Utah’s legislature boosts education across the board

Gifted with a surplus of funds due to a good economy, the Utah legislature hiked education spending in almost every category, providing pay increases for teachers, more teachers, more schools, more books, more computers — adding more than $450 million, raising the total state education check to $2.6 billion for elementary and secondary schools.

Much of the increases will be consumed by rising enrollments.

Through much of the 20th century Utah led the nation in educational attainment, but fell in state rankings as population growth accelerated especially through the 1980s and 1990s. The Salt Lake Tribune’s story sardonically noted:

The budget package increases per-pupil spending by more than 8 percent. But because other states may also boost school funds this year, fiscal analysts can’t yet say whether the new money will move Utah out of last place in the nation in money spent per student.

Classroom size reduction is excluded from the increases, because the legislature thinks earlier appropriations for that purpose were misused, according to the Associated Press story in the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune:

The extra $450 million will have little effect on reducing classroom size, however, because even as Utah hires more teachers, every year brings more students.

Lawmakers said they were withholding money for reducing classroom sizes until legislative auditors can investigate reports that districts misappropriated some of the $800 million dedicated for that purpose since 1992.

Every teacher and librarian should get a $2,500 pay raise and a $1,000, one-time “thank-you” bonus. Starting pay for teachers in Utah averages barely over $26,000 now.

Higher education funding will rise by $68.4 million, also, according to the Provo Daily Herald. About $8 million of that increase is targeted to Utah Valley State College (UVSC) in Orem, to raise it to university status. UVSC’s campus is just a few miles from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, the nation’s largest private university and the flagship school of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).

Education increases covered almost everything educators asked for, except professional development for teachers. The list, according to the Salt Lake Tribune:

Cash for schools
The funding proposal unveiled Friday includes $459.5 million in new funds for schools. Some highlights:
* $88 million to increase the weighted pupil unit 4 percent
* $68.7 million to give all teachers a $2,500 raise
* $50 million for classroom computers and software
* $50 million for school construction and renovation
* $33 million for a one-time $1,000 teacher bonus
* $26.9 million for charter schools and tuition vouchers
* $10 million for teacher materials and supplies

SL Tribune chart on education funding history since 1990

Commentary: Utah’s public education system carries a larger part of the burden of education than some other states, a reflection of the fact that the government was so long dominated by the LDS Church, and that state funding often reflects the priorities of the church shared by most of the population. Education is a high priority among Mormons. Budget hits over the past 25 years changed that relationship some.

Private schools have been too small to count for most of Utah history — Catholic high schools were few, but about the only parochial alternative to public schools.

The legislature boosted vouchers considerably, and new charter schools and other alternatives have sprung up as the fringe elements in Utah accumulated enough population to support such schools. Voucher-financed programs have not demonstrated dramatic improvements in education. This package from the legislature demonstrates the state’s confidence in public education, but with a slap at teachers and teacher organizations based on a national conservative and Republican consensus that educators are “too liberal.” Politics can taint even good news.

Pragmatically, much of Utah cannot be helped by private funding. San Juan County, in the southeast corner of the state, is so big that at one time it had two county seats so people would not have to make overnight trips for county business. School bus rides may still be more than 50 miles one way. Transportation costs chew up large parts of rural school district budgets.

Higher education diversifies to match the increasing diversity in the state’s population, religiously and racially, and economically. Mormons established the University of Utah (as the University of Deseret) in 1850, making it the oldest university west of the Missouri River. The U is still the flagship state institution, based in Salt Lake City, a major research university next to great skiing. Mormons also established Brigham Young University in Provo, and for years it dominated Utah’s #3 county. Funding to raise the state college near BYU to university status is probably more a reflection of the growth of the area, which at one time was the home to major computer software companies like WordPerfect and Novell, than competition to BYU. The major rivalry in almost all areas is between Utah and BYU.

Weber State University in Ogden remains a good all-around, regional university. Utah State University, the land-grant agricultural college, is in Logan, which has been outside the growth corridor for much of Utah’s development — although even Logan has a major air pollution problem now from increased population. Agriculture is a diminishing part of Utah’s economy by some measures.

All the state’s colleges and universities benefit from this increase in funding. Will it make up for a decade of restricted growth? Can it?

Education formerly was a base part of the budget. Now the Utah legislature treats it as a part of the budget that can be reduced in tough times, perhaps increased in good times. The increases are good news, but there are hints that the elected officials still regard education as expendible, and not as the foundation for a good economy, the way education was once enthroned. A budget surplus created congeniality in the legislative debates, missed last time around two years ago. “Education, teachers to reap a bonanza” said the headline in the Deseret News.

