Rural educators want the Utah Legislature to make equity among students a prime concern during their deliberations next winter.
A proposed legislative package by the Utah Rural Schools Association makes equity among the state's school districts a priority.Students in rural schools do not now have equity with their peers in educational services, vocational opportunities or student outcomes, the legislative proposals say. The rural districts have suffered significant losses in relative funding when compared to all districts, and in some the amount of money budgeted is not sufficient to maintain adequate programs.
Among the 15 districts with the lowest teacher pay, 13 are in rural areas, the document says.
Every piece of legislation related to budgets should contain an equity clause, the association proposes.
A study to determine how to achieve equity is suggested by the association, which is holding its annual conference at College of Eastern Utah. Such a study should look at disparity in course offerings, equipment and facilities and other quality indicators, the group's proposed legislative package says.
A related resolution suggests that a definition of productivity should be broadened to include quality in addition to cost per unit, as is now the case.
The association, which recently hired Daryl McCarty, former Utah Education Association official, to serve as their lobbyist with the Legislature, also suggested that the state not establish programs that don't provide the small districts enough money to make them work.
Many of the present funding categories don't offer enough money to small districts for them to meet the categorical requirements, the proposal says.
The association would ask the Legislature to restore a controversial 2-mill levy to capital outlay, instead of putting it into basic programs as has been the case in the past two years. The 2-mill issue has created dissension in districts that actually lose money after it has been equalized over the state.
Also in the association's legislative package is a recommendation that the Legislature and the State Office of Education study the problems of districts that have radical enrollment shifts to help them avoid insolvency.
In a recorded speech to the convention, Dr. James R. Moss, state superintendent of public instruction, pledged the ongoing help of the state office for the rural districts.
Moss, who was in Boston when the convention opened, called for unity among the state's educators to help meet the needs of trying times. "Unity is the key to our success," he said.
Neola Brown, a member of the State Board of Education who represents many of central and southern Utah's rural school districts, also asked the conference participants to take a positive view of the process.
"Education has not failed, but it is being overwhelmed by the pressures put on it. It is the greatest power and force for positive changes in society," she said.
Administrators and teachers are carrying heavy goals, Brown said, and "are not being replenished. We need to find better ways of reaching our goals. Let's carry this heavy burden together and reinforce each other."
Rural districts are suffering financially, she said. Brown called for a united effort in the next legislative session to assure equitable financing. Some rural districts "have caught the vision" and are leading reform efforts in the area of outcome-based education, but there are significant needs in such areas as vocational education, she said.