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Everyone knows that the recession has been hard on schools in Utah and across the nation.
But exactly how much has education in the Beehive State suffered? Per pupil spending in Utah plunged by more than 8 percent, when adjusted for inflation, between 2008 and now, according to report released Tuesday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank that works on programs affecting low and moderate income families.
Utah has long had the lowest base per pupil spending in the country.
"This should really be a call to attention that when you really take a good look at the overall school budget we've got problems and we've got to address those problems," said Allison Rowland, director of research and budget at Voices for Utah Children.
According to the report, Utah is not alone. A majority of states saw their per pupil spending, when adjusted for inflation, dive over the past few years. Utah fell about in the middle when compared with 47 other states.
Twenty-one states saw higher cuts to per pupil spending than Utah, according to the report. And 26 states saw their spending fall less than Utah's did and even, in some cases, increase.
It's something that Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, called a testament to efforts to mitigate the effects of the recession over the past few years. He said the drop could have been much worse considering that Utah has faced challenges not all states have, such as a growing student population.
"The fact that we are in the middle of the pack nationally shows that our efforts have reduced the otherwise dramatic impact that could have resulted in Utah," said Stephenson, who co-chairs the Legislature's Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
He also noted that lawmakers were able to fund student enrollment growth this year and raise base per pupil spending by about 1 percent. Utah was one of 22 states to increase its per pupil funding this year, according to the report.
"I think given what Utah was dealing with, our school system and funding made out very well," Stephenson said. He said lawmakers are committed to funding education, and he can see the Legislature stepping up in future years to try to make up for money lost during the recession.
Ben Horsley, a spokesman for the Granite School District, said Tuesday the report didn't surprise him. Like many districts in Utah, Granite has faced budget woes over the past few years. He said the district was forced to cut about $58 million over the past three years. In 2011, the district raised taxes by $5 million to help compensate a fact actually cited in the Center's report as an example of how drops in state funding have affected property taxes.
Horsley said even when basic per pupil funding remains steady, many Utah districts experience that as a cut due to their growing student populations and rising costs, such as employee insurance.
"Obviously, our dollars are not going as far as they used to," Horsley said.
Thirteen states actually saw their spending increase since 2008 either because of significant natural resources that helped to buffer their economies, such as in North Dakota, or because of how they prioritized their cash, according to the report.
See the report