The Democratic candidate for governor of Utah is promising to increase the share of Utah's state revenue spent on public schools, even if he has to change the state constitution to do it.
Peter Cooke told a news conference at Highland High School in Salt Lake City that Utah's public schools are behind the rest of the country in part because Republicans in state government have been finding other ways to spend money set aside for the K-12 school system. Cooke said the schools are in trouble partly because of cuts in the state's top income tax rate and because income tax revenue is no longer used exclusively for the state's public schools.
"They forced public education and higher education to share income tax revenues," Cooke said. "They took money earmarked for education and spent it on other things."
In fact, Utah voters ratified an amendment to the state constitution in 1996 that allows some money from income taxes to be used for higher education. That frees up other state revenue for roads, prisons and other purposes. But Republican State Senator Howard Stephenson, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee for public education, says that's a good idea.
"It gives the legislature greater flexibility in making budgets," Stephenson told KUER. "I think that's to everybody's best interests."
Cooke promises to put a commission to work to study public education funding if he's elected.
He says it will determine "where is the money coming from, where has the money gone. I want to make that completely transparent. And within the first six months, I want to present a total plan on how we get our education back."
Marty Carpenter, a spokesperson for Governor Gary Herbert's re-election campaign, says public education will continue to be Herbert's top priority for state funding. But he added, "We have to invest in a number of areas and attract businesses to our state, help businesses that are in our state grow. There are a number of areas where we have to invest in order to, ultimately, have that rising tide that lifts all ships."