MURRAY, Utah (News4Utah) – Tens of thousands of public school teachers across the country attended rallies at their state capitols to demand higher wages and better classroom resources. Utah teachers have no plan to follow suit.
According to Dr. Sara Jones with the Utah Education Association (UEA), although funding for education has been an ongoing issue, we will not see teachers go on strike because of long-term plans worked out between the Our Schools Now initiative and Utah’s legislatures.
Part of the long-term plan deals with property tax equalization, which gives different districts the ability to offer its teachers a competitive salary. Unlike many of the states where teachers are walking out, Utah determines teacher salaries at the district level, not the legislative level. The downfall to that system is that not every district has the ability to raise property taxes to the same level as other districts. With the state stepping in, and if property tax equalization passes this next legislative session, it would help districts be able to offer more competitive salaries to educators.
“What teachers are most concerned about is having the adequate resources for their students and that every student–no matter what district they live in, what school they go to–should have the ability to have a great education,” Dr. Jones explained. “So the equity issue of every school, every district, having the same resources in every classroom is really critical and that’s why we need more funding for education.”
The most recent data that UEA officials have when it comes to teacher pay in Utah is from the 2016-17 school year. The data shows that the average starting salary for a teacher in Utah is $35,722, which puts Utah at 32nd in the nation in starting salary. Dr. Jones says that is “below average.”
While the mean salary in Utah is $47,244, Utah has 15 districts that start teacher salaries at $40,000 or higher.
Part of the compromise that was reached during the last hours of the 2018 legislative session was to put a question on the ballot for November to allow voters to decide if they would like to raise gas taxes 10 cents per gallon to help fund education.
“We think this is a huge opportunity for Utah to fund hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars of new money in education if voters will support that proposition,” Dr. Jones explained. “We absolutely need that money. We’ve made great progress over the last few years but we are still lacking the sufficient resources that we need.”
According to Jones, Utah teachers have to pay out-of-pocket for classroom supplies. Passing the gas tax would put more money into the classrooms so that teachers don’t have to use their own money for supplies. The gas tax would also help increase teacher pay and allow for more teachers to be hired, which in turn would create smaller class sizes.
“Every student should have the ability to have that one on one instruction from teachers, and the larger the class size the more difficult that becomes. More funding in the system would help us to be able to reduce the class size,” Dr. Jones said.