Utah families, who consistently cry for more education funding, will be disappointed if House Speaker Becky Lockhart’s idea to put a $200-300 million technology outlay into schools wins out over restoring the programs and educational opportunities that have been slashed in recent years. One has to wonder who’s making a buck on the backs of our children, because this plan seems to be more about equipment than kids.
Everyone knows Utah schools are seriously underfunded. That said, we must acknowledge that the state has a finite pool of money. Not true of the state’s growing population. Every year Utah’s economy must grow by $50 million just to maintain the burgeoning growth in Utah schools. Lockhart’s one-time dump to fund STEM ignores the underfunded education system that’s been hobbling by with serious cuts to the arts, gifted and talented programs, teacher preparation/professional development, and supply budgets since the economic downturn. Programs designed to inspire have been eliminated or reduced to bare bones, with no hope of restoration. K-3 reading programs are at risk, and who knows what happened with the 4-6 math initiative?
The $60-70 million lost on teacher preparation days have yet to be replaced. Some legislators recognize the importance of restoring those days so teachers can be adequately prepared to deal with the many needs of their students, as well as new curriculum demands. But their solution is to cut the number of days students come to school in a trade to give teachers more preparation and professional development days. As so often happens with legislative mandates, teachers would be expected to do more with less, and Utah’s children will pay the price once again. Legislators will expect improved student outcomes, even though students will have fewer days of school.
All of this belies the real issue in Utah’s education system, one that was outlined succinctly in “Educators Taking the Lead: a Vision for Fostering Excellence in Teaching and Learning,” a document put together by a team of Utah teachers after researching transformative educational innovation for almost two years. The document calls on the Utah Legislature to “develop a long-term, sustainable, transparent funding plan for public education that funds adequate teacher preparation, planning and professional development in addition to required student days.”
Forward-thinking legislators like Rep. Tim Cosgrove and Sen. Pat Jones, among others, have put forth legislation to address the horrendously crippled funding mechanism designed to fund public education, plans that address growing student populations. But Lockhart has promised that Cosgrove’s plan will never make it to the House floor for a debate. What happens with the Jones legislation remains to be seen, but power plays in past sessions lead one to remain skeptical about its future.
It seems Utah politics systematically disenfranchise the people we entrust our children to: Utah’s dedicated educators. While I certainly can’t speak for everyone, I think it’s fair to say that many teachers understand that, while improved access to technology would be welcome, it is certainly not the first priority in a long list of educational needs. And one-time technology funding that ignores the realities of maintenance fees creates yet another funding crisis with no sustentation plan.
How can families and educators demand a voice in Utah education? It’s simple, really. Speak up: declare your opinions today.
Judy Mahoskey is a 31-year veteran teacher in Murray School District. She is a former Huntsman Award winner, is nationally board certified and served on the EDX task force to examine and promote excellence in education.