SALT LAKE CITY — Half of the state's budget will be going to Utah's public schools.
Currently the state spends an average of $6,452 on each student — the lowest in the country. Still, Utah's students are the state's biggest investment, by far.
"I honestly don't know where our education funds go at the moment," said parent Rita Sutton.
Few parents do. Yet an evaluation of the budget produced encouraging results.
Education funding takes a big chunk of taxes. A review of the state's complex operating budget for public schools revealed the majority of school funding covers one thing: salaries.
Of the $6,452 spent on each student, almost 87 percent — or $5,600, to be exact — goes to salaries and benefits for teachers, reading aides, P.E. specialists, principals, district administrators and custodians.
"It makes me feel good that our teachers are getting paid, but I think they need to get paid more," said Sutton.
Teacher Janis Jones said she hoped parents value good teachers.
"I certainly hope they think I am the most important thing for their children," she said. "They should know when their children leave home and come into the classroom that they are taken care of, that they are learning, that they're loved."
Nearly 7 percent — or $431 — goes to a student's supplies, paper and textbooks.
"It surprises me a little bit, seven percent," said parent Kelly Carpenter. "For textbooks I would think it might be a little higher."
The rest of the breakdown goes like this:
- 1.5 percent — $98 — goes to instructional equipment like computers and smartboards
- 1.2 percent — $79 — pays for school cleaning and maintenance
- 3.6 percent — $232 — covers "purchased services" like teacher training
What remains shows how little discretionary money exists in principals' budgets.
"It's very labor intensive and it probably always will be," said Bruce Williams, associate superintendent for business services.
Scanning budget numbers revealed some other interesting facts. School lunch, for example, doesn't come from operating budgets. It's paid for in part by taxes on alcohol.
To get out of our perennial last place, Utah would have to spend more on students than Idaho — which is $650 ahead.
But hundreds more per student adds up to a lot — $365 million to be precise.
"It would be great if we could beat Idaho or get even closer to the national average, which is even more of a challenge," Williams said.
Lawmakers devoted millions of dollars this year specifically to pay for all the new students expected to enter Utah schools next fall. The state is in the middle of a growth surge, with more than 13,000 new students getting ready to fill 500 classes.
Educators and leaders said parents should find real comfort in knowing their education dollars are carefully spent.
"I think they should realize the dollars that are allocated to local schools and charters are being used well," said Williams.