What would it take for Utah to spend as much on education as the national average?

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FOX 13 News has partnered with the Utah Foundation for a series of reports asking "What would it take" to tackle some of Utah's biggest challenges. The Utah Foundation is a non-partisan, non-profit public policy think tank, click here to visit their website.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah schools have less money per student than any other state in the nation, including the District of Columbia.

What would it take to spend as much as the national average? The answer is daunting.

Utah’s K-12 public education system currently spends about $3.9 billion dollars a year. Divide that by our student population, and we’re spending about $6,206 dollars per year for each student. The national average is $10,608 per year per student, and catching up to that figure would cost Utah taxpayers $2.7 billion dollars more every year.

That would mean doubling the state income tax rate from 5 to 10 percent or doubling property taxes across the board.

Governor Gary Herbert’s education adviser, Tami Pyfer, says that is not going to happen, but there are steps that can lead Utah in what she considers the right direction.

Pyfer said: "It's a matter of priorities. What are our priorities?”

Pyfer wants the legislature to pass the governor’s education budget, which would send an extra $246 million to Utah schools, much of it to bolster a figure called the Weighted Pupil Unit, or WPU.

The WPU is significant because it distributes money to school districts based on student population, thus helping to even funding disparities between rich and poor districts. The WPU also allows districts the latitude to determine the use of the money themselves.

It would be the biggest new investment in Utah Schools since the Great Recession, but it would still leave Utah dead last in per-student spending.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-District 37, is a former teacher, and she said Utah should consider a gradual increase in the income tax.

“We're facing a real crisis right now in education and the future of Utah, the economy, our quality of life, the fabric of our society depends on an educated citizenry and we're not doing right by our students,” Moss said.

Moss points to a decision in 2008 to flatten Utah’s income tax to 5 percent across the board, when top rates used to be at 7 percent.

"That is now nearly half a billion dollars less revenue coming to education,” Moss said.

Moss’s idea would put Utah’s per student spending ahead of Idaho--allowing the Beehive State to bask in the glory of 50th place rather than 51st.

State School Board Vice Chair David Thomas would like to revisit two decisions from 1996.

Utah used to devote all of it’s income tax to public schools, but with the budget flush in the tech boom of the Clinton years, Utah voters decided to share income tax money with colleges and universities.

Thomas said that now equals about a half billion dollars no longer in public schools. At the same time, Utah froze property taxes instead of allowing them to increase with inflation.

"If you combine those two things, that’s a billion dollars,” Thomas said.

A billion dollars would push Utah into 48th place in student funding, ahead of Idaho, Oklahoma and Arizona.

In other words, Utah has a long way to go. But FOX13 News' partner in this report, the Utah Foundation’s Stephen Kroes, says the focus has to be long-term, and for now it’s enough to acknowledge the problem and start moving forward.

"What seems like the best strategy is frankly just avoiding the future tax cuts,” Kroes said.

Shawn Teigen of the Utah Foundation came to the FOX 13 News Studio Friday to discuss Thursday's report, see the video below for his comments.

43 comments

    • ANOTHERBOB

      Yes, BIG Z, gambling would allow people who can’t afford to feed their children to throw what little money they have away.

      • BIG Z

        It is all about being responsible. Same goes with drug addicts, alcoholics, etc. They throw what little money they have away as well and leave hungry children.

      • bob

        There is a simple solution: Allow gambling only within a half mile of the Nevada border.

        NO ONE who isn’t willing to drive to West Wendover to gamble would suddenly feel compelled to drive to East Wendover.

        Gambling is a Stupid Tax…..but I submit that stupid people SHOULD be relieved of their money. It’s Darwin at his finest. Or P.T. Barnum. Anyway, I subscribe to the motto that A Fool and his Money SHOULD be Parted.

        Freedom of choice. Free agency. Or just FREEDOM. Call it what you like.

  • Skip

    The real question is not how much you spend but what is the value of the dollar spent. Much money is wasted on worthless educational concepts that provide nothing but fodder for the child. How does the average student rank academically in comparison to the rest of the nation? If they rank high then the money is well spent. Ad nauseum.

