The $10 million Gov. Norm Bangerter suggests divvying up between higher education and public education from the state's tax surplus will be a welcome shot in the arm.
Educators are banking now on legislators meeting in special session in July to bring the governor's proposals to fruition.But the $10 million windfall doesn't come close to dealing with unmet needs of the state's education systems.
If Utah is genuinely interested in developing a first-class educational opportunity that will prepare its children for an increasingly demanding future, there must be a financial commitment that is commensurate - and I say that as a taxpayer who feels the pinch just like everyone else.
The $4 million Bangerter wants for textbooks should bring a particular sigh of relief from the education community.
The Utah State PTA conducted a survey in 16 of the state's school districts last fall and found a woeful shortage of textbooks. The 16 districts estimated their needs at $2.5 million just to correct the shortage and a like amount to prevent shortages from recurring.
Utah (at the time of the PTA survey) spends an average $72.22 per child on books and supplies, compared with the national average of $106.89. That's the average. In some Utah districts, it is lower.
That means in some classrooms, students share books or use outdated texts. Teachers complain that they are not able to stay current with some topics, particularly in areas of study in which knowledge is changing and expanding rapidly.
While Utah has struggled to keep up with a boom in its school age children that coincides with a downturn in the economy, textbook publishers have been doing what seems to come naturally in today's markets - raising prices.
The textbook that used to cost $13 now costs $26 - and the costs of other supplies have risen on a similar scale.
Some districts have been robbing Peter to pay Paul, buying textbooks and supplies at the expense of other programs. That tends to catch up with one sooner or later, as those of us who handle household finances learn.
If Utah school districts had a lot of leeway in their budgets to do fancy footwork, it would be a less serious problem - or no problem at all. They are, however, already trying to manage their educational mandate with less per-pupil expenditure than other states are making.
Superintendent James R. Moss has made the observation that textbooks are being supplanted in some instances by more modern technology - computers and sophisticated communciations equipment that enhance the information available in books.
That doesn't portend a need for less spending on equipment and supplies, but more, if Utah is going to stay competitive.
And staying competitive is essential if students coming out of our schools are going to qualify for the jobs that are being created by today's technology-driven market.
Talk of reducing support for education through tax rollbacks and limitations can only be seen as counterproductive.
Three cheers for the governor's proposed aid, which will hopefully be seconded by the Legislature, and may it be the beginning of a trend.