UEA joins Utah business leaders as they launch Our Schools Now campaign to raise taxes and improve student performance
UEA President Heidi Matthews and Executive Director Lisa Nentl-Bloom are among a group of prominent business and community leaders spearheading a ballot initiative campaign designed to increase revenue for public education and improve student performance.
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The Our Schools Now initiative, launched Nov. 29 at Washington Elementary in Salt Lake City, 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 Steering Committee of Our Schools Now reads like a “who’s who” of Utah business and community leaders. In addition to Matthews and Nentl-Bloom, the committee includes Zion’s Bank President and CEO Scott Anderson, Larry H. Miller Group of Companies owner Gail Miller, retired Questar Chairman Ron Jibson, Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Lane Beattie, former Utah Speaker of the House Nolan Karras, Utah PTA President Dawn Davies, former LDS Church General Young Women’s President Elaine Dalton and retired Hill Air Force Base Commander Major General Kevin Sullivan, among others.
“It’s remarkable to see such a diverse group of business, community, political and education leaders come together to support public education,” said Matthews. “I’m hopeful now we have the support to see transformational change in the way we fund education in this state.”
The UEA Board of Directors voted unanimously on Nov. 18 to support the Our Schools Now initiative, although their support wasn’t a slam-dunk. It was only after months of back and forth with organizers of the initiative – making changes to give the Boardsome level of confidence that it met the needs of our students and teachers and there weren’t too many strings attached to the new funding – that the UEA gave its support, according to Matthews. “It’s refreshing to see these leaders reach out to us, as teachers, for input into this initiative and invite us to be integral partners. Teachers have understood the needs of our students for a long time,” she said.
“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.”
Announcement of the Our Schools Now initiative follows a report issued by the Utah Foundation showing that Utah budget decisions over the past twenty years have left 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, according to an Our Schools Now press release.
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.”
“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. For more information about Our Schools Now, and a funding estimate for each school in the state, visit OurSchoolsNow.com.
About Our Schools Now
The most important investment Utahns can make is to provide all citizens with a high-quality education. Today’s economy requires more highly educated, highly trained, and highly skilled workers than ever. Utah must commit to making a significant and ongoing investment in education, or face the loss of a truly prosperous future.
To be successful, Utah’s investment in education must be tied to innovative ideas and strategies that significantly improve student achievement in both public schools and higher education. Our Schools Now offers a plan to increase education funding and improve outcomes for all Utah students.
Our Schools Now is an initiative to give Utah voters the opportunity to participate in the critical question of how we are to invest in the continued improvement of our schools. This initiative would allow Utahns to vote for a ballot measure to increase the state income tax and invest the increase in educational performance improvement.
- Our Schools Now proposes a seven-eighths of one percent increase in the Utah Personal Income Tax.
- 100% of the increased income tax collections would go to Utah schools.
- Funds would be distributed among public education, higher education, and the Utah College of Applied Technology, based on student enrollment.
- The funds generated from the increased income tax would generate approximately $744 million in the first year alone—roughly $978 per fulltime Utah resident student.
- Allocations to public schools, colleges, and universities each year would be tied to improved educational performance.
Benefits to Utah Voters—
- Funds innovative strategies to improve education – The initiative focuses on improving educational outcomes and ties funding to performance improvement, school by school.
- Provides local autonomy and flexibility – School districts, charter schools, and higher education institutions have the flexibility to develop educational strategies that address local needs and will improve student achievement.
- Supported by most Utah voters – In a January 2016 poll, 65% of Utahns said they would support an increase in the state income tax to fund public education. In an October 2016 survey, 67% of Utahns would support putting the option of a tax increase to fund public education on the ballot.