Liz Martin, Deseret News
Utah students at Riley Elementary School work on reading and writing exercises

Currently, Utah's schools rank 30th in the nation in student achievement. This is unacceptable. For many years, we have been working to make sure that Utah is No. 1 in business, economic development and tourism, that Utah is No. 1 in science, technology and research. It's time for Utah to be No. 1 in student achievement. Our schools should be the very best in the nation.

Utah needs smaller class sizes and better pay for teachers. We need to make sure that every child can read on grade level by the end of third grade and that all children have basic math skills before leaving elementary school. All students deserve the opportunity to develop lifelong skills and reach their fullest potential.

The Utah Legislature recently passed a preliminary education budget that cuts $257 million from Utah's schools. These cuts are unnecessary and include vital programs and services such as teachers, school buses, arts programs, library books and Utah's essential K-3 Reading Improvement Program. This program provides reading specialists, tutors and interventions for children who are struggling with reading. I adamantly oppose these deep cuts, which will irreparably limit the opportunities of Utah's children and damage the economic future of our state.

Reading is the foundation of learning. Basic reading skills are vital to a child's educational success. It's sobering to note that future prison populations are projected by the number of students who cannot read on grade level by the end of the third grade. Sixty percent of prison inmates are illiterate, and 86 percent of juvenile offenders have reading problems. If a child doesn't have basic reading skills by the end of the third grade, he or she falls into a downward spiral. Data shows that the vast majority never catch up. Children learn to read from Kindergarten through the third grade but read to learn from the fourth grade on. If children can't read, they can't succeed.

A well-educated workforce drives a strong economy. In order for our state's economy to grow, it is important that we have a top quality educational system. You can help. Read with a child 20 minutes a day. Volunteer at your local school. Help students with their homework. Share this message with your family and friends. We all must work together to make Utah's schools No. 1 in the nation.

Throughout the history of our state, education has been a high priority, even during the hardest of times. We must continue this strong tradition.

Sen. Karen Morgan, a Democrat, represents Salt Lake City.