Stephenson said that setting a goal is meaningless without investment into strategies to achieve that goal. He said one of the educational reforms that most interests him is the idea of individualizing education through new technologies and instructional software.
He said that a tablet or computer program is no substitute for a teacher, much like how an electronic spreadsheet is no substitute for an accountant. But advances in technology make it possible to move past the antiquated and rigid lines drawn between student age groups.
"The batch processing of students was something that was necessary in the 19th century," he said, "but today we can free teachers from the manual labor of teaching batches of students."
He said new technologies carry a price tag, and the ongoing debate in Washington over the fiscal cliff, sequester and debt ceiling place a giant question mark over Utah's already thinly spread revenue.
"When Washington sneezes, the state gets pneumonia," he said, still uncertain how coming federal decisions will impact the state's financial health.
That uncertainty has prompted Osmond to sponsor a resolution to decrease the state's dependence on federal dollars. He said one thing that is certain is the unsustainable nature of what's happening in Washington, and that it is only a matter of time before Utah is hit with a large reduction in federal funding.
"A sizable portion of our state budget comes from the federal government," Osmond said. "If those federal dollars go away suddenly and we're not prepared, we will have serious economic problems in Utah."
But reducing dependency on federal dollars means either increasing state dollars or implementing significant cuts to the state budget.
Dabakis said that for years, lawmakers have failed to put forward long-term plans for how the state will address the funding needs of education in the state. He was particularly critical of last year's Republican-led bills that seek to seize some 30 million acres of public land from the federal government, which passed under the understanding that revenues from those lands would be used for education.
"Why don't we go buy lottery tickets, because I think there's a better shot of funding this with lottery tickets than with the federal government sitting down and saying 'Oh yeah, you're right, take your 30 million acres,'″ he said. "It's not a serious proposal, it's a political proposal. Everyone knows that, everyone will tell you that."
He said he was not yet at the point of proposing legislation to increase taxes, but he said it was time for lawmakers to take a serious look at new state revenues. He also said that state leaders, particularly members of the state's majority Republican party, had been unwilling to face the situation facing education in the state.
"I think Democrats need to be bold and imaginative and need to challenge the status quo and we need to look at revenue increases," he said. "What else can we do? We've tried everything else."
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