Approaching the end of the 2017 state legislative session, Austin Cox, the campaign manager for Our Schools Now, admitted that it is becoming clear that the quickest path to passing the initiative will be through the ballot box in 2018. Lawmakers have criticized the proposal’s 7/8ths of one percent state income tax increase, calling it a 17 and a half percent hike. Cox said that opponents of Our Schools Now are using language that is somewhat misleading.
“If you take that increase, it is a 17 and a half percent of an increase in the rate. What we’re troubled with is that people are saying, ‘Well, it’s an increase in the rate of 17 and a half percent so it must mean that my taxes are going to go up 17 and a half percent.’ That’s where we take issue with that because that’s not true,” Cox said. “There’s some people that may pay a 17 and a half percent increase, there’s some people that would pay less than that. That’s just because it’s the income tax. So, it’s going to be contingent on what your personal income is.”
The Our Schools Now initiative would allow local schools to have a say in how the money that is generated through the initiative is spent. New funds would be required to be used in ways that improve student learning. Research from the Utah Foundation estimates that $1.2 billion in education spending has disappeared over the last 20 years.
Cox said that local control of new funds is a crucial component of Our Schools Now.
“Very recent polling data shows that 89 percent of Utahns believe that public education is inadequately funded. We also see a very high number that, if they saw where the money was going, if they had input and involvement in how those funds should be spent, and that they could see the benefits to their local communities, would support this,” he said. “We feel that instead of the state telling all 700 elementary schools, ‘You have to spend it on this to improve third grade reading,’ we’re going to allow local educators and local teachers to decide.”
$110 million has been added to public education annually over the past half-decade.