Gubernatorial debate hits on several education issues

September 30, 2020

Last night Utah Lieutenant Gov. Spencer Cox and University of Utah law professor Chris Peterson squared off, each hoping to be the state’s top executive, at the second Utah gubernatorial debate.

Candidates tackled topics including the coronavirus pandemic, projected growth in the state, job loss, and plenty about education.

For those who missed the debate, here are some key takeaways in the education policy space.

Mandating masks statewide 

Responding to a college student’s live question about mask wearing, Peterson answered that if he were governor he would implement a statewide mask mandate. Cox said he believes people need to take COVID-19 seriously but does not support a statewide mask mandate. In another question on the topic, he said he believes the current approach – of letting local leaders and individual communities make the decisions – is the best one. The coronavirus pandemic took up a chunk of the debate and was the center point of disagreement.

Reopening schools during coronavirus

Both Cox and Peterson agreed that at least some schools should remain open. Cox said that there are other things damaging to children beside the coronavirus when students are not in school. He called out Salt Lake City School district specifically for not opening up school, calling it a “huge mistake.” Peterson said some schools should remain open, though he would have moved more cautiously, reopening more gradually.

Education funding and Amendment G

When it comes to education funding, both agree that Utah schools need more resources. Peterson lamented the low per-pupil spending in Utah schools, the youth suicide rate, and the number of public school kids who still can’t read. Cox discussed the equity problem among different districts – noting that some districts’ per-pupil spending is higher than the national average while others are significantly lower. Cox also discussed the low per-pupil amount, mentioning that roughly 70% of Utah’s land is owned by the federal government (making it not taxable for education) and pointing out the high number of children born in Utah. Cox said that public education funding has seen the largest increase ever in the past five years.

As for Amendment G – a proposal on the statewide ballot that would expand the uses of the income and intangible property tax to support children and people with disabilities – Cox supports the measure while Peterson opposes it, fearing that it will pit groups against one another.

To watch the full gubernatorial debate, you can find it here.

Images: Screenshot – ABC4 News Utah

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