It's the public's turn to decide about Utah education spending

Tuesday , February 06, 2018 - 4:30 AM1 comment

STANDARD-EXAMINER EDITORIAL BOARD

It’s simple, really. Either you believe in representative government or you don’t.

And Rep. Mike Schultz doesn’t.

Schultz, a Hooper Republican, sponsored a bill to nullify the Our Schools Now initiative if it reaches the ballot and wins voter approval.

  • RELATED: “Utah bill would void education initiative”

So much for governments deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Utah consistently ranks last in the nation in per-pupil education spending. Utah spent $6,575 per student in 2015, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report. Nationally, spending averaged nearly twice that — $11,392.

Our Schools Now seeks to raise about $700 million for Utah schools through a .45 percent increase in the state sales tax, accompanied by a .45 percent hike in the personal income tax. According to Our Schools Now, that $700 million works out to roughly $1,000 per pupil.

  • RELATED: “Utah business leaders launch Our Schools Now campaign to fund education”

Our School Now organizers say Utah can’t go on spending just enough to keep up with enrollment growth. They argue schools need an infusion of cash to invest in teachers, reduce classroom sizes and improve academic performance.

Schultz says lawmakers can find an additional $700 million for education without a tax increase, so he’ll void Our Schools Now if it passes.

"I think the public would like this," Schultz told The Salt Lake Tribune. "I think if we can get the dollars there, that's the most important thing. My whole goal with all of this is to work together and show everybody we don't have to have a tax increase to accomplish the same things."

Which sounds almost believable, except for one thing — Utah lawmakers had their chance. They spent what they wanted to spend. This is the education system that resulted.

Yet suddenly, because Utahns threaten to take education funding into their own hands, Schultz believes lawmakers can find an additional $700 million just by making education a priority.

No. This isn’t about avoiding a tax increase. This is about power.

Schultz believes it belongs to the Legislature, not to the people, as expressed through the initiative process.

"Lawmakers have set a very high bar for ballot initiatives in Utah," said Austin Cox, spokesman for Our Schools Now. "If more than 110,000 (petition signers) express the desire to vote for better school funding, it would be tragic to undermine the most democratic of institutions."

If the Utah Legislature agrees to nullify the results of a legal election, voters need to punish every lawmaker responsible. Starting with Schultz.

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