How long will the romance last this time?

3 Responses to Utah’s legislature boosts education across the board

  1. Rako says:

    According to a Salt Lake Tribune article “Weird Laws Clutter the Utah Code” Utah parents can give written permission to teachers to hit their children even though none of Utah’s public school do it. (Dan Harrie and Judy Fahys, January 18, 1998).

    The law was passed in 1992 and says:
    “A school employee may not inflict or cause the infliction of corporal punishment upon a child who is receiving services from the school, unless written permission has been given by the student’s parent or guardian to do so.”
    UTAH LAW 53A-11-802

    In other words, who ever a child lives with- be it an adoptive parent, step-parent, or uncle- can tell teachers to hit the child with a thick board leaving redness and welts. The thick board is called a “paddle” and was invented to beat slaves.

    Since the end of slavery in 1865 America’s schools and institutions have step by step abolished corporal punishment. Hundreds of global and US organizations like the United Nations, the US Parent and Teacher Association, and the National Association of State Boards of Education have passed resolutions against corporal punishment. They believe students have the same right to be protected from physical violence as do wives, animals, and criminals.

    According to Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, “the LDS church has consistently discouraged this approach to child rearing. President Hinckley: “called physical abuse of children unnecessary, unjustified and indefensible.” He said: “I have never accepted the principle of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child.’ I am persuaded that violent fathers produce violent sons. Children don’t need beating. They need love and encouragement.” (http://www.religioustolerance.org/lds_intr.htm)

    Then in 1997 the Utah Senate tried to ban school beatings completely.

    The Salt Lake City Tribune wrote an excellent editorial supporting the proposal. It explained that beating students in front of their peers “implies they are less worthy of respect, less human than those whose whose parents say “keep your hands off my child.”
    “Hands Off Those Students,” 23 January 1997

    But when the Senate sent the bill to the Utah House, the House disagreed and the bill died.

    Now 10 years later the state Office of Education has a regulation against beating students but it does not override the law allowing beatings with guardian permission. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance stated in a 2006 report that while it is not practiced, some school districts “do not have a formal ban in place.”

    While school staff may be under the impression that it is illegal, some districts are still printing handbooks saying teachers can beat students with permission.

    For example, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that San Juan School District’s school board unanimously opposed the idea of ending school beatings. Its handbook states:

    A school employee may not inflict or cause the infliction of corporal punishment upon a student who is receiving services from the school unless written permission has been given by the student’s parent or guardian to do so. This applies to students under the age of eighteen (18), or under the age of twenty three(23) if the student is receiving educational services as an individual with a disability.

    Kane School District’s handbook has the same policy.

    How is beating students with thick wooden board part of a “Safe School?”
    And safe for who? Teachers who can’t handle students criticizing them to their friends?

    What kind of school lets guardians give permission to beat 22 year old disabled students?

    On top of the disgusting policies of certain public schools, Utah’s law and State Board regulations have no effect on school beatings in private schools. In fact, the government does not collect statistics on hitting in private schools, so there is no way to know for sure whether it is being used. Several teenagers have died in youth boot camps in Utah.

    In 2006 SURVEY USA found that only a tiny minority – 15% – of Utah citizens supported corporal punishment in school. Why should their unfortunate children be humiliated in front of their protected classmates?

    The poll’s results show that Utah legislators have a responsibility to enforce the will of the overwhelming majority of its citizens and free children once and for all from the threat of school beatings.


    “Hands Off Those Students,” Salt Lake City Tribune, January 23 1997

    Utah House Education Committee,
    Representative Gregory H. Hughes, Chair
    Republican – District 51

    For the other members, click on Committee Membership:


    On the Matter of Spanking by Glenn I. Latham,
    Joseph F Smith’s biography,
    Parenting the Lord’s Way by Allen Leigh,
    The Book of Mormon’s Opposition to Corporal Punishment, an essay,


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    The hope of the legislature in Utah is that it will be $28,500 after the pay raise.

    You’ve hit on a key problem. No one can really afford to live on such a wage. That’s a common problem in the U.S. Utah’s starting teachers make about $15.00/hour when we spread it over professional training and required extra-hours grading, by my calculation. Not great pay for such an important job.

    And of course, that’s a chief reason the U.S. has an education crisis now.


  3. brian says:

    $26,000? After the raise? You guys pay teachers crap down there. I make double that salary, even counting the exchange rate. How could anybody afford to live on such a pittance?


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