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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Education, health care, poverty and other big issues

Published: Sunday, Jan. 27 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Many studies show that children who get started right do better throughout their school years.

Associated Press

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The Deseret News today is analyzing five big issues critically important to Utah families. Here are our quick observations:

Early childhood education

Pignanelli: "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. … They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty." — Thomas Jefferson My mother was a Head Start and early education teacher. Although she is long retired, I frequently encounter her former students (or parents) who exclaim their success in life was built upon the learning principles my mother imparted to them at an early age. Well-meaning advocacy groups argue against government promotion of early education, but they do not grasp the whole picture. We cannot compete in a global economy unless citizens possess a basic set of skills that are best developed at an early age. Furthermore, resolutions of the other issues facing families are directly dependent upon a strong early childhood education. (Note: mentioning Mom garners much needed points to guarantee a guilt-free Sunday dinner.

Webb: Many studies show that children who get started right do better throughout their school years. It's only one part of the education reform puzzle, but an important part. We must take better advantage of the wonderful software and computer/online prams that can assist parents and teachers to make learning fast and fun for young children.

College & career readiness

Pignanelli: The good news is that visionary leaders are remodeling college and vocational education to meet 21st century needs. State Sen. Steve Urquhart is leading the effort to refashion higher education toward a mission-based structure. Sen. Howard Stephenson is aggressively pushing mechanisms that match students with jobs. Along with state education officials, these conservatives are retooling government to be an effective partner in the parental involvement LaVarr articulates below.

Webb: Despite the bad economy, great jobs that can support a family are available. Virtually all of them require post-high school training, but certainly not all of them require four-year degrees. Far too many young people are not being prepared for the jobs that will exist when they graduate. It's up to you, parents. Guide your children; don't just let nature take its course. You need to start early, talking to children about preparing for a good job in medical fields, technology industry, science, math, accounting and management.

Economic development

Pignanelli: The entrepreneurial spirit fashioned our Constitution and built an economy unequaled in human civilization. But risk-taking is a fundamental aspect of free-market dynamism, which our society and government cannot — and should not — protect against in all instances. Our state must continue to promote the development and expansion of commerce with appropriate incentive — then get out of the way.

Webb: Utah's greatest economic development opportunity is energy. Utah's energy resources equal those of any place on Earth. Energy revenue could help solve school funding and the inevitable decline in federal money. With innovation and technological advancements, Utah's energy can be extracted and Utah's environment can be protected. Utah's "secret sauce" — collaboration — can help make it happen if we get the right people of good will together.

Health care

Pignanelli: As a former corporate officer — and current lobbyist — for Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield, I watch with intense aggravation the health care reform debate. Irrespective of Obamacare, the current trajectory of expanding access without controlling costs is a recipe for disaster. Americans' attitude toward their personal health, and how medical services are compensated, must change to avoid government bankruptcy or socialized medicine. This will be a difficult struggle, but I am optimistic that technology and visionary leaders will get us there.

Webb: Enormous uncertainty exists in health insurance. The full impact of Obamacare hits over the next several months, and the state will make key decisions regarding Medicaid expansion and Utah's insurance exchange. If you have insurance, hang on to it. If you don't, watch the debate and follow the developments. Form a small business and find insurance through Avenue H, Utah's health insurance marketplace.

Intergenerational poverty

Pignanelli: Notwithstanding LaVarr's snarky comments, our society must not apologize for — and express pride in — the herculean efforts of the last half-century to lift millions of fellow citizens out of starvation and indigence. Granted, many of the programs need to be jettisoned or refashioned to reflect 21st century demographics. Leaders who truly care about solving poverty will avoid useless rhetoric targeted against "liberal do-gooders" and offer detailed solutions that persuade Americans to alter destructive behavior.

Webb: The liberal establishment loves to throw taxpayer money at poverty and social problems and feels pious about helping those in need. Sometimes more money helps. But in the big picture and over many generations, overly generous government programs enslave people in cycles of poverty. Food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing won't solve the problems caused by fathers abandoning their children. The state will never be a good replacement for family. But we don't articulate well the compassionate side of conservative values and policies. We talk about numbers and deficits while liberals talk about hungry children. Guess who wins that argument?

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.

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