Utah Foundation identifies best practices for school performance in new report

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 23 2013 4:20 p.m. MDT

"I think that it's consistent with what we have said to this task force about what schools in Utah need," he said.

Kroes similarly said the report does not present shocking information, but lends support to the decisions being made in the state.

"It does tend to reinforce what’s being talked about," Kroes said of the report. "I think what this research does is help people understand that these are indeed strategies that are working in other places. They're not just ideas that people have come up with in Utah."

Kroes said the consistencies between the report's findings and what is currently being discussed by Utah lawmakers could embolden policymakers. He said in Utah there is often a reticence to appropriate funding into new and unproven programs, but in many cases the success of other states was supported with bold investments by lawmakers.

"When these initiatives were adopted, they all cost money and money was put into adopting them," he said. "We seem to be fond, in Utah, of trying to do things without much money."

Menlove said it would be difficult for Utah schools to further develop initiatives like early childhood intervention, peer mentoring, professional development and counseling without funding.

"Most of those things require some additional resources to move forward with," he said of the initiatives identified by the Utah Foundation report.

Utah currently has the lowest per-pupil spending in the nation. A recent proposal by Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, would raise roughly $400 million in ongoing funding for schools, but at the expense of a state income tax exemption that benefits large families.

Her proposal received some tentative support when presented to an interim committee last week, but several lawmakers suggested a non-binding public vote would be necessary before Utah's tax-averse Legislature would feel comfortable voting for the bill.

At Tuesday's meeting of the Education Task Force, Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, said the Utah Foundation report adds support to what lawmakers have heard from educators throughout the year. He suggested that the task force begin to look at recommended legislation that aligns with improving student performance.

"There is an overlap and it’s quite a tight overlap of several factors that make a difference in the classroom for student achievement," Reid said. "I think we’re finally getting to the place where they are identifiable and there is beginning to develop consensus around those that have been identified."

Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, agreed, suggesting that moving forward lawmakers focus their discussion on high school graduation rates and fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading scores.

"I don’t think this (report) is shocking and surprising to anyone," he said. "These are discussions that we’ve had ongoing. It seems to be ratified by a lot of the testimony we’ve taken."

Menlove said Urquhart's comments are consistent with the recent budget request of the State School Board, which identified secondary math and elementary reading as its first and second funding priorities heading into the upcoming legislative session.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood

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