Utah political insiders wary of ending compulsory education

Published: Monday, July 29 2013 4:25 p.m. MDT

The House of Representatives meet during the final day of legislature at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City Thursday, March 14, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal to end compulsory education in Utah is receiving little love from state politicos, with a new insider survey showing both Republicans and Democrats opposed to changing school attendance laws.

In the latest UtahPolicy.com/KSL Political Insiders Survey posted Monday, 71 percent of Republican insiders and a unanimous 100 percent of Democratic insiders say lawmakers should not consider ending mandatory education for children.

Readers of UtahPolicy.com were also cold to the idea, with 68 percent opposed to ending compulsory education compared to 32 percent in favor.

The call for change was launched earlier this month by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, who wrote on the blog of the Utah Senate that he intended to bring forward legislation to repeal Utah's mandatory education laws. Osmond argued that compulsory education has caused parents to disengage from the responsibility of educating their children while also burdening schools with a laundry list of nonacademic social services.

Bryan Schott, managing editor of UtahPolicy.com, said it is not uncommon for Democrats to oppose, en masse, an idea championed by a Republican lawmaker. But he said he was surprised at the level of opposition Osmond's proposal generated from fellow Republicans and readers.

"Even in our comments, a lot of people just thought it was daft, a lot of people thought it was a dumb idea," Schott said. "It seems that a lot of people thought this may have been a bridge too far, and that was very striking to me."

Schott emphasized that the insider survey is not a scientific survey but is designed to gauge the pulse of those individuals involved in Utah politics. He said 95 Republicans and 85 Democrats responded to the survey out of a pool of 200 lawmakers, lobbyists and party officials.

Osmond said he was not surprised by the survey results, or the feedback his proposal has generated, and added that one of the reasons he made his plans public months ahead of the legislative session was to begin a dialogue and work collaboratively with education officials on solutions.

He said his intent is not, and never was, to limit or block educational access to the state's at-risk students, but rather to question the efficacy of compulsory education, which emphasizes attendance rather than achievement.

"Clearly what we’re doing today is not working for them either," he said. "We need to create incentives and accountability so that when we get them to school, and we will, that there are opportunities to hold our parents accountable as well as our society accountable."

Comments left by survey respondents are kept anonymous by UtahPolicy.com, but several were posted along with the survey results.

"Not all parents are competent to make that decision and it is society that would suffer along with the individual child," wrote one political insider. "Parents should have the right, as they do, to home school."

But other participants suggested that while Osmond's proposal likely has little traction in the Legislature, it could be the beginning of valuable discussion on education policy.

"We won't end compulsory education in Utah, but the discussion won't hurt," a survey participant wrote. "It might help us examine current challenges to public education in a different light and shed light on possible solutions."

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