Public education is a state responsibility, not a federal one. That is why at one point, the proceeds of the graduated income tax were mandated by the constitution to go directly to public education.
We are often assured that money taken out of the General Fund for non-education-related projects won't affect K-12 education funding. But after the law was changed in the mid-1990s to allow higher education to take money out of the income tax pot, any money taken out of the General Fund for new projects negatively affects K-12 funding, unless other General Fund funded projects are cut back or there is a tax increase for the General Fund.
Many people don’t understand that the state income tax goes primarily to instruction and instruction support, while money required for building and maintaining schools comes primarily from local property taxes.
Many of our state legislators have the opinion that putting more money into public K-12 education won't improve the effectiveness. They mostly cite test scores. And they often make it sound like too many teachers and schools in Utah are substandard, as evidenced by recent legislation that requires teachers and schools to be evaluated more often and more rigorously. But studies confirm that states that spend more per student generally score higher in national testing than states that spend less per student.
But while Utah spends less per student than any other state, and our teachers are faced with more students than all of our surrounding states and Minnesota (the state whose demographics are most like Utah's), our students score at or above the national average in the three major national tests of math, reading and science. Some would say that fact confirms that money isn't the solution, but what it really says is that Utah's teachers are not as bad as some legislators would have us believe, and are doing a pretty good job, considering the low pay and large student loads.
We have been witnessing a concerted effort to “reform” education in Utah. But if one looks closely at the motives behind the reform efforts, one will see the words money and taxes. The intent is not to improve quality; the intent is to use less tax money. Would-be reformers call the public education system a monopoly. To negate the effects of the monopoly, some districts have even hired leaders with no professional teaching experience to run their districts. We have seen the effect of that shift of leadership in the Canyons School District where to justify the building of a high school where one was not needed, it was decided to put 9th-graders back into high schools, in spite of the inherent problems associated with putting 9th-grade girls in the same schools as 12th-grade boys.
All studies show that the most important factor in student performance is the quality of teachers. Instead of continually cutting funding for public education, a major goal of our state Legislature should be to see that our public schools are properly funded. And our state school board should be making sure the schools are properly managed. The goal of the two groups should be to provide a good public education system that will attract good teachers to come to Utah and once here to remain here. This will translate to better pay for teachers, smaller class sizes, more autonomy in the classroom, less micromanaging harassment by regulations from our Legislature and a nonpartisan state school board.
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