Leadership — that's what the Senate and House leaders from both parties said Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. should show in delivering his State of the State address.

He did. Now will they do the same?

The governor's address, unlike speeches from others that often offer something for everyone, focused on two major issues that affect the lives of all Utahns and our state's future — affordable health care and education. Together, they are key in building the work force and the entrepreneurial spirit necessary to succeed in today's competitive world. He made the case: "The successful work force of the 21st century must reach beyond the fundamentals of education. We must be more creative, innovative and flexible in adapting to the frequent changes in the labor market."

The governor laid out the policy framework to meet the challenges our state faces that legislative leadership asked him to create. The new economy requires knowledge for workers who can imagine and create for today's fluid economy. "Investment must be coupled with new ideas and reform. We must raise standards, be more imaginative, re-evaluate how we test students and be realistic about our 21st century work force needs," said the governor.

His policy framework calls for dealing with the teacher shortage with higher pay; better use of resources, including facilities; yearlong work for teachers; and differential pay for math and science teachers — to which I would add low-income, rural and special needs schools. His most important point about reform? Put educators "back on a pedestal." Translation: Treat them as professionals, allowing them to use their education, art and passion, the things that attracted them to the profession. "Leaders must have the courage to take a risk and believe in the abilities of the people in their organization ... Leaders must establish an environment in which workers feel respected and valued." (Robert W. Galvin, former chairman of Motorola).

And therein lies the challenge for lawmakers, school boards and administrators who have created a plethora of laws and regulations that have led to a hostile, burdensome and intimidating environment for teachers and are the reason that few enter the profession and, of the ones that do, many leave within the first two to four years. Legislators are already proposing new ways to deal with the shortage to attract the top third of high school students for the new pool of teachers and pay them as the New Skills Commission recommended — change the current compensation system from back loading to an up-front one that would let new teachers earn professional pay like workers in the private sector, including deferential pay for areas of critical need.

It's time for the teachers union to think anew and support efforts that reform education for the new generation of students, rather than for their institutions. They ought to support efforts front-line teachers want — to have a working environment where they can use their passion and have the freedom to challenge students in ways that instill the love of learning. They must be a part of the solution as well as the business community. Businesses realize they must constantly be reinventing themselves to keep pace with change and ought to apply that concept in renewing education. That's their work force for tomorrow.

The education of children is not limited to the classroom; they are learning constantly and everywhere. Children's education is directly related to the investment parents make to make sure it happens. The power to change starts from the bottom, not the top. Huntsman said it well: "The power of our state comes from people who are concerned about their government. You are the greatest safeguard against depersonalized government and the antidote to apathy."

Utah native John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations, served on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch and on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards. He also has been deputy assistant secretary of labor. E-mail: [email protected]