Time for a Tax Increase for Education

by  LaWanna “Lou” Shurtliff

Former Utah State Representative Ogden, UT 84403
District 10

Let’s raise taxes to fund education. I know this is a bold statement in Utah where we are expected to do much with little funding, but most polls show that over 60% of Utah citizens are willing to pay more taxes if the money is used for schools.

Believe it or not, in the 1980’s, Utah’s funding per child was about the national average. At the time, we had large families and many children in our schools just as we do now.

Years earlier with a Constitutional Amendment, some forward thinking legislators, I will call them statesmen, earmarked all income tax to go to schools. The Education Fund would support our public schools, kindergarten through 12th grade. This decision would leave the General Fund to take care of the other obligations in the State.

But come 1995, the Legislature saw the money in the Education Fund and wanted to use it as they saw fit. So again, a Constitutional Amendment was put on the ballot that the Education Fund could be used to fund Higher Education. Teachers were concerned about losing this funding, but they were told if they came out against the Amendment that the income rate could be lowered. Also, the worst part was that it was pitting one educational entity against another. The Amendment passed. As a result, in 1996 the public schools were receiving about 98% of the Education Fund. In 2008, the last year that I served in the House, they received 73%.

In 2008, the Legislature passed the “flat tax” rate for income. The idea was to make it easier to file your state income tax. Even though it was touted as a “flat tax,” several items were kept, such as a deduction for children and a deduction for charitable contributions. The change was to be revenue neutral. In other words, taxes would not increase, but the schools would not lose money. The end result: the schools lost approximately $200 million per year.

At the present time, our “flat tax” is 5%; not including the deductions that are still allowed. If we raised that amount to 5 ½%, $275 million would be generated which could lower each classroom by three students or which could be used for needs as assessed in each school district. Six percent would give the schools $550 million. About 10 years ago, Mississippi was on the bottom as far as per child funding. They always used the term “bite the bullet” as they raised taxes to fund their schools. Their funding is now well above ours.

During this recession, many have had to sacrifice; some have not. The hard part of any proposal is trying to decide how people will be affected. We do know that those with large families, including some legislators, end up not paying any income tax.

In the past fifteen years, we have had these two dramatic hits to educational funding. Now is the time that we need to step up to the plate and take care of the students of Utah. Reports are showing that our students are not doing as well as they should. Of the 50 states, Utah is at the bottom of funding by at least $1000 per child. I believe it is time we meet the challenge and increase our income tax rate to meet this crisis of funding in our public schools.


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