Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah is excited about his state’s economy, which he directed through the Great Recession, and revealed this week a $14.3 billion budget proposal that would give most of the state’s new revenue to education.
Utah, said the governor, has the second fastest growing economy in the nation, right behind the oil-boom beneficiary North Dakota, and has accumulated $638 million in new tax revenue, writes Salt Lake City Weekly‘s Colby Frazier. With 68% of the surplus, the state’s total education contribution will be $5.8 billion. Of that amount, $161 million will go toward per-pupil spending, which is a 6.25% over the current fiscal year per-pupil rate.
This increase represents the largest in education spending for Utah in 25 years. While Herbert says his first priority is always education, he does add that Utah’s economy must continue improving so that business and the state’s economy remain solid. He will also put $8 million into the state’s reserve, which would bring its total to half a billion dollars.
“It’s time for us to start looking at education long term,” said Herbert. “I want to work with the legislature to develop a 10-year education plan so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every year.”
According to Bryan Schott of Utah Policy, other educational expenditures included in the budget are $58 million to fund 8,000 new students in public schools; $56 million for the Capital Outlay Program for buildings and infrastructure; $1.5 million for career counseling; $6 million for classroom supplies. Herbert was supported in his budget proposal by education and business leaders and the Utah State Board of Education, which said:
“We share his belief that a strong educational system that is robustly funded is the foundation to economic growth and success in Utah. The Board of Education is very pleased that the Governor recommends such a large investment in Utah’s public education and its children.”
The chairman of Prosperity 2020 said:
“Never before has the business community been so unified in its approach to improving Utah’s education. This unanimity is seen in the plan announced earlier this year. We look forward to working with the governor and Legislature in implementing these key strategic investments.”
The governor is hopeful that the Legislature will agree with his proposals.
In an Associated Press article written by Michelle L. Price, the governor’s objectives for the budget can be explained as purchasing body cameras for state troopers, providing health coverage for poor Utah residents, and an impressive jump in education spending in the coming year.
When Herbert’s wish list goes before Utah’s Republican-controlled Legislature, the lawmakers will finalize the budget in their annual session in January. Included in the budget is $160 million to pay for a 3% raise for employees at Utah’s institutions of higher education. Also, the governor wants to give $13 million to help expand the Utah College of Applied Technology and $99 million for new buildings at the University of Utah, Snow College, and Dixie Applied Technology College.
A poll by Dan Jones & Associates found that many Utah students lack the basic skills and training they need to smoothly move into the workforce. Morgan Jacobsen, reporting for the Deseret News, says that technology businesses in the state often have to hire workers from out of state. This problem creates a serious gap that could end up effecting the long-term security of Utah’s economy.
“We really do have a disconnect in our community in a lot of ways, particularly communication (between) education and business people in trying to make education more market-driven,” said Stan Parrish, president of the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce.
Utah’s business community representatives and educators met in an education workforce alliance to find ways to give opportunities to students for gaining skills most needed in today’s market. Almost 90% of employers state that recent high school graduates do not have the oral and written communication skills needed, and 81% say graduates do not have the critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills that are needed in the workforce.
Because of this, says Parrish, an action plan to bring schools and businesses together is in order. The plan recommends that students be held accountable for all forms of communication, critical thinking, interviewing, leadership skills, and various STEM fields. The plan also calls for more business professionals to teach in schools, and internship opportunities for students. Support will be needed from the state in the form of additional funding for training teachers, and continued emphasis on high standards in education.
Michael Sullivan, spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said parents can help in supporting their children as they prepare for the workforce.
“We should help parents understand that helping students be prepared early in their education isn’t channeling them,” Sullivan said, “but it’s giving them an opportunity.”