the State Board of Education.
Counselors have a hard time focusing on education because they have so many students, Barney said.
American Fork High School is approaching 1,500 students next year and has three counselors.
“Without secretarial help, teachers and principles have to take care of office work, which is a real waste of time and money,” Barney said.
Teachers in Utah are paid an average of $37,500, where the national average is $44,500, ranking Utah 38th in the nation.
“We”re 51st for spending, so what money we do have is going to teacher spending,” Peterson said.
Barney said teachers in Utah do not stay for the money. He also said they accept what they have and stay because they like it.
However, Barney said she is unsure how long their loyalty will last if conditions stay as they are.
Clark said it is harder to find teachers every year.
According to Barney, the Board of Education tries to increase awareness that spending should be higher.
“Nobody wants to raise taxes; we are a very Republican state, and that”s one of their strongly held beliefs,” Barney said.
“As long as they”re not willing to raise taxes in any way, one thing I think they ought to do is to cut tax exemptions … like the skiing industry, Barney said. “You have to ask yourself, which is more important, to make the skiers have good business or to educate our children?.”
Peterson is optimistic about the future of education.
“As the economy picks up, revenues will pick up, and the governor and legislator all picked education as a priority item in the budget, and we hope we can keep up with the growth,” he said.