We used to have truant officers to make sure you stayed in school. Now it’s almost to the school’s advantage to have the problems drop out. No one is really working to try to keep them in. They’re kinda glad when they leave, and that’s a tragedy. It shocks me that many of our high schools have a lower percentage of graduates today than we had 30 years ago. Lots and lots of kids are deciding in the 10th grade or 11th grade that they’ll just go out on their own. Graduating from high school is no longer a must in our society. That, to me, is unconscionable.
DN: Why isn’t more being done to correct this trend?
RW: Powerful voices in the state Legislature no longer fully support a free public education for "all the children of all the people." They are moving away from public education, and supporting private academies and charter schools, with entrance requirements established by the private schools. To whatever degree they succeed, there will be fewer dollars remaining for public schools that accept everyone.
DN: And money is always a factor?
RW: As most people know, the amount of tax funds being allocated per each pupil in Utah is the lowest of all 50 states. It is often pointed out that the high birthrate in Utah makes that necessary. "If we only had the money, we'd do much better." However, I've never heard anyone suggest that since Utah is a very large state in size and requires more miles of roads than smaller states require, we will therefore fund road construction and maintenance at the lowest level of any of the other states to compensate. Somehow, we always find the money, often through bonding, to pay for what we need.
DN: Obviously, education was and is dear to your heart.
RW: I grew up in Ogden and we had a Carnegie Free Library on Washington Boulevard. Right above the door was this statement chipped in stone: "In the education of its people lies the safety of the republic," by Abraham Lincoln. I believe that. I always have. I always will.
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