Unless we solve our problem of rising Medicaid costs, we will put our children’s education and the future vitality of Utah at risk.
Utah ranks 51st among all U.S states and the District of Columbia in per pupil K-12 education spending. At $5,765 per student, our state falls 20% below the second lowest spending state, Idaho, which spends $6,931 per student. And the national average is 78% percent higher for per pupil spending than it is in Utah.
In 2010, due to budgetary constraints, Utah’s already low per pupil spending had to be decreased. $75 million was necessary to simply keep per pupil K-12 spending the same as the prior year. Simultaneously, Medicaid required an additional $48 million – an amount that might have otherwise maintained most of Utah’s per pupil K-12 spending.
Budget dollars allocated to one priority mean money unavailable for others. In all budgets, costs must be analyzed by the benefit the expenditures will generate. In government budgeting, as in any budgeting process, decisions must be made based on a methodical discrimination between good, better and best.
Currently, despite the lowest per pupil spending in the U.S., K-12 education constitutes approximately 50% of Utah’s total General Funds/Education budget. But the cost of Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor and disabled, has continued to creep. In 2000, Medicaid spending in Utah was $211 million a year. Today, Medicaid spending in Utah is $402 million a year. The trajectory for the next ten years based on Medicaid’s current structure along with new federal laws is alarming.
Without reforms, by 2020 Medicaid is forecasted to cost Utahns $800 million a year and will consume a significant percentage of Utah’s General Funds/Education budget. Utah will spend more on Medicaid than it does on all universities and colleges in the state. The pressure on Utah tax dollars is clear. Coupled with an increase in the state’s student population (predicted to increase by 30 percent in the next decade) the situation becomes dire.
In previous columns, I’ve accentuated research and best-practices to improve student learning in public education. With a deep concern for the future of public education in Utah, I recognize that rising Medicaid costs put at risk a system central to the future vitality of our state. Simply put, as an entitlement program, the state must pay the costs of Medicaid. Without a corresponding increase in taxes, these costs, by default, will chip away at the state’s public education funding. The consequence presents unsettling futures for the education of our children and the preparation of Utah’s future workforce.
Much like a family or business, we must examine our spending collectively. This allows us to best examine the cost-benefit analysis of spending decisions and to directly examine the effects a decision in one area has in another. A failure to do so leaves education funding increasingly threatened.
When viewing public education as the investment it is — cultivating educated citizens who drive the future economy and freedom of Utah — the implications of decreases in per pupil spending become even more problematic. Education provides long-term societal and economic stability – prosperity lost when education fails to remain a priority in the state’s allocation of resources.
Ironically, a failure to effectively educate our students will put additional strain on Medicaid itself as workers struggle to adequately provide for themselves and as more individuals qualify for these benefits. Put simply, Medicaid must be reformed in order not merely to sustain and augment the quality of public education in Utah, but to fundamentally preserve Medicaid.
This post is part of an ongoing series of data-driven commentary on current events. It was originally published in the Deseret News.