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The impact of children on Utah government

Jay Williams’ op-ed (“There is no way around paying for quality education,” Salt Lake Tribune) notes Utah’s demographics present tremendous challenges for funding Utah’s public schools. However, his argument about the “ratio of students to taxpaying adults” not causing similar funding problems for roads, the power grid, sewage treatment system, etc. is not accurate.

With 38 school age children per 100 Utah working age adults, all segments of Utah government struggle to obtain funding for their services. And given the political pressure to move Utah out of last place in per pupil spending, public education is spared the ax more than any other segment of Utah government. For example, to avoid cutting public education spending during the 2002 and 2003 budget-cutting special sessions, the Legislature cut non-public education spending by $234.8 million, and another $90.4 million in transportation spending. By contrast, the Legislature maintained Utah public education spending at its 2001 levels.

As this recent history shows, public education is better insulated than any other portion of government from the challenges our uniquely high dependency ratio creates.

Williams obviously has not been following the transportation debate if he thinks if Utah does not struggle with transportation funding.

Children are expensive to turn into responsible adults. That's just the way it is.

But let's look at the flip side of that equation. A Chinese scholar asked (and he actually risked his neck by doing so) why it is that we look at the birth of a cow as the creation of an asset, but we look at the creation of a human as a liability. Studies have shown that free humans on balance create far more value over their lifetimes than what they cost (and that includes environmental costs).

Utah outperforms the nation in producing a highly valuable asset: humans. We whine and moan about the cost of getting these assets to the point where they can be productive, but the net effect is positive.

I agree 100%, but we should still acknowledge that large numbers of children impact state and local government finances, just like the elderly impact federal government finances.

Agreed. But we should look at the value created via those expenditures.

There's no question that raising children is a net boon to society. Acknowledging that fact doesn't mean we stop evaluating how best to spend taxpayer dollars. Nor does it dictate that taxpayer dollars must be spent to turn children into responsible adults.

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