Budget report for Utah’s children finds decrease in education funding

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ST. GEORGE — A report that measures how much the state of Utah invests in children each year found that despite Utah placing the majority of funding for children into education, the K-12 education budget fell last year for the first time in seven years.

Voices for Utah Children, a children’s policy advocacy organization, released its biennial “Children’s Budget Report” in February. According to the 2019 report, education makes up nearly 91 percent of the state-funded portion of the children’s budget and nearly 77 percent overall counting both state and federal funding.

“The report makes the case that public investment in children should be understood as a central component of Utah’s economic development strategy,” Patrice Schell, State Priorities Partnership Fellow with Voices for Utah Children, said in a press release on the report.

Utah’s inflation-adjusted education budget per student fell nearly 2 percent between 2017-2018, according to the report. In addition, the budget was still 1.3 percent below its pre-recession peak after nine years of economic expansion following the Great Recession of 2008.

The reason for the fall, according to the report, is due to demographic and educational shifts that the state hasn’t been able to catch up with. The report points to the state’s rising high school graduation rate as another factor in the decrease in funding per student — meaning older teens are staying in school rather than dropping out.

Read more: State sees graduation rates increase overall, but how are Washington, Iron counties faring?

In regard to national rankings, Utah has had the lowest per-pupil funding in the nation since 1988 — one step below Idaho. To attain the same per-pupil funding as Idaho in 2016, Utah would have had to increase its funding in education by more than $129 million.

The Public Education Base Budget Amendments bill, known as SB 1 in the 2019 Utah Legislature, sets the value of the weighted pupil unit — or the amount established each year in the public education budget that is multiplied by the number of weighted pupil units — at $3,395 for 2020. The bill was passed and sent to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office for signing in February.

“Policymakers have invested more dollars every year, yet those increases have not kept up with the rising student population,” the report states.

Although the K-12 education budget fell, other budgets involving children have risen, including health care by 67 percent since 2008. This boost has allotted a $394 million increase in federal funds. State funding for children’s food and nutrition has also risen by 40 percent since 2008.

The full report can be found on the Voices for Utah Children website.

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