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Policy group analyzes Utah school spending

School spending increased 8.2 percent per student last year despite the fact that the Utah Legislature faced an ongoing struggle to balance the state's 2002 budget deficit.

Utah's total per student spending for the year ending June 2002 increased 8.2 percent to $6,234 from $5,762 in fiscal year 2001.

The statewide figure encompasses all public school district spending, including instruction, maintenance and operation as well as capital outlay and debt service, indicated the Utah Taxpayers Association.

During the last 10 years, Utah's total per student expenditures have increased at 5.8 percent annually, registering slightly higher than the national average of 4.5 percent and significantly outpacing the annualized 2.6 percent inflation rate.

Typically, media reports on per student spending do not include school district capital outlay and debt service costs, but focus on maintenance and operation expenditures, pointed out the association.

With the application of the maintenance and operation measure, Utah's per student spending increased 5.5 percent in 2002.

Public education represents a labor intensive endeavor, noted the tax association.

In 2002, 68 percent of all education expenditures were allocated for employee salaries and benefits.

Purchased services accounted for 9 percent, while supplies/materials and property accounted for 8 percent and 7 percent respectively.

Compared to the nation, Utah's educator compensation was tilted in favor of higher benefits instead of salary, according to United States Census Bureau data.

Nationally, combining employee benefits with salaries resulted in a 26 percent increase. In Utah, benefits accounted for a 37 percent increase.

Per student spending varied significantly among Utah's 40 school districts in 2002, explained the taxpayers association.

Declining or climbing enrollments, urban or rural populations, property tax valuations per student, school district management and voter preferences accounted for many of the differences.

Last year, 58.7 percent of Utah's school district revenues came from state sources, primarily individual income taxes indicated the taxpayers association.

In 1998, state sources accounted for 61 percent of Utah's public education revenues while nationally, public school districts received 50 percent of all funding from state sources.

Utah's public education system received 33 percent of the revenues for school districts from local sources in 2002, primarily property taxes.

Local funding also came from fees and interest on balances.

Nationally, public education receives 43 percent of the revenues for school districts from local sources.

The federal government provided the remaining 8.3 percent of Utah's school district revenues in 2002, compared to 7.1 percent nationally

But Utah still received less than the national average on a per student basis - $475 compared to $606.

Utah's total per student spending is less than other states, noted the independent public policy association's analysts.

Lower than average per student spending at the state level can equate to a higher federal government share of school district expenditures

Four years ago, 6.9 percent of Utah's public education funding came from the federal government.

Charter schools are still a relatively new entity in Utah, accounting for only 0.13 percent of total kindergarten to 12th grade enrollment statewide. Charter schools receive significant federal start-up funding, but the revenues are eliminated within several years, indicated the association.

Charter schools do not receive public funding for bond repayment capital costs. Initially, charter schools received a portion of the local school district's property tax revenues. But starting in 2004, charter school funding will be based on a statewide average per student. The revenues will come entirely from state income tax monies. No local property tax dollars will be allocated to charter schools.

Charter school spending per student in 2002 registered 17 percent higher than Utah's regular public education system expenditures due to the federal start up funding being figured into the equation. Pupil/teacher ratios were much lower at 14.86 percent versus 20.17 percent for regular public education even though the funding mechanisms and formulas are similar for the two types of schools.

The statewide average of school district debt service costs in Utah registered at 54 percent during 2002. Maintenance and operation expenditures allocated for instruction averaged 69 percent. Personnel expenditures earmarked by Utah school districts to cover salaries and benefits for teachers averaged 54 percent statewide.

The taxpayers association analyzes the expenditures for Utah's 40 school districts on an annual basis. The financial and budgetary analysis is based on the most current available data from the state office of education and the Utah Tax Commission. The association evaluated spending at Utah's charter schools for the first time in 2002.

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