Utah lawmakers are wondering how much money they'll have to fund public education in Utah. The dysfunctions that plague national politics in Washington D.C. -- its massive debt and promises of belt-tightening that are later procrastinated -- can lead state lawmakers guessing as to whether Utah's finances will be in the black or the red. This year the fiscal cliff and scheduled budget cuts could affect Utah. Budget numbers will come out on Feb. 19. There's a good chance the state will have a deficit.
Nevertheless, it's critical that Utah lawmakers make sure that our state's educational needs are met. Frankly, Utah needs more funding in education. Compared to most other states, our funding is poor. Our schools have grown at an annual rate of 2.2 percent the last few years. Legislators work hard to find ways to meet the increases, and we appreciate that. However, there needs to be a renewed effort to brainstorm more ways to increase money for schools.
The Republican leadership is very cool to a tax hike. We understand those concerns. The economy is still struggling. However, there are long-term implications when Utah's education spending remains relatively low compared to the rest of the nation. Our schools suffer in quality compared to other schools. Our best students choose universities outside of the state. Invariably, many of our brightest young adults choose to pursue careers outside of the state.
Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, is correct when he urges more emphasis in the areas of science and technology for students, particularly earlier in students' educational experience. We need to pursue educational opportunities for our students in areas that will be highly valued and much-needed in the future. We need Utah to be a state that is regarded as having an educational system that is forward thinking, attracts outside attention and is appealing to the brightest minds.
As decisions are made for funding education in Utah, educators must remember that money for education is an investment, not an expenditure.