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A sinking ship

Published February 16, 2013 1:01 am

Stephenson bill ignores reality
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Utah's public schools have a funding problem. In poll after poll, taxpayers acknowledge it. Educators and education officials struggle with it every day. Most everyone in Utah, it seems, understands it. Everyone, that is, except those in the Legislature who could do something about it.

Instead of working to overcome the lack of funding that is undermining our children's achievement and their futures, legislators continue to search for some way to appear to recognize the problem without actually doing anything to solve it.

SB110 is another of those attempts. Calling it funding reform, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, explained that his bill would let principals write budgets for their schools, and that would "empower school communities."

What Stephenson fails to say is how this would do anything to improve education for children.

Utah schools don't have a budgeting problem; they have a funding problem. If schools were adequately supported by the Legislature, then it might be appropriate to talk about revising how those funds are spent by individual schools. But in Utah, which sits at the bottom among all states in education spending and is sinking further each year, schools are barely making ends meet. Putting a few dollars here, rather than there, is simply rearranging the deck chairs on a fast-sinking ship.

Stephenson's bill, like so many he has introduced in the past, seems to place blame for unfulfilled student needs on the education community instead of where it belongs — on the Legislature.

For decades, Stephenson and his ilk have said that school districts and individual schools are wasteful, that the answer to poor test results and a shameful graduation rate is not more money but some magic formula for spending what meager amounts are allocated by those who hold the purse strings.

That attitude has resulted in a crisis that is recognized by business leaders, parents and educators. Only a third of graduating high school students are ready for college. And, worse, nearly a quarter of Utah students don't graduate at all. Utah's commitment to education, as a percentage of personal income, has shrunk markedly.

Gov. Gary Herbert wants to focus on math, engineering, science and technology, ignoring the desperate need for early-childhood education. His goal of two-thirds of Utahns with degrees or certificates by 2020 is not just unrealistic, given the trajectory of public education. It is ludicrous.