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Irvine: Utah school system slips

Published September 14, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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

By Kim Irvine

Utah students, parents, and educators deserve a medal. Truly.

Overcoming great odds stacked against them, our students, for the most part, receive an impressive education, year after year. Still, the Utah legislature fails to fund education.

Utah educators face ever increasing class sizes, insurance and benefit costs, demands for data tracking and paperwork, changes in curriculum, years until vested retirement, professional development requirements, and extra-curricular duties, all the while facing decreasing budgets, classroom supplies, text books, literature, programs, and most importantly, access to technology.

Because education is not properly funded, Utah students and parents face the end of many cherished programs like band, orchestra, art, choir, theater and, in one school district, the end of librarians in favor of inexpensive hourly employees. And still, our students valiantly strive on, ranking well nationally, against many states funding education at 200 percent more than Utah.

In fact, Utah holds the dubious distinction of ranking dead last in the nation for investing in education. This is extremely unbecoming of a state reaping so much benefit from the consistent quality of the education of our youth. We cannot continue to expect the highest marks from our students, educators, and parents, while consistently making them the lowest priority.

The fact that Utah culture prizes knowledge resonates through our state's history and current landscape. Utah is home to many acclaimed authors. Our universities and other institutions of higher education are highly respected and many are nationally ranked.

Our state enjoys state of the art medical expertise where research and medicine combine wowing us with medical breakthroughs that have shaped the wellbeing of the entire human race. Our heavy investments into technology in this state have paid off as Utah innovations set the standard for excellence. Our highly educated workforce elevates Utah in the marketplace and makes our state an attractive destination for all industry.

One fundamental reason why all this is possible is our students, parents and teachers are tireless in their dedication to the education of our youth. Without a firm academic foundation, none of this would be possible.

If this state is to remain strong, if we are to achieve our goals, then we need our youth to receive the best education we can muster. Our economy is emerging as a national leader. Fuel this budding economy with innovative minds, pioneering creativity and a stalwart, ethical workforce.

We built this state on these precepts. We understand the meaning of determination and sacrifice, and we know what it takes to succeed. It takes experience and education.

The Utah Legislature, for the sake of our youth and the continued success of this great state, must reconsider its current pattern of ignoring the needs of our students and authentically fund education. It is what is necessary, it is what is needed, and it is what is right.

"Knowledge is the power through which disease is averted and life prolonged; the masses clothed, fed and housed; vice punished and virtue rewarded; … by which time and distance are apparently obliterated, making cosmopolitans of us all and bringing us into close communication with the whole world. These truths having become axioms, it will be both the pleasure and the duty of [the] Legislature...to encourage and stimulate [a] system of education... best adapted to the necessities of their constituencies, coupled with their ability to sustain."

— John Taylor Utah schools superintendent 1876, LDS Church president 1880-1887.

Kim Irvine is state education caucus leader for the Utah Democratic Party.