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Published: Thursday, April 3 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

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D4inSLC
SALT LAKE CITY, UT

Thanks fro a great letter Breck! I was also struck by the editorial's generalization of "those in the educational establishment".

I think there are many of us outside of any "establishment" other than parenthood that believe that our students are being short changed by inadequate funding and large class sizes.

2 bits
Cottonwood Heights, UT

Lets talk solutions.

Everybody wants smaller class sizes. We must figure out why we can't get them.

It's not just because the legislature won't give education more money. The legislature gave education a large funding increase this year (and ZERO of those millions of dollars were used to decrease class size). 0% of those dollars made it to the class room. No new teachers were hired (which would reduce class size). Those dollars were snatch up by the teachers retirement fund. Didn't result in a single smaller class.

Everybody wants to pay teachers more. But what number must we reach before some can go towards class size reduction??

They took a cut years back when the economy and tax revenue tanked. But we have increased funding significantly every year since. And every year... NONE of it goes to reducing class size. So don't pretend more money would fix the problem. We've tried it. It doesn't.

You may say the hundreds of millions in increase over the past 4 years wasn't enough. Well... what IS enough??

IF you can give us that number... we can figure out the tax increases required... and vote on them...

Wonder
Provo, UT

@2 bits -- Part of a teacher's compensation is the retirement they receive. So, if their retirement fund was inadequately funded, money had to go there to shore it up. Had to be done. So now more money is needed to hire additional teachers. I agree that someone should come up with the tax increase required and put it to a vote. I think it would win.

Irony Guy
Bountiful, Utah

@2bits, "Enough" would be the money needed to cut class size in half. Then you would see astounding increases in performance. It would take about a billion dollars to do that. We can afford it, but it won't happen as long as Republicans continue to play poor boy in the so-called "prosperity, full-employment state." You see, Utah parents will do anything for their children . . . except pay for their education.

2 bits
Cottonwood Heights, UT

Wonder,
Jordan School district put it to a vote last year... it lost.

But that was for money to build new buildings. But you would need to build more schools AND hire more teachers... to make classes smaller.

===

We have increased funding by millions almost every year. And none of it has resulted in smaller class sizes. We need to figure out why we keep giving them more and more money... but class sizes get no smaller.

I say until we figure out why that is happening... no more increases.

===

IF the UEA can tell us a number of $$$s that will actually result in smaller class sizes... then we can come up with a plan to provide that number of $$$s, and figure out where we can get it (and who's paycheck we will take it from).

But we can't keep giving them millions more every year based on the class-size lament... and continue seeing none of it make it to the class room, or reducing class size (IMO).

Confused
Sandy, UT

2bits...
The teachers retirement is set from taking the three highest annual salaries, combine them, then multiple .2 (2 percent) for each year worked.

So if a teacher's three highest annual salaries is say 45,000 and they worked 30 years (2 percent * 30) the retirement for that teacher is about 27,000 for retirement.

But here is the rub, the money given to the Board of Education for funding.... DOES NOT include retirement funds. that is done through another revenue source (URA).

So your premise is flawed.

Granted, the money is not ear marked for smaller classes, but every legislator has their special pet projects they want funded in education... that is where the money goes.

10CC
Bountiful, UT

It's taken a long time for Utah to get into this predicament, and it will take quite a bit of time - and money, and teacher turnover - to turn the ship around.

Finland has invested 2 or 3 DECADES in their educational initiative, and it's paying off in a huge way. Of course, their teacher salaries are much higher there - teachers are on par with physicians and attorneys, and frequently have a teaching assistant in classrooms mandated to be no more than 24 kids, or 18 kids for Math in middle and high school.

The same teacher stays with the same group of kids from Kindergarten through the 6th grade, and is expected to alter their teaching approach depending on the learning style of the specific children they have.

And with higher teacher salaries, very talented and bright individuals are attracted to the profession. Utah has a lot of dedicated, tireless teachers, but what have been the incentives to attract extraordinary talent? Large class sizes, modest pay, over multiple decades?

I would be stunned if Utah mustered that level of desire to improve education and stuck with the initiative over a generation.

2 bits
Cottonwood Heights, UT

Confused,
It's not my premise. It may be false, but it's not mine. I'm just repeating what was stated in an earlier article on the announcement of the 2014 budget and the education funding increase (that 0% of the increase will make it to the class room). And it was their statement that most of the funding increase was already spoken for by the teacher's retirement.

===

I think teachers should be able to retire comfortably. And they should be paid well while they are teaching. But we need to figure out why 0% of this funding increase is projected to make it to the class room, before we give them another one.

People keep saying, "Class sizes are too big... give us more money to fix it". We keep giving them more money, but they don't fix it. We need to figure out why that happens.

