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Op-ed: Pay attention to the teachers, legislators

By Sharon Gallagher-FIshbaugh

First Published Mar 08 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 09 2014 03:20 pm

Teaching is my life’s work. I have spent 35 years in public education. It is from this perspective, as we face a record number of education-related bills in the Utah Legislature, I must respectfully say, "Enough is enough."

Last year the Utah Legislature created and funded a task force charged with making sensible public education recommendations for our Legislature to consider. The goal, as I understood it, was to limit the number of new education proposals to those the task force agreed would make the most difference for our students.

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By my count, there are currently 116 education-related bills being considered by the 2014 Utah Legislature. This represents the highest number in recent memory. So much for focusing on what’s important.

One proposal attracting a great deal of interest would provide $200 million to $300 million to place mobile-device technology in the hands of every student.

How is it when teachers say we need to make major investments in proven educational strategies, our cries fall on deaf ears, but when technology companies say they have some new ‘silver bullet’ for education, everyone stands and takes note? The message we as teachers hear is that the realities we face in the classroom are not a priority … that our voice is not respected.

Certainly teachers embrace technology, but not at the expense of basic funding needs. As educators we are asking legislators to first fund basic needs before detouring into grand education experiments.

For us, basic funding this year means a 2.5 percent increase on the WPU, restoration of two lost professional development days, funding of Social Security and retirement as a separate line item and fully funding new-student growth. The total cost for these items is far less than the $200 million being asked for technology.

Everyone seems to agree that Utah educators are doing more with less than any other state in the country. We have the nation’s largest class sizes and lowest per-pupil spending. Utahns should be proud of the amazing work happening in Utah classrooms with little support.

It is time that decisions regarding public education are placed with the education experts in collaboration with parents. The educator voice can no longer be ignored and disrespected. If we continue down this path, we will surely fail.

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh is president of the Utah Education Association.

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