Prominent business and community leaders committed to improving education in Utah launched a ballot initiative campaign at Washington Elementary in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The initiative, Our Schools Now, provides a framework to improve outcomes in education and the mechanism to fund these improvements. Our Schools Now is urgently needed because budget decisions over the last twenty years are now leaving public education with $1.6 billion less every year. This investment crisis has created teacher shortages and the lowest per-pupil spending in the country, hurting student learning and academic performance.
“When we invest in education we are assuring that Utah can compete in a global marketplace,” said Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bank. “That means future generations can obtain well-paying, high-skill jobs and raise their families in a growing Utah economy.”
The initiative calls for a seven-eighths of one percent increase in the Utah Personal Income Tax to strengthen education funding and fund improved student outcomes. By adjusting the personal income tax rate from five to 5.875 percent, Utah would inject roughly $750 million into education, or about $1,000 more per student per year. The funds raised would go to each school in the state, including public schools, charter schools, applied technology colleges and higher education institutions, based on student enrollment.
The Our Schools Now initiative allows individual schools, with local district approval, to determine their needs and appropriate funds for specific educational purposes. Schools will develop a performance improvement plan that will direct the new funds to targeted student outcome improvement strategies.
This bottom-up approach has proven to be successful. For example, three years ago, Roy High School and its feeder schools partnered with parents and community leaders to improve outcomes. As a result, the community dramatically decreased truancies, increased student learning and raised the high school graduation rate from 72 to 95 percent in just two years.
“This approach, which emphasizes local decision-making, is the ‘Utah way,’ and will resonate with parents, communities and businesses,” said Ron Jibson, retired chairman of Questar Corporation. “We will get enough signatures of support in 2017 to get the initiative on the ballot in 2018. A most recent poll shows that 67 percent of Utahns favor a seven-eighths of one percent increase in the income tax to fund education. And, when communities see how much money they will receive, and how they can personally guide how that money will be spent, we believe they will vote in favor of Our Schools Now.”
For example, through Our Schools Now, West High School in the Salt Lake City School District would receive approximately $2,064,000 annually, and its feeder schools, Washington Elementary School and Bryant Middle School, would receive close to $300,000 and $340,000, respectively.
“Our Schools Now is a win-win for all Utahns,” said Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies. “Education is the number one economic development issue our state faces. Companies today, and in the future, need and want an educated work force. An investment in our schools now is truly an investment in Utah’s economic stability and individual opportunity.”
Over the next five months, advocates for the Our Schools Now campaign will solicit input throughout the state to explain this undertaking and gather local feedback to draft the initiative. The campaign will begin to obtain signatures next summer to put the initiative on the ballot during the 2018 general election.