Would More Local Control Improve Utah Schools?

Mar 9, 2016

While education funding was a highly debated issue during the 2016 legislative session, some politicians and members of the public are looking for other ways to improve Utah’s schools. A bill signed by Gov. Gary Herbert back in February allocated over $4 billion in total for education-related expenses.

Jonathan Johnson, who is challenging Herbert for the Republican gubernatorial nomination this year, has proposed the creation of Education Savings Accounts to cover the cost of customizing a student’s schooling. He said that such accounts would give parents more say in education spending.

“Nevada has put one in place, but both Florida and Arizona have passed them. What they do is, they give parents more choice in how the money that the government spends on their kids’ education is spent,” Johnson said. “So, if you as a parent want to use part of the money spent on your child for online education or for homeschooling, you can do that. These have been challenged in court and upheld. They really give parents more ability to personalize the education of each of their children.”

Debates surrounding curriculum standards such as Common Core have been hotly contested not only in Utah but around the country. Johnson said that the way forward for Utah is to achieve more self-reliance in the face of federal involvement in schools.

“Today, Utah’s education budget for K-12 is about $4 billion and about $300 million—so, roughly seven precent-ish—comes from the federal government,” he said. “The way to look at it, I think, is to say, ‘what are the strings that are attached?’ If we don’t like how we have to bend, then I think we need to find a way to be self-reliant. We’ve got to figure out a way, when the federal government is asking us to do things we don’t want to do, stop.”

A push by legislative Democrats to increase per-pupil funding failed in committee last Friday.