Utah’s level of education funding has become a bit of an embarrassment in the last decade, with levels dropping so far that we are now ranked dead last in the nation for the amount of money we give public schools per student. One Legislator is trying to make a modest change, that could have a big impact over time.
Currently, 100% of Utah’s income tax, and a portion of property taxes go directly into the General Education Fund – but through some creative accounting, Utah students could see some desperately needed funds increase in neighborhood schools.
A simplified version of the education funding legislation run by former Senator (and new SLCO Mayor) Ben McAdams, HB 55, Amendments Related To Education Funding from Representative Joel Briscoe (Democrat, SLC), is being described by Briscoe as a “modest tweak” to current tax law, and provides two new funding mechanisms for education.
The first revolves around federal income taxes. Currently, a family in Utah can take an individual exemption for each person in the family – which can equal up to 75% of the federal income tax individual exemption. The percentage adjusts for inflation each year, so as the economy improves, the amount can grow each year.
Under HB 55, the rate changes from a percentage to a fixed amount, so instead of getting a percentage off of your federal income tax, you will now get $2,850. A family filing a personal exemption for each member of the family would get $2,850 off per person. As the economy improves, a small sliver of margin would begin to appear, creating a bit more funding for schools.
The second funding source comes from property taxes. Under current law, the state tax commissioner sets the property tax rate based on estimated property values, so the rate fluctuates as property values go up or down with the economy. HB 55 puts a floor on the tax rate, so they cannot drop below where they are now in a difficult economy. Similar to the tweak on income taxes, this leaves a small additional fraction of property tax now available for use in the Education Fund.
“We’re not trying to swing for the fences here,” says Representative Briscoe. “We’re not looking to hit a home-run and fix public education funding with one bill, we’re just trying to make it to 1st base.”
The bill does not have a fiscal note from the Office of Legislative Research yet, but Briscoe is estimating that this will only bring in a few million dollars for education funding over the next few years, but could have a larger impact over time.
“The great thing about small tweaks like this, is that while they won’t be a huge help in the short term, over the next 10-20 years it grows and could end up providing a steady stream of resources for our schools – which at this point are in a crisis and need everything we can get them.”
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Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Great Bill 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 . -1 . -2 . -3 . -4 . -5 Poor Bill