Utah businesses compete in a global marketplace and Utah students must be prepared to face the world's toughest competition.
Gov. Gary Herbert is Utah's strongest advocate for education, having declared it his top budget priority. During the most challenging months of the Great Recession, the governor protected public education from cuts. While other states balanced their budgets by cutting education funds, our governor stood strong, recognizing the direct link between education and economic growth.
Today, Utah's economy is growing faster than the nation as a whole, and the increased revenue that accompanies our growth has helped strengthen education. Gov. Herbert and the Legislature added $200 million of new funds to public and higher education during the past legislative session.
Utah schools face unique challenges. We have one of the youngest populations, with the youngest median age in the nation. We also have larger families, meaning fewer taxpayers per student. One in five Utahns is enrolled in the public school system. The result is we trail in per pupil spending despite the fact we spend two of every three dollars in the state budget on education.
There are those who take every opportunity to cite this statistic. Not surprisingly, they do so without mentioning we would need to spend an additional $2.2 billion on public education to move from where we are currently to the national average.
Collecting the additional $2.2 billion would require a 300 percent increase in our taxes. Gov. Herbert knows such a tax increase would cripple our state economy and has consistently said we cannot afford to raise taxes just as our economic recovery is beginning to take hold.
The amount of money we invest in education is important, but so is the return on our investment. Utah teachers and students produce remarkable results. Our high school graduation rates are among the highest in the nation at 88 percent. In 2012, nearly 2,000 more Utah high school students took advanced placement exams, earning passing grades at a higher rate than the rest of the nation. Last year, 97 percent of graduates took the ACT exam, a 73 percent increase from the previous year, and our scores ranked second in the nation.
To face global competition, 66 percent of all Utah adults must have a college degree or skilled trade certificate by the end of the decade. To get there, Gov. Herbert has laid out a plan to prepare young learners by establishing a solid foundation of reading and math skills, ensuring access to testing for all students, working to help Utahns complete unfinished degree and certificate studies, and aligning our courses of study with the demands of the job market.
Unlike anytime in recent memory, education is at the forefront of our state policy discussion. Policy makers and business leaders, students and educators all recognize the future strength of Utah's economy is directly linked to the performance of Utah students in our classrooms. The governor's leadership is a critical element to our success.
• Val Hale is president of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce and a former vice president at Utah Valley University. The foregoing represents his personal view. It does not represent the official position of the Chamber.