On Aug. 25, the Deseret News announced in its local section that state Sen. Patricia Jones, D-Holladay, was drafting a bill for the upcoming 2014 legislative session which, among other issues, would "create jobs and allow schools to shrink class sizes by hiring new educators." She also mentioned that the "equalization mechanism" in her planned bill would be "beneficial to rural schools which often suffer from lack of resources, while still providing support for larger student populations."
Sen. Jones is right on target in addressing some of the rural schools' educational issues as they face significant challenges. Those were concretely studied and described in the Utah Foundation's "Research Report" of 2012: "they have greater difficulties than non-rural schools in hiring teachers, finding teachers with specialties, and finding teachers who teach multiple subjects."
The vast majority of Utah is rural, although only a small portion of Utahns live and work in rural parts of the state. Rural schools educate about 15 percent of Utah's students. The question is whether or not students in these areas are receiving the same educational opportunities for success comparable to non-rural students.
Providing additional funds to rural schools and districts to compensate for their small scale seems to be sufficient and equitable in meeting the basic education of rural students. However, rural superintendents and principals are concerned that the sources of funding are at risk. They also feel that financial constraints are preventing students from reaching excellence. Comments by school superintendents and principals agree that smaller school and classroom environments provide more personal student attention. While rural students are thriving in learning the basics in education, and, encouragingly, not dropping out of school, they are not, however, being offered the educational breadth or depth of advanced courses that non-rural students receive. Perhaps these are the reasons their college enrollments are so low.
The rural community feels that the non-rural community (that is, those making the rules) does not give it enough consideration. Sen. Jones is acutely aware of this feeling: "I think it's fairness and responsibility for everyone to contribute to the education of our children." Her planned bill deserves serious consideration and a fair and balanced discussion as it moves through the political process. Let's not allow it to be side-tracked by mere political posturing, and let's keep our eyes clearly focused on all our students. Our future success as a state depends on all of our students achieving educational excellence.
John L. Mitchell is a former teacher and chairman of the mass communications department at Sogang University in Seoul, South Korea. He was also a professor and chairman at Hong Kong's New Asia College in Kowloon Hong Kong.
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