There was much that was laudable in the attempt to launch a sweeping high-tech overhaul of the state’s education system by Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo. As technology continues to transform the learning process in our public schools, it is essential to adopt best practices in using these tools to teach schoolchildren.
Unfortunately, Speaker Lockhart’s proposal was too pricey, and emphasized the need for digital learning devices above all else. It seemed to be based on the premise that giving every student a computer tablet would provide some dramatic solution to resolving all of Utah’s educational challenges.
No such single solution exists, although that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from seeking one.
Many have focused on a specific dollar amount. If only Utah would increase educational funding by a certain percentage, our challenges would vanish. Money doesn’t directly translate into educational excellence. The price tag is always only part of the equation. Educational results are attributable not only to how much money is in the pot, but to how that money is spent.
One of the issues that lawmakers have had to confront over the years are differences in funding for different schools in different economic circumstances. The state provides a weighted pupil unit payment of $2,899 per student, regardless of location. But local property taxes that fund schools in more affluent areas provide richer facilities and programs than for those in poorer areas. There have been changes that have addressed these disparities, but the divide is still there. Efforts need to be made to ensure that every schoolchild in Utah has equal access to a good education.
For example, when the Jordan School District split in 2009, Salt Lake County undertook an important countywide equalization effort. We support efforts to consider a statewide equalization of educational funding. However, we oppose both SB111, a bill sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, and SB118 by Sen. Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake. Osmond’s original measure would have raised taxes on education by imposing a floor for property tax rates for school districts. This would have tinkered with Utah’s admirably transparent property tax. Jones’ bill was an unfortunate and unfair effort to raises taxes only on those families with more than two children.
Additionally, funding disparities still exist between traditional public schools and charter schools. Charters now receive a state payment in lieu of local taxes to compensate for the fact that they receive no local funds. But they must also cover their own transportation and facilities costs. We also support efforts for charter schools to receive the same financial advantages as neighborhood schools.
All of these ideas for educational progress must be incorporated into a balanced and thoughtful approach to education reform. While it is imperative that we seek innovation in education process for all of Utah's students, no single solution will suffice. With thousands of new pupils entering the system every year, the one option we don’t have is inaction.