The evenings are crisp, the BBQ grills are hot, and college football is right around the corner: yep, ready or not it’s back to school time.
As Utah’s ~600,000 primary school aged children return to the classroom this week, I thought I’d take a minute to discuss the Our Schools Now initiative. In the decade or so since I’ve observed the State’s economic development organizations, there’s only a handful of times I can recall EDCUtah getting involved in major policy discussions. Our organization is the beneficiary of highly competent state and local leaders who give us an amazing product to market so we generally aren’t compelled to weigh-in. However, there is one notable exception to the general rule, and that is to support the Our Schools Now initiative as a way to spur dialogue around statewide education funding. Two years ago, the EDCUtah board voted to support the measure and our Board recently reaffirmed our organization’s support.
After the effort secures enough signatures, Utahns will have the opportunity to vote on the Our Schools Now initiative at the ballot box this November. The measure will raise an additional $700 million for our public schools, both primary and secondary through a modest increase of 0.45% to the state sales tax and a 0.45% increase to the state personal income tax. The funds raised would be distributed to local schools, allowing local administrators to tailor solutions to support better outcomes at the ground level.
Why would an economic development organization support an initiative that will have even a marginal increase in our tax rates? It’s because the business, community and political leaders who make up our board recognize if we are to maintain a competitive economic advantage we must make larger investments in our education system.
Ultimately, we are competing less and less in a cost-driven business for economic development. In nearly every deal we now make, talent is the differentiator. The knowledge economy regions that focus on education and innovation will be positioned to lead economic growth for generations to come. And while, like the Salt Lake Chamber’s leadership, we believe the first way to solve education funding is through tax reform, we agree that if we cannot provide additional funding by broadening the base and lowering the rate we need to look at other alternatives – including supporting the Our Schools Now initiative.
We appreciate the leadership of our former Board Chairs, Ron Jibson and Scott Anderson, in this initiative, along with so many of our other stakeholders. We actively encourage a healthy dialogue around education funding and work towards a legislative solution through tax reform because educational outcomes are critical for our long-term success as a state. I urge you to learn more about this proposal.