Fiftieth out of 50 states. Dead last. For the last 26 years of Republican governors and Republican legislatures, the legacy they have left us is to have the lowest expenditures per student in the United States. We as a state must stop quibbling about the small details and recognize that this tragic lack of funding is driving the Utah school bus off a cliff!
The grand generational experiment in trusting the Republicans with Utah education has been a dismal failure.
We are now losing thousands of Utah schoolchildren every year. And, the numbers are getting to a tipping point; we are in danger of losing an entire generation. A first step in the long-term solution to our educational morass is to get a two-party system back in Utah. The recent radicalization of the Utah Republican Party guarantees that things will only get worse. If candidates want to get out of a Republican convention, they had better not be seriously committed to open, neighborhood schools.
For a state government that continually brags about being the best administered, the Legislature and governor seem oddly comfortable with the fact that Utah schoolchildren remain dead last in educational funding.
Having our children at the bottom has been the norm so long now that Utah Republicans just accept failure as the baseline. Utah Democrats say that it is humiliating and unacceptable for Utah to generationally have the lowest funding per student in the country. Utah is so low, that the 49th state spends almost $1,000 per student more than Utah. The fruits of this neglect while the rest of America's graduation rates are on the upswing, Utah's graduation rate has plummeted 7.9 percent over the past 10 years.
Two of the last three years, Republicans have not even funded growth. Their solution? Just stack more children in neighborhood schools with class sizes growing, books wanting and teachers left to fend for themselves. This year, with fanfare, the Republican legislative leaders announced their "commitment to education" as priority number one. Yet at the first opportunity, they voted unanimously not to include in the base budget growth while the Democrats voted unanimously the other way.
The top Republican excuse for educational failure is that Utah has bigger families than other states. Is that a reason for not properly funding our children? Do our large families make our children less valuable than children in other states? In every measurable way, this long term state governmental neglect has drastically hurt Utah's future.
No matter how much Republicans mutter in their closed caucuses that "money does not matter," the obvious facts show that's just not true. Our kids' educational performance, measured against other states, has gone down, down, down as the number of Republicans in the Legislature has gone up, up, up! Yet, astonishingly, Utah Republicans keep calling themselves the education party. Even after putting many shades of lipstick, globs of mascara and 30 pounds of white powder on a pig, it is still a pig.
No state has more committed administrators, teachers and staff than Utah. What they achieve with the pitiful resources that the Legislature gives them makes teachers our children's heroes. But even these talented and devoted people have their limits. We must give our teachers the tools they need. When we do, imagine how our kids will soar.
Will getting Utah's schoolchildren off the bottom take some sacrifice? Yes it will. But we are a state acquainted with sacrifice. Imagine once again the raw commitment and sacrifice that Utah's pioneers made to settle our state and create an atmosphere where we can work hard and make our dreams come true. It is our turn to make a much more serious commitment to sacrifice in order to ensure that the next generation of Utahns have the tools they need to compete and prosper.
To paraphrase the LDS Church leader David O McKay, No other success can compensate for failure in education.
For our children's sake, speak out to Gary Herbert and push the upcoming Legislature to seriously get Utah off the educational bottom and not celebrate meagerly funding growth as a major achievement.
In the grand tradition of America, if the politicians don't get our kids off the bottom, come fall, vote the bums out!
Jim Dabakis is the Utah State Democratic Party chair.