The talk about funding education during a legislative session usually circles around Utah's low per-pupil spending, the state's high proportion of school-aged kids, the high proportion of taxes dedicated to education and the reluctance of lawmakers and their constituents to support tax increases. These concerns are balanced by a genuine support for improving Utah's education system, consideration of a modest property tax increase and measures for greater accountability.
In the midst of this discussion, most of us assume that "education money" goes to teachers' salaries and benefits, occupancy and other costs for maintaining and furnishing buildings, curricular materials, hardware and software for digital teaching and learning and other educational infrastructures. We wonder why the substantial amount of money provided for education doesn't ever seem to be enough. We cite statistics demonstrating that money alone doesn't improve test scores and that Utah does a pretty good job of educating its students in any case. We identify and worry about low teacher salaries as a significant reason that teachers leave their positions in large numbers after their fifth year or so of teaching.
What we don't talk about is the fundamental reality that schools are the state's largest distributor of essential social services as mandated by state and federal laws. We don't openly acknowledge that "education funding" is simply not enough to finance these multifarious social services, and that this deficit affects everything from student achievement to teacher retention. As teachers, lawmakers and citizens, we all recognize that a child's welfare is integral to her ability to receive an education. But can any of us seriously suggest that the monies now appropriated for education are enough to pay for the broad and mandated social services provided by schools?