During the 2020 legislative session, we were part of a broad group of legislative leaders and education stakeholders who joined Gov. Herbert to announce a bold plan that provides protection for education funding, allows the use of income tax for the health needs of at-risk, school-aged children, and doesn’t raise taxes.
If voters approve Constitutional Amendment G, income tax revenues will still be dedicated to education and protected by the state Constitution. A “yes” vote for Amendment G triggers two pieces of legislation that protect funding by moving the education base budget into a constitutionally protected account. The bills grow education funding by guaranteeing an annual adjustment to cover student enrollment growth and inflation. Finally, support for Amendment G will stabilize funding for Utah students by reserving a portion of ongoing education revenue to meet future needs and protect education from economic downturns.
Historically, income tax is one of the most volatile revenue streams. Over the past several years, in a booming economy, funding for education has increased. However, Utah saw a 12% peak in 2007, followed by a combined 19% decrease in 2009 and 2010. More recently, we’ve been reminded of how an economic downturn wreaks havoc on the state budget. Strengthening the protections for education funding is even more essential now than ever before.
Under the new system, income tax revenues will still be dedicated to education and protected by the State Constitution. The state will reserve a portion of ongoing revenue to meet future educational needs within a newly created, ongoing public education budget stabilization account. The goal is to have enough money in reserve to sustain education through a 24-month downturn in the economy. Giving teachers and students a protected source of funding has been and continues to be an important priority. This proposal provides security and stability for Utah’s dedicated teachers and students.
A vote for Amendment G also extends support to children and disabled persons through programs that address issues closely related to education. Programs such as providing eyeglasses for children in need and ensuring students have food, so they don’t have to try to learn on an empty stomach, just to name a few.
It is also important for voters to know this process was inclusive and collaborative. Lawmakers worked with education stakeholders to get the policy right and consider each group’s important perspectives. That group included the Utah State Board of Education, the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, the Utah Public Employee Association, the Utah School Boards Association, the Utah Superintendents Association, the Parent Teacher Association and the Utah Education Association. Throughout the process, we were impressed with how everyone fought for Utah students and not against one another. That’s not something you find very often outside of our state.
Education funding has been and will continue to be a top priority for policymakers. In fact, Utah spends about half of all state funds on public education, and legislators have increased annual public education spending by more than a billion dollars since 2015. Even during the COVID-19 health crisis, the Legislature increased overall education funding by 2.2%.
As we balance the state’s budget each year, we carefully review legislation and funding proposals from many sources. Constitutional Amendment G proposes to put education funding first. It also simultaneously provides a funding framework for educational security, especially in unpredictable down years like the one we are in.
This change does not include any tax increase. It does not eliminate the protections for education funding; it adds to them. It does expand the income tax earmark to include services for children and individuals with disabilities, which is why policymakers want the voters to have the final say. The entire plan is subject to voter approval as Constitutional Amendment G on your ballot this November.
As voters consider the benefits of these changes, we hope they recognize the significant benefit to Utah students as we protect, grow and stabilize education funding. A vote for Amendment G gives all Utah students the best chance to achieve their dreams.