Analysts determine enrollment declines benefit Utah schools
Rather than harm local public education systems, declining student enrollments provide school districts in Utah with several financial advantages.
Decreasing enrollments result in lower pupil-teacher ratios and property tax rates as well as higher per student spending and educator salaries, indicates the Utah Taxpayers Association.
After analyzing the school district financial data published by the state office of education, the independent research organization determined that:
In 1996, pupil-teacher ratios in Utah's rapidly growing school districts were 5.5 percent higher than in declining enrollment public education systems.
By 2003, the difference pupil-teacher ratios jumped to 11.8 percent.
In 1996, property tax rates in the school districts with expanding student populations registered 6.3 percent lower than in declining enrollment public education systems.
By 2003, property taxes in the growing public education systems registered 26.7 percent higher than the rates in declining enrollment districts.
Average teacher compensation paid by Utah's rapidly expanding school districts was 5.6 percent lower than in declining local public education systems in 1996.
Teacher compensation in districts with expanding student populations fell to 6.3 percent lower by 2003.
Ironically, declining enrollment districts are able to achieve favorable financial conditions while receiving slightly fewer state income tax dollar, pointed out the association.
When populations decline at public schools, local property tax bases remain intact. Since declining enrollment districts have reduced capital needs, the public education systems can afford to allocate a larger percentage of property tax revenues toward funding student instructional costs.
Combined, the factors enable declining enrollment school districts to spend nearly twice as much property tax per student for instruction and operation expenses, noted the independent public policy watchdog group.
The analysis refutes the widespread belief that urban districts cannot adequately cope with declining enrollments due to fixed costs, maintained the independent taxpayers association.
The analysis confirmed that declining enrollment districts have not only adapted to student population decreases, but occupy in a better financial position than growing counterparts.
The findings are directly applicable to the statewide tuition tax credit and charter school debates, pointed out the independent research organization. In a financial sense, enrollment and funding shifts due to natural demographic changes or tuition tax credits and charter schools are fundamentally the same.
Declining enrollment districts are not financially harmed by losing pupils and funding to growing public education systems, indicated taxpayers association analysts.
Depending on per pupil dollars, Utah's policy makers may assume that transferring students to charter or private schools will have a similar impact on local public education systems.
Tax credit opponents argue that school districts cannot reduce instructional costs when one student leaves the system, explained the independent taxpayers association.
The opponents also claim local public education systems can only reduce costs when students from an entire neighborhood leave and schools can be closed.
In addition, tax credit opponents claim educational costs are primarily fixed, particularly administrative and maintenance expenditures, continued the taxpayers association. Occasionally, instructional expenditures are included as fixed costs.
As students and revenue are drained from public schools, tax credit opponents argue that districts must increase class sizes or raise taxes since an increasing percent of funding must be diverted from instruction to cover fixed costs.
However, the independent taxpayers organization's financial analysis demonstrated that school districts have actually benefited from declining student enrollments.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, growing enrollment districts experience smaller declines in pupil-teacher ratios and higher property tax rate increases.
As enrollment numbers drop, districts can consolidate schools and decrease administrative as well as maintenance costs, explained the association analysts.
Public school systems can also reduce the number of educators on payrolls without increasing pupil-teacher ratios.
Per student spending, pupil-teacher ratios and general financial conditions improve in school districts as enrollments drop, reiterated the association.
Therefore, program cancellations reflect a local public education system's changing priorities rather than an impact of decreasing student populations.
Local public education districts can handle the student population declines associated with tuition tax credits and charter schools, concluded the Utah Taxpayers Association.