You blame it on the Legislators... but they give education a pool of money, they don't control how the education budget is spent. Legislators don't hire teachers (so class size will be smaller)...

Grover
Salt Lake City, UT

Bits wants to make this sound like higher math. "You give them the money and look where they spend it." So the legislature just gives them the money and lets them decide how to spend it? Fat chance. These legislators never met a situation they didn't want to micro manage. They knew where the money was going, but that is all they wanted to spend.

Now for the math problem: The path of Utah education has been going down in national ranking for at least 20 years. Most years the funding doesn't even keep up with the number of new pupils added to the rolls. To get off the bottom of the ranking would take another 20 years to accomplish. So how about the pledge to fund all growth at 100% of the WPU, 100% of the required payments (retirement etc.) AND an additional 5% per year until our classes are at the national average and our scores on tests put us in the top 25% in the country.

Or we could just point fingers and blame anyone but ourselves for lack of foresight.

Confused
Sandy, UT

2bits...

Your partially right... The Legislature appropriate money for the board of education, and basically the board is the one that divvy up the money.....

However, there are laws on the books that detail how much and by what percentage is to be used for WPU (weighted Pupil Unit), Professional Salary (Teachers, Principals, etc), class size and more.

The problem comes in when they allocate money for special programs...

Then the money is also based on what the District reports to the Board of Education, if they don't send the right numbers, the money is not allocated to the school districts. What the district does with the money is decided directly by the district board (the ones you elect every two years)members.

By the way, The local media is wrong about 80 percent of the time when reporting on how the money is being allocated.

Fred44
Salt Lake City, Utah

Over the last ten years the state legislature has consistently lowered the k-12 share of the state budget from 50% down to 30% this year. All state income tax collected by law must be spent on education. 10 years ago all that money went to k-12. Changes in the law allowed for income tax to be used for higher education as well. Money sources previously used for higher ed were used for other programs most specifically UDOT.

Five years ago the legislature started playing an accounting game by moving things previously automatically funded (retirement being the prime example) into the WPU, giving the appearance of an increase in funding, because that is what the public focuses on. Bottom line is TOTAL education funding is below what it was five years ago with more than 60,000 additional students in our schools.

State workers received a 1% raise with their insurance and retirement funded on another line item. K-12 received 2.5 on the WPU but must fund retirement, health insurance, raises, increases in utilities, fuel, new textbooks, busses, etc etc etc. out of their 2.5%

The legislature leads citizens to believe they did more for schools, not true.

2 bits
Cottonwood Heights, UT

RE: Fred44 - "Over the last ten years the state legislature has consistently lowered the k-12 share of the state budget... down to 30% this year"...

Not true.
Google "budget summary 2013 Utah".... 2014 not online yet.
Go to figure 4 - "Uses of State Funds General Fund"

Education still gets ~50% of the entire State Budget (49.5%)

Which part of the pie would you make SMALLER...?

===

They did fully fund growth, AND gave a WPU increase.
Google "Utah Education Budget"... (UEA's site)
$98.56 million = 4% WPU increase

Higher Education also increased (which you claim didn't get an increase).
Google "Utah lawmakers add $168 million to public education budget"...

===

Again... check out the pie chart in the budget summary... see what percentage goes to UDOT?? We need roads too! Must 100% of the State budget go into education to be enough?

===

Big question still is... how much money would we have to give them to actually reduce class sizes???

Would 100% of the State Budget be enough?

I mean should we turn the whole State into a huge school... and throw out funding for police, fire, roads, courts, etc?

Fred44
Salt Lake City, Utah

2 bits,

Sorry I didn't claim higher ed didn't get an increase. Go look at Chart 6 and see what percentage of total state revenue k-12 education gets (28.3% I was a little high).

I have noticed that you like to ignore the fact that 12-15,000 additional students enter the system each year. I would think logic would indicate that would require additional funding. You also like to ignore the cuts that took place for almost five straight years and have not been restored. You also ignore the change in the way the state funds costs such as retirement which in effect reduced the "increase" given in the last three years because they quit funding with a separate line item that they had automatically funded for the last 50+ years.

I assume you are smart enough to realize that there is no simple answer to your class size question. Do you want a minimum wage teacher in the classroom well that would be one price. Do you want a highly trained qualified teacher in the classroom, that would be another price. Do you want students to have books and other supplies well that will be a different price.

Grover
Salt Lake City, UT

Bits question: "Would 100% of the State Budget be enough?" is interesting in itself. Notice how it assumes the point that no way, no how would it ever be necessary to increase taxes in order to fund any cause whatsoever...the only money available is that we currently have budgeted.

Look, my kids are long gone from schools (private), but we are killing ourselves and our future by starving education to death. For a State that consistently says "our children are our future", we are talking out of both sides of our mouth by not making it the highest priority in the budget.

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