Utah's voters have turned thumbs down on initiatives that would have had widespread - and in all likelihood negative - effects on education in the state.
Now, with that show of public support, Utah's educators need to make good on the promises of wise and tight fiscal practices that will give taxpayers the most for their money.Several times over the past few months as I've attended education meetings, I've heard the phrase "It won't be `business as usual' from now on."
I supported the defeat of the initiatives because I was convinced they would have turned education topsy-turvy for awhile, to the detriment of students. I'm glad the majority of Utah's voters felt the same way.
At the same time, I do believe there are better, more productive methods of teaching Utah's youngsters.
Perhaps the scare of the initiatives is what it will take to spur some innovative approaches, some experimentation that will discover ways Utah can deal with its present oversupply of students and look into a better future when the pressure is alleviated somewhat.
I don't profess to offer any specific answers, but the same questions are being asked all across the country, and there are examples of programs that are succeeding.
In Utah itself, there are programs worthy of emulation. They should be sought out and replicated. Government at all levels should untie some strings and give certain schools more latitude for testing theories that promise better educational results.
School districts have been forced by the threat of tax reform to look at themselves more closely. They have made lists of potential areas for cuts, an exercise that no doubt forced them to decide where their priorities really lie.
That soul-searching could become a guide to planning for the future. If anything was found to be marginally necessary during the analysis of district programs, that could be a spot for shifting funds to more pertinent aspects of the overall program.
Educational costs are a significant concern in Utah at this point. Taxpayers have shown at the ballot box that they are willing to foot the necessary bills, but there is likely to be a tax protest movement waiting in the wings for the foreseeable future. Frills and waste definitely are out for this season - and the next few years.
The education community is on notice that it must be frugal with taxpayers' hard-earned dollars.
Hopefully, in time, Utah's "best case scenario" will evolve. The economy will get better, the tax base will become broader, the burden of educating children will be spread proportionally over a larger number of taxpayers. The oversupply of students will dwindle as the present "bulge" evens out and the stress on individual schools will lessen.
A few more years of "hang-in-there" could move the state into a new mode in which Utah could move on toward creating the best education system in the country.
Such a system would not necessarily cost less. In fashion, custom-made costs more and in education the same may hold true, but an individual educational "fit" for every child could be worth the money.
It doesn't seem out of reason to expect that Utah's per-pupil expenditure should move closer to the national average, if times get better. Our teachers need a reprieve from the stark budgeting they have experienced in the past few years.
Given some time, we may be in a better position to do it. And educators all over the state can rejoice that they won't be trying to create improvement from out of the abyss that would have opened under their feet with the passage of the initiatives.