Contending 12th grade is a wasted year for most high school students, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, suggested Monday that the state could save $102 million by compressing high school into three years.
It's uncertain whether Buttars' idea would fly with most Utahns, but the state's top higher education official said the state needs to invest more, not less, in 12th grade.
Buttars outlined his proposal for members of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, dismissing 12th grade as a uniquely American tradition that is followed for reasons no one can identify. He acknowledged getting rid of it won't be easy.
"Sure there's some challenges, but there's answers of most of them," he said, including online classes for students who can't finish high school by the end of 11th grade.
One subcommittee member, Rep. Francis D. Gibson, R-Mapleton, didn't dismiss the proposal out of hand. "Drastic times call for drastic measures," he said.
But others said compressing high school wouldn't be good for kids, or the state.
"This is a great training ground for the leaders in our community because this is the time when students get their maturity," said Rep. Marie Poulson, a Cottonwood Heights Democrat and former high school teacher. "Because of our budget concerns, should we lower our expectations and requirements of our kids and decide we will be satisfied with a substandard education?"
Buttars, who also suggested that 11th grade could be optional, told subcommittee members that Utah Valley University President Matthew Holland is a proponent of "accelerated graduation," as Buttars calls his 12th-grade proposal. But when contacted Monday by The Tribune , Holland said he has not endorsed the idea and declined comment.
Commissioner of Higher Education William Sederburg, meanwhile, holds an opinion that is "diametrically" opposed to Buttars', although he agrees too many high school seniors coast.
"The critical need in Utah is to make a serious 12th grade with college preparatory classes," Sederburg said. "There's a lot of money that can be saved by doing it right. You could save money on all the remedial math and English classes."
Buttars likened education subsidies to picking taxpayers' pockets and denounced the Legislature's use of one-time money to bail out education year after year. That not only fails to solve the state's budget problems, he said, but further obligates Utah to the federal government.
Buttars plans to formalize his proposal next week, along with another that would eliminate busing for urban high schools, which would generate $15 million in savings.