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Published March 11, 2013 5:09 pm

STEM funding won't be enough
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Remember No Child Left Behind? It was former President George W. Bush's signature education-reform program that many Republicans supported during the early years of this century.

The program had numerous flaws, and, eventually, Utah legislators and educators developed a distaste for it, along with some reforms that came along under President Barack Obama. Conservatives in the Legislature, supporters of states' rights, want the federal government to defer to Utah in deciding what's best for Utah schoolchildren.

But, despite problems with No Child Left Behind, the concept of leaving no child behind as state lawmakers divvy up revenue for public education is well worth keeping in mind.

Some education bills under discussion as the legislative session winds down have lost that focus. Those that would allocate millions to boosting the use of technology — SB279, SB260, SB209 — and, perhaps not coincidentally, to enriching some technology providers, are ignoring the basic reality of education in Utah: too little money for basic instruction.

We've reiterated these statistics for many months, but they bear repetition: Half of Utah's growing Latino ninth-graders and a quarter of all high school students do not graduate; a third who do earn diplomas are not ready to take on basic college classes or be hired for decent jobs; far too many third-graders do not read well enough to keep up.

These are the realities that should take priority in education budgeting. Instead, an innovative approach to making preschool available to at-risk children — something proven to boost academic success — with a price tag tied directly to its success was turned down flat by the Senate.

Proponents of technology in schools say their ideas are cutting-edge and will help train more students for high-paying jobs. But they turned their backs on innovative ideas to help those who, under Utah's current system, will be practically unemployable. The long-term costs of leaving those children behind are high in social services, health care and, sadly, law enforcement and prison time.

STEM programs — for science, technology, engineering and math — are exciting. Funding them gives lawmakers the appearance of being forward-thinking. But now, only those children with the advantages of middle-income, white, English-speaking parents are likely to benefit from them.

Until we make the academic playing field level for all students by emphasizing early-childhood education and remedial help for those who didn't have preschool and all-day kindergarten, we will continue leaving far too many of our youth behind. And we will bear the consequences.