Education advocates push for ballot initiative

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – An advocacy group that plans to launch a ballot initiative to raise money for education in Utah has released a draft plan offering details about how the money would be spent.

Our Schools Now is planning to gather signatures for a ballot initiative in 2018 that, if passed, would raise state income tax .008 percent, from 5 percent to 5.875 percent.

The measure would raise an extra $750 million each year which would go directly to education, giving Utah schools about $1,000 more per student.

According to the Utah Foundation, Utah’s K-12 education funding has fallen from seventh to 37th in the nation over the past 20 years, a nearly $1.2 billion reduction in money available to schools.

Education funding in Utah has declined since 1996, when Utah began spending income tax on higher education. Previously, income tax was only spent on K-12.

In 2017, $800 million in state income tax revenue will be spent on higher education, according to a Utah Foundation report.

Our Schools Now has been pushing legislators to come up with more education funding, with no results.

Read more: Group seeks to raise taxes, cites $1.2 billion education shortfall

Instead of looking to the Legislature, the group will focus on gathering the signatures needed to put the measure directly to Utah voters, Our Schools Now campaign manager Austin Cox said in an earlier interview.

“Public support is resounding,” Our Schools Now executive committee member Bob Marquardt said in a statement, adding, “Eighty-nine percent of registered voters believe Utah schools need more education funding.”

Low teacher salaries and large classroom sizes are significant roadblocks to delivering high-quality education in Utah, and more funding is needed, Marquardt said.

Since announcing the ballot initiative in November, campaign leaders have spent several weeks meeting with educators, parents, business leaders and civic associations to discuss education funding, Our Schools Now leaders said in a press statement.

The measure needs 113,000 signatures to be put on the ballot – 10 percent of the number of voters in the last presidential race, Cox said.

The group has taken the best recommendations and developed a solution to improve student learning in Utah.

The newly released draft plan calls for each local school to create a “Teacher and Student Success” process to decide where spending is most needed.

Each school would receive new funding during the first two years while implementing their plan; in the third year, schools would be required to demonstrate increases in student achievement to qualify for full future funding.

The initiative would measure student achievement by proficiencies in math and reading, high school graduation rates, and college and career readiness.

“We’re hearing from business leaders, educators and parents that they are willing to pay more to enhance their child’s future. All of us understand that in order to keep our children in Utah to work and raise a family, obtaining a quality education is imperative,” former Utah Speaker of the House and Our Schools Now executive committee member Nolan Karras said.

“We can offer that by better supporting our teachers, and that’s what Our Schools Now does.”

For more information, see the Our Schools Now website or contact the group by phone at 801-683-9197 or by email at contact@ourschoolsnow.com.

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com
Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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