Supporting increased funding for and reform of public education as a vehicle for creating good citizens, prepares Utahns for the future, and improves the economic prospects of all Utah citizens. Favoring a significant education funding increases along with accountability from Utah’s education system for its role in educating Utah’s future generations.
A recent news story told of a teacher in Oklahoma who took to panhandling to raise money for school supplies for her students. The teacher said she pays up to $3000 a year out of her $35,000 annual salary for school supplies because the state has cut back on funding.
Utah’s dilemma of education funding is not that acute. However, teachers often complain about having to purchase costly school supplies out of their own pocketbooks. Only recently have school districts begun to raise teachers’ salaries as they realize they must compete for good teachers. Utah salaries for teachers rank in the bottom ten nationally and are more than $10,000 below the national average.
Utah ranks 51st in the nation in per pupil funding. Opponents of increased funding for public education point to the unique demographic of Utah. The state ranks number one, by far, in the percentage of the population under age 18. Large family size, which is common in Utah, means more crowded classrooms. Therefore, they argue, Utah inherently will have a funding problem. But, they contend, we try hard to rectify that problem through taxing ourselves more than other states do. Hence, we do the best we can under the circumstances. It will be the lot of Utah to rank low despite our efforts to do better.
Yet, that logic has broken down in recent years. Over the past 20 years, Utah has fallen from the top 10 in tax burden for public education to about the middle of all of the states. So, the argument that we are trying to make up the difference just doesn’t wash anymore. Twenty years of Republican legislatures and governors reducing the amount of tax dollars going to public education has starved our public education system.
How can the United Utah Party make the difference? The Republican Party has not been a strong supporter of public education. It is the combination of Republican governors and state legislators who have devoted only incremental increases even in the best of economic times and severe cuts in the worst. It is Republican legislature that answers to a Republican activist base, through the caucus/convention system, that is suspicious of public education and public educators as expensive, if not immoral.
Meanwhile, Democrats have focused primarily on other issues, which limits their ability to support public education. Although they support public education, it is not a priority for them. They are not the solution.
The United Utah Party is the solution to our education dilemma. We will nominate and elect governors and state legislators who will work together to create a vision of an excellent public education system that is adequately funded. The United Utah Party knows that public education is the vehicle for expanding economic opportunity and building a civil, democratic society for the future. We know teachers should be valued by adequate salaries and appropriate class sizes to allow them to work with each individual student. We will work to make Utah’s education system what it should be – a top-ranked state treasure that prepares Utah’s citizens for the global economy they will live in. That will not happen through rhetoric, but through a commitment to public education as well as a dedication to problem solving rather than ideology.