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Constitutional Amendment G is a needed change for education funding

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Students at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in South Salt Lake wear masks as the get on a bus to go home after their first day of school on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

This axiom, most often attributed to Albert Einstein, could easily be applied to Utah public education funding.

For decades, Utah teachers have managed to eke out above-average results despite having the nation’s lowest per-student funding. Teachers, probably better than anyone else, recognize what additional funding could do for our students. Yet, under the current system little has changed. We’ve made modest progress in recent years, but we are still nowhere near providing our students the level of education we could with adequate funding. We must do something different if we expect different results.

This year, we have an opportunity. Constitutional Amendment G is on the ballot for all Utah voters. Here’s the ballot question:

Shall the Utah Constitution be amended to expand the uses of money the state receives from income taxes and intangible property taxes to include supporting children and supporting people with a disability?

Currently, Utah’s Constitution says all income taxes must be used for education. This amendment would appear to dilute that funding to include other worthwhile uses. What the ballot language does not say, however, is passage of Constitutional Amendment G also triggers enactment of additional legislation that statutorily obligates legislators to fund student enrollment growth and inflation each year. In addition, the triggered legislation guarantees a minimum 10% of all new income tax revenue will go toward increasing per-student funding for the next few years and funds an education stabilization account to protect against future economic downturns.

The UEA believes this funding assurance in state code may well prove more effective than a constitutionally protected revenue source that has thus far failed to deliver sufficient education funding to keep pace with growing student needs.

Our elected state legislators set the education budget. With or without any type of constitutional revenue guarantee, the fate of education funding remains in their hands. This proposed constitutional change and the associated legislation to boost education funding were a collaborative effort between the legislature and the education community. Historically, we’ve had more success increasing education funding by working with the legislature than by opposing them. Should Utahns fail to pass the amendment, nothing changes for public education funding. We are back to status quo.

Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Constitutional Amendment G and the accompanying legislation are not a final solution to Utah’s long-term public education funding problems. The UEA supports Constitutional Amendment G because we believe the pros outweigh the cons. We believe the measures put us in a better position for the future than the status quo. It’s a change with the potential to produce different results.

Even with passage of the amendment, however, we must hold legislators to their promises. We must remain vigilant, committed and proactive as we keep the pressure on our elected Utah legislators to adequately fund public education.

We cannot keep doing things the same if we want change. Will this be the change that finally lifts Utah out of last place in per-student funding? Time will tell. We do know we must do something different if we are to create the public schools our students deserve.

Heidi Matthews is a junior high school media teacher elected to represent public school educators as president of the Utah Education Association.