John Florez: Education — Big government 101

Published: Saturday, March 8 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Jessie L. Bonner, Associated Press

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Taxpayers, take a lesson on how to make big government from those who tell us they fight against big government and tax dollar waste. Sen. Howard Stephenson, chairman of the Education Committee, wants to start a $2.8 million bureaucracy that duplicates and circumvents the constitutional responsibility of the Utah State Board of Education.

He has introduced SB34, which establishes another bureaucracy on top of the one we have by adding the Utah Education and Workforce Alliance (UEWA). UEWA would include a board, an executive director, an advisory committee to advise the board on the Utah Future’s program that is supposed to do career planning, a panel to evaluate what parts of the Utah Futures program can be outsourced to private providers (even though there are already “off-the-shelf” programs that can be readily accessed), and provide the Education Interim Committee and the Executive Appropriations Committee with reports. To top it off, SB34 gives UEWA rule-making authority that is the prerogative of the State Board of Education. And that isn’t all.

The bill also requires the UEWA provide a mountain of information from its data warehouse to the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst, the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, the Governor's Office of Management and Budget, or the Governor's Office of Economic Development. And then what? The legislative analyst already is able to provide whatever the Legislature requests, as well as to the governor’s office. The fact is that since 2005, the applicable agencies have had the Data Alliance to collect all that information and then some.

And voilà! There you have it, instant creation of another bureaucracy.

That leaves the state school board, which under the Utah Constitution is responsible for “The general control and supervision of the public education system,” with nothing to do except to be the piñata for lawmakers when things go wrong. At a time when technology has replaced bureaucracies, and private organizations have to downsize in order to deliver customized, convenient, and just-in-time products, our lawmakers are weighting down an already outdated education system with another bureaucracy. It’s time they stopped micromanaging education and provide the leadership and oversight they are supposed to provide.

They should shore up the state school board’s constitutional mandate, downsize public education’s organizational structure so it can respond to the needs of students and employers for the digital and global economy, and allow for local control and bottom-up planning.

The board ought to focus on three functions: setting academic standards, teacher development and establishing performance contracts for school districts and monitoring for outcome. This would allow the board to write performance contracts for school districts, monitor their operations, provide incentives and cancel contracts for non-performance. It clarifies the role and accountability for each part of the system.

It would allow local school districts the flexibility to determine how they will meet conditions of the contract and be accountable to local taxpayers for success or failure of their schools’ performance. It could also contract with parents and teachers to start schools as LLCs. The $2.8 million could best go to teacher pay instead of more bureaucracies.

Parents, taxpayers and employers should no longer tolerate making government big with the proliferation of needless policies and bureaucracies by our Utah legislators. Each day the children in today’s classrooms are being cheated of the education they need to make it in today’s rapidly and ever changing world.

Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast

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