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John Florez: Treat education as we treat business

Published: Saturday, March 30 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Without a common vision, lawmakers appear to pass laws on anecdotal or special interest group information that is counterproductive to sound policymaking. The result is that public education is in a constant state of chaos and flux, thus making it impossible to deliver the quality education necessary in today's new global economy.

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All employers want to have a business environment that is free of conflict and a stable regulatory environment they can count on. Lawmakers understand that and how critical it is if employers are to do business in Utah. However, when it comes to education, some lawmakers think adding more regulations will produce better results. Yet all it does is bloat the bureaucracy with even more laws, often conflicting with other laws and adding further confusion to existing laws.

Not only do they keep adding more laws, but they keep amending their past laws, such as SB271, which conflicts with the law they passed in 2011 regarding school performance grading. During the past two years, the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) developed the Utah Comprehensive Accountability System — but it did not comply with the 2011 law. However, the U. S. Department of Education did grant a waiver to the USOE's plan. Instead of passing legislation that would align the state's Comprehensive Accountability System, the Legislature passed SB271 that ended up in conflict with both the 2011 law and the USOE's Accountability System.

Without a common vision, lawmakers appear to pass laws on anecdotal or special interest group information that is counterproductive to sound policymaking. SB271 seems to be one of those laws legislators created without looking at how the law confused the implementation of current laws and compromised education administrators' ability to carry out their legislative responsibilities. The result is that public education is in a constant state of chaos and flux, thus making it impossible to deliver the quality education necessary in today's new global economy.

The reality is lawmakers are also victims of the rudderless education system that lacks leadership and a renewed vision and mission for today's times. It's the old governance structure that now creates the conflict between the stakeholders (the vested interest groups) who benefit from the status quo, those who want to destroy the system and those who want to renew the system for today's economy.

It now appears lawmakers understand the problem and plan to provide the leadership with the establishment of a task force (SB169) comprised of the speaker of the house, president of the Senate, and other leaders from both houses to create a long-term vision, as well as policies and priorities that will integrate public education, higher education and training into a coherent system designed to improve education and the economy for the global market.

The 2013 Legislature should be commended for having the insight to work to retool Utah's education and training systems into one system, with one overriding mission and policies for the new economy. It's important to note that, for the first time, this task force is comprised of policymakers who are the only ones that have the statutory and budgetary authority to determine the direction of education for the future. While they will create the new vision for education, they plan to invite all interested citizens to offer solutions in creating the final, renewed mission and goals for the state's education system.

Since it involves change, there will be those who will resist the task force's efforts. Thus it becomes critical that citizens support lawmakers in renewing education for the 21st century.

What's at stake is the future of our children and our economy, so doing nothing is not an option.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at jdflorez@comcast.net.

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