    • miles (dave)

      your absolutely right. if utah ranks in the middle with the rest of the states than that means the others are wasting there money.

      heck if were not dead last than all other states than that still means were getting a better value for our education.

      more money dosnt have to mean a better education. not that it cant mean better, but in my opinion throwing money at it isnt best

      • danie

        Utah’s scores tend to rank middle of the pack so there is the tendency to believe we do more with less. However, when you look at the data, most of that advantage seems to come from demographics. When you compare us to demographically similar states like Colorado or Oregon, we get crushed. (And it’s not that those states spend a ton–their spending is just more inline with what ours used to be when we used to score really high nationally–not middle of the pack.)

      • miles (dave)

        lol stinky goes to a gold mine and points out and plays with the pupe he found. while everyone else is focused on more important things.

    • Eebo

      While the number moves depending on which site you look at, Utah usually ranks between 16 -22 percent in national ratings.

  • TruthSeeker

    In my humble opinion the education system in Utah has two major problems. (1) In the metro areas there is far too much duplication of costs. We don’t need the number of school districts we have. Each school district duplicates administration, huge physical facilities, etc.. The parents are the problem here by demanding local control. It doesn’t take a separate school district to allow parents to control their kids education. (2) At least in the Metro areas school districts are allowed to build a Taj Mahal to themselves, wasting millions of dollars that could have gone to improving education. The best example is the Granite School District here in Salt Lake. They bought an entire hospital to contain their employees and operations. Initially they only used a small portion of the property they bought, but over time have hired and filled it with employees. Like all of us, they should be restricted to “needs”, not “wants”.

    • Finny Wiggen

      Your statement is incorrect and misguided, on many levels. The Granite School District has one of the lowest ratios of administrators to students in the country. (this is a fact that you can look up)

      The hospital that they purchased saved the district millions of dollars, and actually lowered their expenses. They got it on a steal of a price, and use it to house two schools, and a distance learning program. ie, most of the building is used for students.

      They did not hire additional administrators to fill it. That is absurd. Had they built separate buildings for each school, the initial investment would have been far higher, as would have been the long term costs of maintaining the facilities.

      But I understand… it is certainly more fun to convince ourselves that they “built a Taj Mahal to themselves…” Ignorance and gossip are more sensational then trying to understand the reality of what has occurred in a situation.

      My Sources:
      My father was the school board member who brokered this deal. I know the details intimately.
      I am a former businessman who understands who business works, and who appreciates sensible business decisions that save money.
      I am a current school teacher.

  • Finny Wiggen

    I am a former business leader, who retired very young (35) and then went into education. I don’t have to work, but I do, because I love teaching. Fortunately, there are many like me in Utah, who teach, because we love it… otherwise, you would not have any teachers.

    My monthly income from teaching: $1,500.
    This is my net, after taxes, etc are removed.

    You tell me who can live on $1,500 a month. A single person, or a young couple, but certainly not anyone with a family. I laugh when I get my check, and wonder why they bother paying me at all. Seriously! Why pay me, if you are only going to give me $1,500…

    I am not ungrateful. I would teach for free. I love what I am doing, and I am happy. Rather, I am simply pointing out the reality of the situation. Utah is able to get away with paying teachers virtually nothing, because there is an army of people who are willing to work for what amounts to nothing, and who take it as a calling. This will likely always be the case in Utah.

    I understand the reality of the taxes, and of our large family sizes. These are issues no easily dealt with.
    I don’t expect a raise, nor am I asking for one.

    But don’t fool yourself into thinking that you pay teachers what they are worth. I could make more money panhandling, or working at McDonalds.

    • Finny Wiggen

      Incidentally, I get to my school at around 4:50 am, and do not leave until 4:00 pm.
      I then take papers home, and grade them.

      In an average week, I spend $50-$100 out of my own pocket to buy classroom supplies.

    • Keri White

      If you retired at 35, then it is safe to assume that you are set financially and have other means to support yourself. Not only do most teachers not have this, but they have student loans to pay back for the education they were required to get in order to be highly qualified, while you probably went though an alternative licensing program. These teachers also have to pay the costs of getting and staying licensed themselves with no help from the school. This can be hundreds of dollars each year in required professional development, testing, and fees. It’s pay-to-play to be a teacher. This is why so many teachers leave the profession after only a few years. It is also why we have so much trouble recruiting our best and brightest to be teachers. Why make $30k with a master’s degree while you work 12 hour days in a high stress field when you could make twice that working a set 40 hr/week schedule doing something infinitely easier. The woman below who says you make more than her – do you have a master’s degree? Are you working in a highly skilled field? Maybe you do, and I’m not saying that you have to in order to have a valid opinion, but I’m just saying let’s compare apples to apples.

