Utah public schools this year posted the highest number of students per multimedia computer in the nation, according to a national Education Week report released Tuesday.

But the state tops the nation in the percentage of districts offering teachers incentives to use technology (69 percent). It also has 93 percent of its schools connected to the Internet, the report shows."It sounds like, as a whole, the study indicates that we are moving forward in an impressive way toward . . . the governor's goals of making technology a part of every student's education," said Vicki Varela, spokeswoman for Gov. Mike Leavitt. "I'm sure the folks at the State Office of Education will review this to (determine) the direction we can receive from it."

Technology Counts '98, a national study of education technology sponsored by the Milken Exchange on Education Technology, says Utah has 24 students per computer, which it defines as multimedia.

But Vicky Dahn, state technology specialist, says in all, Utah has seven students per computer, old or new, with the worst-case scenario at 14 to 1.

Placing that ratio in the Education Week report would catapult Utah to the head of the nation in computers at schools.

But Craig Jerald, director of the Education Week project, says the definition of computer used in the project includes only those that are multimedia with a sound card and CD-ROM. Many Utah computers are older and do not qualify.

Dahn says the discrepancy also may result because all Utah schools did not respond to the report. Utah is not required to participate in national surveys, while other states may risk funding if they don't.

"I'm far more interested in helping teachers train to use technology . . . and make sure legislators understand what we need than I am in devising an instrument to go out and count how many boxes we have," Dahn said.

The Education Week study shows the billions of dollars spent each year - $1.7 billion last year - on education technology across the country is effective, under the right circumstances, and that quality time in front of the computer, mainly performing applications rather than drills, results in higher scores on national tests.

"This report presents the first national (look) that computers can increase student learning and improve schools . . . depending on how you use computers," Jerald said. "This says to states that you have to make sure you put hardware and software into classrooms and ensure teachers can use it in ways that add value to the educational process."

A national Milken Exchange on Education Technology survey shows three in four voters would spend a federal budget surplus (expected this year) on technology needs, while 70 percent would use the funds to fix school buildings and 58 percent would reduce class sizes.

The June survey was of 810 voters, 201 lawmakers and 206 major CEOs. It has an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percent for the voters and plus or minus 7.1 percent for the business executives and lawmakers.

Education Week's report follows last January's "Quality Counts," which gave Utah schools "C" grades and below on several education quality indicators, irking state and local education leaders. Still, the report can be useful in looking at Utah alone, not in comparison to other states, Dahn said.

The report shows 73 percent of Utah classrooms have at least one instructional computer and that school computer labs average 17 students per computer, middle-range numbers in the nation.

Utah ties with West Virginia, South Carolina and Iowa for the eighth highest percentage of schools with Internet access. Ninety-three percent of Utah schools and 80 percent of classrooms - the nation's third highest percentage - have Internet access. Dahn says all schools should have Internet access this fall.

But just 11 percent of Utah eighth-grade science teachers use CD-ROMs or laserdiscs at least once weekly, compared with 13 percent nationally, and 42 percent of those teachers use computers in instruction, compared with 54 percent nationally.

Also, 40 percent of Utah eighth-grade math teachers use computers in instruction; the national average is 46 percent.

Dahn says the numbers show Utah middle schools are less equipped with technology than high schools, where students are acquiring job skills, or elementary schools, where computers help kids learn the basics.

"Middle schools sort of end up being the step-child of technology," Dahn said.

But Utah ties for fourth in the nation for having 20 percent of its eight-graders using graphing calculators for math schoolwork. Maryland shows 28 percent of students use the devices. Indiana and Maine show just 6 percent do, the report states.

The Utah Legislature last session appropriated $24 million for education technology, with much funding going for maintenance, Dahn said.

All states combined spent $1.7 billion on education technology last year, ranging from $230 million in California, which has the most public school students in the country, to $500,000 in Vermont.

"We run up against the same issue here as with class-size reduction and that's money invested in education," said state assessment director Barbara Lawrence. "We always try to get more money allocated for education but have to put things in perspective in terms of priorities."

In general, Utah spends the least per student in the nation, at $3,334 in 1996. The national average is approximately $5,600. Utah has the second-highest student-teacher ratio in the nation at 23 to 1; the average is 17 to 1.