Educating our children: Balancing the obligations of parents and the state

Published: Sunday, Jan. 27 2013 5:15 p.m. MST

After meeting with Utahns of all walks of life, Deseret News editors have identified five key issues that matter to Utah families. These issues, each interrelated with the others, will be addressed in the 2013 session of the Utah Legislature. Take a look at five issues that matter to Utah families.

SALT LAKE CITY — When Anitra Koehler thinks about the future of her elementary-age children's education, she worries about schools teaching to the test and focusing on literacy and numeracy at the expense of arts and music.

For her eldest daughter, a driven and focused student at Cyprus High School, Koehler is glad her school has a special program that lays the groundwork for students interested in the medical field. But she also worries about whether her daughter is getting a well-rounded education and whether her classmates who are interested in theater, science or math are getting the support they need.

"I know we have a lot of parents who are opinionated about our schools, but not necessarily willing to put in the time," she said.

Koehler, an assistant legislative director for the Granite District Region Five Parent Teacher Association, is not alone in those concerns. Parent involvement, early childhood intervention, student proficiency and college and career preparation have all emerged as key issues in education as lawmakers convene for the legislative session Monday.

The heart of the conversation centers on early childhood education, and how to balance a parent's responsibility to teach and prepare their children, and the state's responsibility to educate all children and help them be successful, regardless of circumstances.

Koehler worries about whether schools have the necessary funding they need to provide a quality education to every child. She said the parents she's spoken with are split roughly 50/50 on whether taxes should be increased to fund education.

"I do think more funding could be helpful," she said. "I think we're at the point where we can have that conversation."

Gov. Gary Herbert's proposed budget set aside roughly two-thirds, almost $300 million, of the state's projected new revenues for public and higher education. That figure would cover the $137 million that legislative analysts estimate is required to keep up with growth, as well as provide some potential funds for compensation, class size reduction, early intervention programs and the expansion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or STEM – programs.

But many in the education community say that simply funding growth, and even adding limited funds to a few targeted programs, is not a sufficient catalyst for change in a state that consistently ranks among the lowest states in the country for education funding.

"There's a fire in our theater, and everyone is still afraid to shout 'fire'," Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, told the Deseret News editorial board. "We don't have leadership that paints a vision of where this state should be going."

In a recent blog post on the Utah State Office of Education website, school board member Kim Burningham compared Herbert's proposed budget to the state's education needs. He congratulated the governor for a proposal that would fund growth and raise the state's per-pupil spending, but also suggests that more is required.

"Although the proposal is indeed an improvement, it is foolhardy to suggest it fits the need," he said. "We will still be by far the lowest funded education system in the United States, and state effort to fund education will not be retrieved."

He also said that Herbert's budget was only preliminary, and education officials have yet to see what actions will be taken by lawmakers.

Money for preschool

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