With the 2014 Utah Legislative session complete, a report card is due. (After all, if they insist on grading schools, the legislature itself ought to be graded.) Many ways to grade exist; my grade is a personal evaluation of how the Legislature did on school issues.
My grade: C-
I could be harsher; others have been.
Bob Bernick, noted political analyst and former Deseret News reporter, now a regular writer for UtahPolicy.com, was one. On his grading scale of 1-10 “with 10 being the highest of success and promise” Bernick evaluated the session as follows: public education funding = 0; public education reform = 5.
An editorial evaluation in the Salt Lake Tribune didn’t use grades, but observed: “Education fared better this year than during the Great Recession but not as well as it should.”
The fact is the Utah Legislature basically did more of the same. You know Utah ranks far below any other state in per-pupil spending. The best that can be said is the Utah Legislature’s commitment maintains that same rock-bottom status.
Trying to paint a rosier picture, some will brag about a 2.5 percent increase in the WPU (weighted pupil unit) or point to a total dollar increase in education funding. But much of that increase in funding is for new students; and the WPU increase will do little more than fund basic education and employee health and retirement funds. The appropriation of the Utah Legislature will not begin to pull Utah out of the basement.
Politicians genuinely interested in strengthening our education system must do something more about the inadequate funding. The huge class sizes, limited professional development, and meager teacher salaries are outrageous!
One effort to increase education funding received much press. Speaker Becky Lockhart advocated placing a one-to-one computer device in the hands of every student. Estimates of the cost of such a program vary. Lockhart suggested between $200 and $300 million would do the trick. The Governor’s Office, using a study by his education commission, indicated that figure was way low!
The one-to-one device initiative fell flat. Many observers fear that the gesture was mostly posturing for political capital in the future. When Speaker Lockhart was offered a measly $30 million by the senate for the program, she walked out on the talks. The ballyhooed effort “got none.”
All of us want to improve public education. Lower class sizes, increased technology, better training for teachers, and increased opportunities for pre-k students will take significantly more dollars.
Our remarkable teachers are laboring in huge classes, offered insufficient support, awarded nominal compensation. Until the Utah Legislature and the Utah public is willing to increase funding, we can expect little more than we now get. Utah’s children deserve more! Our economy requires the best education possible.
I keep hoping and looking for political leadership that will act, not pontificate! Status quo funding will not make the grade!