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Op-ed: Utah K-12 education still hurting from 2006 change in funding law
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

I'm sure that we are all familiar with the "old shell game." Usually, a gifted sleight-of-hand artist will place a pea under one of three walnut shells, and after moving the shells around the surface of a table, one is to guess which shell the pea is under.

Simple … yes? Really … no! A talented manipulator can confuse an unsuspecting person and even misdirect one's attention enough so that the pea is gone altogether. This can be done to amaze and impress an audience, but when a wager is attached to the trick, an unsuspecting rube can lose a lot of money to a skillful charlatan.

It is sad but true that some of our state lawmakers are doing a newer version of the shell game with education funding. A few years ago (2006), the Legislature put on the ballot a constitutional change, ratified by the voters, that allowed them to shift money within the education fund (a fund constitutionally dedicated at one time totally to K-12 education) and transfer it to higher education.

Most higher education funding comes from the General Fund, as does funding for other state agencies and programs such as roads. Then our very adept sleight-of-hand artists in the Legislature transferred an equivalent amount of money put in the higher education fund from the K-12 fund into the general fund budget and allocated it for roads, and, voilà!, money that should have been spent on children in our K-12 public schools, is now being used for roads.

Could you all follow the pea? And so, the taxpayers of Utah have been rubified, and our schoolchildren have been shortchanged. As Charlie Cowell said in "The Music Man" when trying to discredit Harold Hill: "There's a burglar in the bedroom while you're fiddling in the parlor!"

Back in the days of yesteryear, a swindling shell game artist would have been ridden out of town on a rail for such an outrage. Groups friendly to public education have tried to shine a light on this serious flimflammery, but they are vilified and threatened, hoping they will back off.

Maybe our disappointment could be demonstrated at the ballot box.

The citizens of Utah need to understand that there are a few state lawmakers openly hostile to public education. Their hostility is acted out very coolly and smoothly without rage or rancor. And they have quite an amount of influence on other lawmakers and through behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing get their agenda through.

Maybe they should be replaced with lawmakers who really have the best interest of our children at heart.

We still need decent and safe roads to drive on, but when are our schoolchildren really going to get a true good-faith effort from our lawmakers? I still imagine a city slicker with a derby hat cocked on the side of his head and a cigar held jauntily in the side of his mouth saying: "Round and round it goes … where it stops nobody knows."

Personally, I'm tired of hunting for the pea. Don't our kids deserve more?

Richard M. Heath serves on the Utah Education Association Retired Board.

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