At 1:27 in Michael Orton asked the following question:
Michael Orton: Do you have any specific concerns about the way school funding is going to be accomplished here, to get Utah at a better ranking nationally?
President Niederhauser: Well, I don’t think we are funding to be ranked. It’s more of an issue about the need to have it weighed sufficient to attract teachers to the profession. It’s getting enough money there to meet the needs of our education system. So, I’m not looking for a “ranking” I think that’s the wrong purpose in pursuing more revenue. And I’ve raised the question a number of times here, and in other venues that I’m asked to speak in, when we look at this year and the indication of the normalization of the revenue streams and what will be coming in for the needs of the state over the coming years, I question whether the tax structure and revenue streams are sufficient to meet the needs of a place that’s going to double in population 30 years. And we need to have a robust conversation on those and in future, making sure that we are investing in our infrastructure, which is the proper role of government. That includes public education structure, higher education structure, transportation, recreational assets – which I always mention because we are very proud of our state and the quality of life that we have. A lot of people like to go camping but if you can’t get into a campground, how does that change the quality of life and the state that we love to live in? Or if you can’t get your boat out on Jordanelle because there are a thousand boats on the lake? How we are going to deal with those issues and investing in our recreational assets is an important element of that too.
Senator Adams: You are right on. We need to accommodate the growth in our communities and education needs more funding – there is not question about that. But when you talk about rankings, I’ve been told as long as I can remember that Utah is the either the lowest or second to lowest, and I was at a conference a few years ago and we had the Indiana state super intendant and I can’t remember what meeting I was at and he had gone through quite a bit of education reform – much like we are going through now – and he threw up a spreadsheet on an overhead PowerPoint presentation, it showed Indiana number one in the nation as far as percent of budget. I was enamored by it, what a great thing number one in percent of budget – and they were, like, 55% I think of their budget spent on education. And I looked down the list real quick and Utah was number 5, and I about fell over backwards because I’ve always heard that Utah was number 50. But as a percent of budget we were like 53% at that snapshot in time. I look at this per pupil number, that we all look at, and it reminds me – and I’ve used this example before – working in New York City and making $200,000 per year and having one child makes your per family income $200,000 per child, you come to Utah and let’s say you have four children, does that mean you need to make $800,000 to have a $200,000 a year income per child? That’s just not realistic. We have twice the birthrate as the nation. The only way we are going to be able to function because of our birthrate, is not to move our wages up to $800,000 per household – that’s not realistic, it is to be smarter. Now education needs more money, but I’m with the President 1000%. We are not doing this for a ranking, we are doing this for the kids and for the teachers. We have some of the best teachers on the planet. We know for the amount of money we spend we are one of the most efficient education systems in the United States. We can do better though, and we want to do better because education is the most important infrastructure out there.
Michael Orton: Some of the “best teachers on the planet” are leaving Utah though. How do you look at solving that problem if you can’t attract them…? What kind of mechanisms are you looking toward to be able to attract the talent and give us the best and the brightest?
Senator Adams: Well, in the last five years (maybe Senator Stevenson can help me with the statistics), we’ve put another billion and half dollars into education, probably sti9ll insufficient but we are trying. In the time I’ve been in the legislature we’ve always held education harmless. We’ve taken money out of other programs to try and fund education. We are working and taking seriously the comments of Education first talking about increasing the income tax, we are working through that. But we are working through it not to try and increase our ranking but because we want to keep qualified teachers, we value teachers but what we value as much and even more as teacher, is the kids. I have a good number of grandkids and all of them live in Utah and go to public schools. So I have a vested interest in their education and we know we need to do as much as we can there.
Senator Escamilla: The bottom line is this is going to require a look into our tax system and there is more then just increasing income taxes. But we welcoming the fact that there is an initiative and people are coming together and education is the top priority. We hear from our constituents everyday, but we are under-funded. We love kids, but they come with a price tag. As one that just had two babies in the last two years, I am obviously concerned about the education system and what is there for my children. So we need to move forward. We are waiting to see how the initiative works but to me there is more than just increasing cincome taxes, we need ot look into more issues then just that. Obviously, teachers pay is critical. KSL just ran a very sad story about two wonderful teachers are having to have part time jobs in the evening just to be able to survive and to me that is horrible. We should respect our teachers and provide them with adequate living wages.
Senator Okerlund: I think it is important to point out that we are obviously going to have to look into our tax system and see if there are some reforms we can do that will make a difference and raise some revenue. General fund revenues, are not keeping up with all the needs we have. Part of that is because, so much of our budget goes to education. This year the education appropriations subcommittee has made a recommendation for a 3% WPU increase, and with the higher education request it would put education at about 60% of our total budget this year. Normally, we hit around 50% of our budget that goes to education – or a little more. And over the last 5 years we have put a lot of new ongoing money into education. In the short term, how we are looking at how this initiative may play out and how we are able to do other things. We do have this recommendation from our appropriations subcommittee this year that we are looking at. I don’t know how that is going to shake out – I suspect it won’t be quite as high in some areas as they have recommended. But we haven’t got our new revenue numbers out yet but we are making a concerted effort year to try and find everything we can for education. It is very important to us, always has been our number one priority, and always will be.