Op-ed: As Utah’s population grows, Constitutional Amendment G will fund future student enrollment

Anyone who’s been shopping for a house lately knows the real estate market is hot. Home prices are rising rapidly and there are not enough houses to go around.

The forces behind this housing market growth include new people moving to the state as well as young Utahns who are forming their own households.

As more people move to Utah, we must be prepared for the impacts of this growth. Along with the need to create more housing, Utah must also plan ahead for the increased needs in other areas like education.

From 2020 to 2026, Utah’s population of school-age children (5-17) is expected to grow by approximately 14,000 students, according to data from the Utah State Board of Education. By 2065, there will be about a million school-age children, up from nearly 700,000 currently, according to state and county projections.

We are not adequately preparing for this inevitable growth if we are not addressing how we will fund this new student enrollment. We must be ready for these new students while not diluting existing education funding.

The Utah Association of Realtors supports Constitutional Amendment G because it addresses these challenges by guaranteeing education funding even as costs increase and Utah’s population of schoolchildren grows.

Here’s how it works: Utah voters are asked whether the constitution should be amended to expand the use of income and intangible property taxes to include supporting children and people with disabilities. If that amendment passes, it will enact House Bill 357 and House Bill 5011 that will put in place systems to protect, grow and stabilize education funding. It will do this by:

  • Adjusting base education spending each year in line with inflation so education funding automatically grows.
  • Automatically funding growth for new students.
  • Providing a rainy-day fund so education continues to receive funding commitments even during economic downturns.
  • Using a constitutionally protected account to safeguard funding for K-12 education.
  • Giving flexibility to school districts to use property taxes to fund operational expenses during economic downturns.
  • Providing a 6% increase in education funding over the next few years.

Currently, there is not a dedicated system in place to safeguard funding for Utah students during recessions and other times when income tax revenues shrink. With Amendment G, Utah would be the first state with guarantees for future education funding. This is important since Utah has historically had to make cuts during economic downturns. During the Great Recession, for example, the Public Education Appropriations Committee cut $787 million from public education.

Opponents say education funding will be vulnerable because income taxes will also be used for individuals with disabilities. In actuality, Amendment G creates safeguards for education by establishing a minimum level of funding the Legislature must give to public schools. The proposal also provides flexibility so the Legislature can allocate even more funding from other sources. A failing of the current system is the fact that there are no guarantees that current funding levels will be maintained.

Many education advocates also support Amendment G. The Utah State Board of Education, Utah School Boards Association, Utah School Superintendents Association, Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, Utah Public Employees Association, Utah Education Association, Utah PTA and Utah Taxpayers Association all supported Amendment G during the 2020 legislative session.

Future growth in Utah is inevitable. We must be prepared for that growth by making sure we have structures in place that protect students no matter the economic conditions and no matter how fast our population grows.

Dave Robison is president of the Utah Association of Realtors.