Help for the teacher crisis? Utah Ballot Question 1 may offer assistance

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Editor’s note: This story pairs with “Burnout leading Utah teachers away from the classroom”

The most recent information from the United States Census Bureau ranks Utah last in annual spending per student with the state paying out $6,953 per student in 2016. In contrast, 13 states spent over $14,000 per student in the same year.

Question 1 on the upcoming Utah ballot proposes an increased gas tax to help fund the state’s education budget.

What does Question 1 propose?

Question 1 has come to the ballot as a result of the Our Schools Now campaign, which originally campaigned to increase sales and income taxes to produce an additional $700 million to fund Utah schools. Question 1 is part of the compromise reached by Our Schools Now and the state legislature.

Voting yes on Question 1 supports increasing state taxes on gasoline by 10 cents per gallon. According to house.utah.gov, the money generated would be budgeted to fund both education and transit in Utah.

The website says 30 percent of the money would go to state transit funds and the remaining 70 percent would be placed into the Teacher and Student Success Account. Local schools would be able to access the funds only after creating a plan to use the money that would directly impact academic success. The plan for use of the money must be approved by the local school board.

According to the Our Schools Now campaign, every school that puts such a plan in place would receive approximately $150 per student.

Question 1 is listed on the ballot as an advisory question, which is a ballot measure people can vote on, but is non-binding, meaning no bill or law is immediately passed as a result of the vote.

Advisory questions help tell legislators what public opinion is on specific issues and helps the state government create laws that are conducive to the public, according to Ballotpedia.

How does Utah rank when it comes to gas taxes?

Currently Utah’s state tax on gasoline is 29.41 cents per gallon, which is the 26th highest in the U.S. The lowest gas tax is in Alaska at 14.65 cents per gallon. The highest state gas tax is in Pennsylvania, at 58.7 cents per gallon.

Utah is already in the middle of the pack when it comes to state gas taxes in the United States, question 1 proposes raising the state tax by 10 cents. (Jefferson Jarvis)

If Utah raised its state gas tax to 39.41 cents per gallon as a result of Question 1, it would jump from the 26th highest to the 10th highest state gas tax in the U.S.

What do those opposed to the question say?

The Utah Taxpayer Protection Alliance has spoken directly against the proposed gas tax:  “Question 1 would increase the gas tax by another 10 cents per gallon only one year after the legislature just increased our gas tax? Some say we need additional revenues to fund education. But Utah had a more than $650 million surplus this year,” according to Americans for Prosperity. “Lawmakers should look at more efficient ways to allocate resources we already have.”

What do those in favor of Question 1 say?

Terry Young, associate chair of the department of teacher education at BYU, said he thinks an affirmative vote on Question 1 would have a lasting impact on the community.

“Increasing the funding for schools would be beneficial,” Young said. “I think it would have an effect that would pay off for generations because the better educated students are, the more they’re going to contribute to society, not just economically, but in terms of their responsibility as citizens in a democracy.”

What effect would Question 1 have on teachers?

A study covering five schools in Arizona found that the number one reason for teacher attrition was working conditions in schools.

Because Utah teachers don’t have much of a budget for their classrooms, they sometimes spend personal money on classroom supplies. According to Our Schools Now, the average Utah teacher spends $479 of their own money on school supplies every year.

While Cox admits he doesn’t hear a lot of complaints from teachers about classroom funds, he admits it may be because the budget is already thin.

“People may not be asking because they just assume they can’t get it,” Cox said. “Maybe they’re understanding that those resources aren’t there so that’s why they’re not requesting more classroom resources.”

Registered Utah voters can cast their vote via mail or in person at local service centers until 8 p.m. Nov. 6.

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