Utah's middle schools need help. The Legislature needs to pass a $13.6 million bill to provide that assistance. Lawmakers also need to reject an amendment by the House that allows those funds to be used at other grade levels.

By a narrow 40-33 margin the House foolishly passed an amendment that wiped out the original intent of the bill - to target class-size reduction funds specifically to the seventh and eighth grades.The bill now goes to the Senate. Lawmakers there need to return the measure to its original form. That was the intent of Gov. Mike Leavitt when he specifically asked lawmakers to reduce class sizes in middle schools. The original proposal needs to be honored. Failure to do so will send a very confusing signal to educators and parents.

The Legislature's Education Interim Committee and the state education coalition consider middle schools their top concern. The greatest overcrowding is at that level. Elementary schools have benefited from class-size reduction programs and many high schools lessen crowding through offering electives, release time and off-campus internships. That leaves middle schools/junior highs on the short end again.

Severely overcrowded middle and junior high schools make meaningful learning and development difficult. As drafted, the $13.6 million bill provides funds to reduce middle school class sizes by up to three students. It is definitely needed.

The middle school years are critical in a child's life. It's where he or she makes significant life-altering decisions. It's also a time where students begin looking at alternatives to school. As Utah's 1997 National Distinguished Principal, Mary Kay Kirkland, notes, "It's so important to connect to the faculty and other students at the middle level, the foundation for the high school years."

Many of the academic and social problems that infect high schools have their roots in middle schools. Does it not therefore make sense to provide more opportunities to make those years meaningful and successful?

Failure to adequately address problems such as overcrowding in middle schools and junior high schools will guarantee a substantial increase of problems in high school. Who wants that? Nobody, which is why funds that were originally allocated for middle schools should go there.