Jeff Howell: If elected, I’ll make sure Utah’s public money goes to Utah’s public schools, not siphoned off to private institutions

We must prioritize our public education system, ensuring it is adequately funded and equipped to meet the needs of every student.

When I was in elementary school, I struggled to read at grade level. I started to fall behind other students, and it wasn’t until sixth grade that my teacher, Mrs. Reavy, intervened. She helped improve my reading skills, which then helped improve my stutter, my performance in other subjects and my relationships with my classmates. Her swift intervention provided me with the confidence and ability to overcome educational adversity.

Because of her example, I volunteer every Wednesday at Bonneville Elementary School to help third graders improve their reading skills. However, volunteering is a band-aid solution to cover up a wound in our state. As a candidate for the Utah State House of Representatives, I am here to say: We must build a foundation for the next generation and invest in public education.

Utah’s per-pupil spending is among the lowest in the nation. Our public money should be going to our public schools, not siphoned off to private institutions. We must prioritize our public education system, ensuring it is adequately funded and equipped to meet the needs of every student. In recent years, our Legislature has proven ineffective in expanding educational opportunities.

In 2022, the Legislature passed HB193, which allocated $12.2 million to full day kindergarten but did not provide the additional $33.8 million necessary to bring full-day kindergarten to the whole state.

In 2023, the Legislature passed HB215, which created a voucher initiative titled the “Utah Fits All Scholarship Program” and took $42.5 million from public schools.

In 2024, the state legislature passed HB415 reducing school fees and eliminating $17 million from public schools.

Educational opportunities should not come at the expense of diluting our public school system.

For seven years, my wife and I have lived down the street from a public elementary school. Before our children were old enough to attend, I could see teachers trying their best to teach — and often “wrangle” — the many children entrusted to their care. Now my two oldest sons attend that school, and I hang their assignments on the fridge as I hear about how their teachers teach them as well as they can with so many students in the classroom. Utah has the largest class sizes in the nation, with an average of 22.4 students to one teacher, and studies show that larger class sizes negatively impact learning. We know we need more teachers, and that our current teachers need tools, financing and state investment to succeed at their roles.

Increasing our spending on education provides teachers with the resources to prevent other children from falling behind, just as I did. Currently, only 66% of K-3 students in Utah meet the benchmarks necessary to achieve reading proficiency at their appropriate grade level. The Salt Lake School District has outlined a program to address this and other issues in their county-wide school district, titled the “Strategic Plan for Student Achievement” (SPSA). The SPSA includes a goal to have 80% of K-3 students reading at grade level by 2029, which needs state support to be achieved.

The benefits of reading at grade level extend beyond academic performance. As my grandmother, a public school teacher, used to say: “Readers are leaders.” Children who read proficiently are more likely to graduate high school, pursue higher education and have successful careers. Investing in early literacy is not just about helping kids read better; it’s about setting them up for a lifetime of success.

But my passion extends beyond per-pupil spending and reading at grade level. I have advocated for various pieces of legislation aimed at supporting children, from improving childcare options to the Safe Child Project. As parents, my wife and I want what is best for our kids. Our three (almost four!) boys love to learn, and I want to leave a legacy of advocating for children like them. I want all children in our district — and state — to be set up for success, which our public schools can easily achieve if we make the necessary adjustments.

When we invest in public education, we are investing in the next generation of leaders. Let’s advance Utah’s future and ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed by supporting our public education system.

While we have many problems to tackle, I know that together, we can create economic opportunities, environmental sustainability and support our communities if we imagine a future where our young leaders first receive the support they deserve to build back a stronger House District 23.

Thank you, Mrs. Reavy, for being my first supporter and for laying the foundation so I may continue to champion public education as a candidate for House District 23. This election cycle, our kids need your support as I seek to protect the next generation of leaders and readers.

(Photo courtesy of Jeff Howell) Jeff Howell

Jeff Howell is a husband, father, volunteer, mountain biker, tech leader, community advocate, coalition builder and candidate for the Utah State House of Representatives in House District 23. He is passionate about public education, the environment, our unsheltered community, our LGBTQIA+ community, reproductive freedoms and making a difference in Utah.

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