Luciano S. Martinez: Utah needs more educators as legislators

If teachers can’t beat lawmakers, they should join them.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox poses for a photo with teachers, after delivering a speech about a salary hike for teachers, at Centennial Jr High School in Kaysville, on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022.

There’s an old saying which goes, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” This is what I recommend to Utah’s educators.

For too long, those who are part of our education system have seen our lawmakers ignore them, year in and year out, when it come to significant increases in education funding.

It is time for educators to say, “No mas!”

Utah educators are truly experiencing the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result — by expecting the Legislature to change the education system’s bottom-of-the-barrel status for our schools, not ever seeing it done by the same type of legislators who are always elected.

It will never be done by a group of legislators who primarily represent big business, land development, big pharma and law-related pursuits. It is said that, “Like attracts like, and like looks after like.” This is what we see each year with our legislators looking after those who have the same interests as they do. Very few of these politicians are educators. So, little is done proactively for education, despite the fact that many of these lawmakers have children who attend public schools.

Whenever someone comes up with the idea of educators taking on the added mantle of legislator, they are often dissuaded by someone saying, “Politics is such a dirty business, why would an educator want to engage in it?” This type of reasoning doesn’t work very well for our education system.

As someone who first started teaching at West High School in 1972, I can tell you it has not helped improve our education funding status for at least 50 years.

My salary during my first year was $4,700. I often had to supplement the supplies I received from the school with my own money. Teachers are still doing this, and often have to engage in fundraising activities to provide what is needed for their students.

People say, “Yes, teachers don’t get paid much, but they get three months off in the summer.” What is not well known by most people is that teachers often have to work other jobs in the summer. Many also go to school, and have to pay for this education themselves. For a teacher, learning never ends.

Many teachers today cannot afford to buy a new home, or even a new car. When I was a high school assistant principal in an upscale suburban area, I would often look at the cars parked in the faculty lot, and those in the lot marked for students. There was often a big difference in automobiles, with students driving cars which were much better than those driven by their teachers.

I could cite many more examples of what is wrong with the way our education system is funded, but suffice it to say that something drastic has to be done to change what is happening. This is why I recommend that educators become legislators.

How can it be done? Well, first of all we have to work with what we’ve got. So, as they say, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” We can encourage educators, current or retired, to learn all they can about what it takes to become a legislator in whatever party interests them.

Then, follow whatever steps are necessary to run for office. Maybe some of our education organizations can help in some way or another. It would definitely be to their benefit.

If educators became legislators we can only imagine what the end results would be. If a goal of 80 educator legislators were set, and even partly realized, major changes in Utah governance would take place. We should keep in mind that educators are knowledgeable regarding all types of subjects.

As the kids say, “Teachers know stuff.” Educator legislators could help draft legislation on anything and everything for the betterment of all of us. Educators as legislators. Si, se puede!

Luciano S. Martinez

Luciano S. Martinez, Murray, is a former educator who had the privilege of working at every level of Utah’s education system from pre-school to med school before retirement.