In a survey of 53,000 residents released by Envision Utah, a high number of participants agree that a larger investment of state dollars into education is important, and most said they were somewhat willing to pay more in order to gain the long-term benefits of such investing in schools.
Morgan Jacobsen of Deseret News writes that Robert Grow, president and CEO of Envision Utah, said education was one of the topics with the most unanimity on the survey. In his opinion, there is a strong consensus and a push toward making certain that education is where Utahns' money goes, along with the public's resources and future energy.
However, Utahns won't decide thoughtlessly to raise taxes or divert funds from other important areas. The survey's respondents want a focused approach to funding for education. For years, Utah has been on the bottom of the list of per pupil spending nationwide. Utah had a budget of $6,555 for each student in 2013 when the national average at that time was $10,700, according to the US Census Bureau.
Utahns in the survey pointed out other specific actions that were just as important as, or perhaps even more important than, per-student spending, including teacher compensation and training, rigorous standards and assessments, technology, and affordable tuition. Respondents identified that core group of initiatives as the starting points for excellent student performance.
"It's a good list, but it's also targeting the right things," said Martin Bates, superintendent of the Granite School District and co-chairman of the Education Action Team that helped develop the study. "It's not just throwing money, but it's strategic and it's targeted, and I think it identifies the right areas that really will make the difference and get us to where it is we want to go."
Almost 78% of Utah residents who took part in the Envision Utah survey wanted to see a 5% increase in school spending per year through 2020.
Residents were critical of elected leaders for letting the ball drop in the education arena. The only topic that scored higher than education on public importance was air quality, reports Tony Semerad, reporting for The Salt Lake Tribune.
The online and telephone survey was named "Your Utah, Your Future" found that citizens wanted to see better early- childhood education, improvement of students' math and reading skills, and an increase among collaboration among families, schools, teachers, and community members. They supported using state budget surpluses and additional taxes to pay for better schools.
The Salt Lake Tribune's Kristen Moulton reports that the Voices for Utah Children's annual budget report shows that ninety cents of every dollar Utah spends on children goes to K-12 education. Health programs, such as Medicaid for low-income children, get four cents. Two cents go to juvenile justice services and to child welfare. Other programs that are child-centered in the state are food and nutrition, early-childhood education, and income support programs.
Taking into consideration inflation-adjustment, Utah spent approximately $17 million less on education in 2014 than it did six years ago. Juvenile justice spending for the state was also less by more than $12 million. Child health programs, however, increased more than $12 million.
Still, Matthew Weinstein, state priorities partnership director at the 30-year-old child-advocacy nonprofit, pointed out that Utah schoolchildren score at the average level on most national performance assessments. But he added:
"As our inputs have fallen, the outcomes have fallen as well," Weinstein said.
The Voices for Utah Children report, published on the Utah Policy site, is convinced that investing in children leads to economic growth in the state by helping students succeed in school and be more productive when they graduate.
Voices for Utah Children's President and CEO Lincoln Nehring added:
"If we invest in kids while they are young, we can save taxpayer dollars in the long run by preventing expensive social problems like substance abuse and crime."