      We NEED to pay our teachers more and attract talented people into the field, and then we NEED to keep them. Every time a teacher leaves and is replaced by a rookie, those students suffer.

  • bob

    Pay for Utah public schoolteachers is a disgrace.

    If you’re not willing to pay for your kids stop having them. It’s a simple rule.

  • L P

    The problem isn’t that Utah is not spending enough on education, the problem is that the average Utah family has twice as many kids as the national average. If the taxes were restructured in Utah to increase as the number of children in a family increased, Utah would have the highest $ per pupil.
    The other option is quit having so many children.

    • Eebo

      This is a myth. While Utah does have the highest state with children, we are by no means anywhere close to double the average.

      Utah family size by the 2010 census is 3.56 percent compared to the next highest, California with 3.45 and the lowest, Maine with 2.43.

      You must also couple this with the fact that by the same source, Utah has one of the nation’s highest 2 parent households.

      The possibility is we are not at all far off the national average.

      • bob

        Indeed, when you look at the actual numbers Utah’s average family size is only slightly above average.

        But when you look at it as a PERCENTAGE, and consider that percentage applies to costs-per-taxpayer, it’s huge.

        You can spin it any way you like, but the bottom line is Utahns have more kids than they’re willing to pay for.

  • jasoraso

    It always bugs me when these “reports” are released with only part the story: where does Utah rank as far as our tax burden compared to other states? Where does Utah rank as far as % of land that is private, and therefore pays property tax? Where do our students rank compared to other states?

    Education funding is complicated, and this article only attempts to report the most alarming statistic.

    • bob

      Where does Utah rank in micromanaging people’s lives instead of spending the money on education?

      And people don’t tend to live on BLM land, so that’s a moot point.

      The bottom line is Utah spends a lot of money on nonsense, and people are having kids they’re not willing to pay for.

  • Utah Red

    Does more money translate into a smarter student? I highly doubt it. Address that issue first and then we can decide if more money is needed. Personally, I think we should go to vouchers and charter schools for those that want them. The we can see where the money is best spent.

    • Keri White

      Consider this – a teacher generally must have a master’s degree. A new teacher with a Master’s degree makes less than $30k in their first year for many school districts (the pay scales are posted on their websites). Who would voluntarily go through that much schooling and take on that cost for that little? So, we do not have our best and brightest and most talented people becoming teachers. Those people are going into business, law, medicine, and engineering. Therefore, we are cutting a large number of talented people out of our pool of potential teachers right from the start (teachers do an amazing job, btw, but I’m just saying there are others out there who could do an amazing job but choose not to because of the cost).

      THEN, as a result of the low wage and high stress, those individuals who DO choose to try teaching will end up leaving the profession in 1 to 5 years at very high rates. Many schools have terrible attrition rates compared to most businesses. Studies consistently show that during a teacher’s first year, students learn less due to the teacher’s inexperience. So, we have trouble recruiting good people, then then when we get someone, the turnover rate is high and with each turnover the students lose some of what they were supposed to learn.

      My point is that yes, spending does translate into quality for education. You have to be willing to pay people what they are worth or you are going to get a lower quality teacher. And then you have to pay people enough to keep them, because the high turnover hurts the students.

  • L P

    Degreed full time teachers with 5 years experience make $70k+ in total compensation in this state and only have to work 9 out of 12 months of the year. That is quite a bit higher than the state’s average wage.

    Throwing more money into teachers wages does nothing to improve class size.

    • L P Dumb

      Where are you getting your numbers? Davis school district pays a teacher 36,000 after 5 years experience. With a master’s degree it is 39,000. Most working professionals would gawk at getting paid 39,000 with 5 years experience and a master’s degree.

    • Keri White

      “Total compenation” is a red herring. Yes, teachers get health insurance and a 401b or some other investment plan. But when you go to the grocery store to buy your family food, you can’t use your health insurance. Those funds are nontransferable and not usable for day to day living expenses. The salary is what matters, and it is close to $35k after 5 years for most school districts. Compare that to other jobs where as Master’s degree is required. What does an engineer with a master’s degree make after 5 years? I bet the salary alone is closing in on six figures not even counting benefits.

      • Amanda

        As a Teacher, I have a hard time with the right to know website. It shows me making more than double what I actually bring home. I know that site includes 401k’s and health care, but it misleads the public into thinking we have big salaries. We don’t! Teachers pack an entire year’s worth of work into 9 months and then many us use the time off for professional development that we don’t have time for during the school year.

