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Significant increases in education spending?

For the past couple of weeks, Utah Republican leaders have bragged about recent increases in education spending. Others have asked "Have recent increases kept up with inflation and enrollment growth?"

In addition, many have not forgotten the lean recession years in the earlier part of this decade when education spending did not keep up with inflation and population growth. Have recent increases compensated for the lean years?

The answer to both questions is yes.

Everyone seems to have their own way of measuring education spending per student. Some -- particularly the UEA and local newspapers -- focus on the WPU which accounts for less than 50% of total education spending in Utah (and the WPU is not a per student measure anyway although there is a correlation). Others -- like the National Center for Education Statistics -- focus on operations costs, which exclude capital, debt service, and food service. Still others, like the Utah Taxpayers Association, focus on total spending, including capital expenditures and debt service (while excluding bond principal repayment to avoid double counting).

The best way to measure recent increases in per student spending is to look at the Minimum School Program (MSP). Total spending for FY2008 -- which includes capital, debt service, and federal expenditures -- won't be known for another two years. However, the Legislature has released data for the FY2008 MSP, and the MSP accounts for more than 90% of school district operation expenditures from state and local sources.

The Utah Taxpayers Association has calculated annualized inflation-adjusted per student MSP spending growth for three different time periods. The results are as follows.

1993 - 2008 . . .2.6% annualized
1998 - 2008 . . .2.2% annualized
2003 - 2008 . . 3.1% annualized

Keep in mind that these are annualized inflation-adjusted per student spending increases, and these increases are significant, even if some of the increase is so-called one-time revenues (one-time revenues are tax dollars too). We'll talk about one-time revenues in a later post.

Interesting analysis. Do you have a spreadsheet of your analysis you could send to me?

Craig Johnson

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