Supporters say a $75 million property tax increase will benefit Utah’s public education system and it will likely go further to increase funding in the future.
The change is meant to help school districts that are struggling by raising taxes to an average of $46 annually per household statewide. Starting this year, revenue from the increase will favor more underserved districts. This will allow Jordan School District for instance to give some teachers a 6.5 percent pay increase next school year. But Spokesperson Steve Dunham points out the district is on the cusp of joining districts like Park City, Rich, Emery and Kane that won’t benefit from the tax hike, but won’t lose money either.
“And so in a few years, you could see us being a net giver as opposed to a net receiver,” Dunham says. “And we’re not disappointed in that because we truly feel that it’s better overall for children everywhere.”
Income tax revenue in Utah is already distributed equally among rich and poor districts. But districts with low property values often end up paying higher tax rates than their wealthy neighbors who can afford to keep tax rates low.
Republican Senator Osmond sponsored the bill in the Legislature. He says this is just the beginning of a long-term effort to fund Utah schools.
“We’ve put a really good solution in place to ensure that most schools are at least at the same level that we guarantee to our charter schools,” Osmond says. “But it is still not sufficient both for capital as well as for ongoing operating needs of the districts.”
Osmond says he plans to change the law next session to allow the state to capture new growth in income tax revenue and property tax revenue for improving equalization over time.
Utah remains dead last in the nation for per pupil spending but it’s in the top ten for the portion of the state money it spends on education.