    • bob

      My wife has been teaching elementary school for 15 years and makes a bit over $40K. Please let us know where this mythical school district is to which you refer.

    • Emmer

      You give me a teacher who only works 9 months out of the year. Half of the work is preparing/ making lesson plans, grading, sleepless nights thinking how to help a struggling student… All of which is almost a full time job in of itself. Teachers do not get breaks throughout the day and barely get an uninterrupted lunch. Don’t pull that 9 out of 12 months nonsense.

    • bob

      You are a perfect example of what happens when stupid people are given a little information.

      I know what an elementary school teacher with 15 years of experience is paid because I’m married to one. Under $45K. And our out-of-pocket health care costs have increased every year faster than her lane increases, so she’s taking home LESS per month than she did 15 years ago.

      I have no idea who those people are on that list, but they are certainly not “schoolteachers” in elementary, junior high or high schools anywhere in the State of Utah. Those salaries are TRIPLE the maximum a schoolteacher can make if they teach all the way to retirement.

    • Jonathan

      And again, very misleading for two reasons. One, benefits are calculated in as with the teacher positions, and if your benefits of what your employer paid were added into your salary and posted on the web, you’d be crying foul, too. Two, consider what the superintendent or say business manager makes versus a comparable private position. My dad is a CFO for hospitals, came to Utah recently and took a pay cut to be by family. He makes double at the local hospital of what the local school district business manager (comparable position over more employees and larger budget) makes. Same for CEO/Superintendent. Certain professional positions in special education (speech/language, occupational therapy as examples) can’t find or retain employees in schools because of how much more they can make in the private sector. The money matters in the quality of the teacher you can attract and the gap is now such that Utah’s scores are really beginning to decline because of it.

  • nobody

    Too much money to retirees. Too many big buildings. Too many support staff. Too many holidays. These people will never have enough money. They want it all. In the age of the internet why are we pouring so much money into big, expensive facilities. Kids are less educated today than ever. Good teachers are stuck in a bad system. Money is NOT the problem, it’s how they spend the money they have.

    • bob

      Too much money to retirees? You disgust me. Do you know what a schoolteacher’s pension is? It’s bad enough to believe that they’re “overpaid”, but to hate them so much that you want them to eat out of dumpsters when they retire is beyond the pale.

      I know what schoolteachers REALLY make. I’m married to one. If she’d had the same level of education and had spent her career working for McDonalds she’d be making far more money today. Her actual take-home pay is LESS today than it was when she started 15 years ago, and it shrinks every year.

  • jen

    I did a quick search on the National Education Association web site and there is a lot of different information there. Utah does rank #50 on revenue per student, but the number they are reporting is $8,549 per student. so where is the other 2.3K per student going? I suggest there is an investigation. Also in the comments below teachers are reporting a take home pay of 1.5K a month. on the same web site Utah reports an average salary of $48,159, ranking #33. Is this another case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians? We need to take care of the people on the front lines if we want quality. Another point that I found bothersome is where we ranked on graduates. Utah is only #29. Our kids are dropping out at record numbers. Sad!

    • bob

      All I can do is look at my wife’s paycheck stubs.

      Kids are dropping out because their parents don’t take education seriously. They treat schools as daycare centers. And the children of dropouts are dropping out and making future dropouts themselves. Getting a high school diploma is no longer seen as important by the throngs of “parents” who live their lives on welfare.

  • Rob Harrison

    I seriously doubt will fix the problem in Utah. I’m in North Carolina, that was the idea when the state started a lottery years ago. Like so many other states they have done everything with the proceeds other than education. Our state just ended a 6 year freeze on teacher pay and still wants more money for education. I am convinced we will never have enough money for education as long as illegal immigration continues in this country at a staggering rate. Anyone want to guess how much it costs to educate illegal immigrant kids when they can’t speak English? We have to hire bilingual teachers and set up all kind of programs for these kids and their parents do not pay taxes (most of them) and they can’t speak English either so they can’t help with homework. This is a problem all over the country, it’s not easy paying for 30,000,000 or more illegals housing, food, clothes, education, healthcare, etc. Just get ready to dig even deeper into your pockets as this grab for voters from Mexico primarily continues. Maybe Utah should apply for foreign aid from Mexico to get to the national average (j/k)

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