Utah and K-12 Education
According to the Utah Foundation, the November 2013 Quality of Life Index report shows that Utahns rank education as second only to the category of “health, safety, and environment” as an indicator of quality of life within the state. However, the quality of education (78.9) is ranked as being below its perceived importance (88.2). The education category included the quality of public schools and the availability of quality higher education. This report, first conducted in 2011, showed an education importance factor down 0.4 and a quality factor down 0.5 from 2011 to 2013. That is, perceptions of both the importance of education and the overall quality of education in the state are down while overall quality of life is up by 1.0 point. Overall quality of life within the state stands as 78.2 (100-point scale).
Utah K-12 Funding and Per Pupil Expenditures
Voters consistently rank K-12 education as one of Utah’s top three priorities. Yet, according to a report on public education finances, Utah has held the bottom position for per pupil expenditure ($6,206 per student in 2012) in the U.S. since 1988. Funding for K-12 education has also steadily declined, with Utah being 32nd in the country in 2011. Reasons for these steady declines involve large family sizes with children in school, declining property taxes, and the use of income taxes for purposes other than education.
Despite the low level of per student funding, Utah students scored near the national average for 8th grade NAEP tests in 2011 (#26 in 8th grade math, #20 in 8th grade reading, and #6 in 8th grade science). Utah has relatively low ethnic diversity and poverty, however, and a slightly higher proportion of college-educated parents than the U.S. average. Significantly, when Utah’s results are compared with those of demographic and economic peer states, Utah ranks last or nearly last. Peer states have higher levels of funding that Utah cannot match, partly because of the high numbers of students in Utah’s K-12 schools.
On the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count ratings, Utah has lower than average pre-school attendance (40% in Utah, 46% nationally) and recently slipped to 30th place in 2013. These rankings have occurred in spite of major commissions and task forces focused on improving education in the state.