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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Gov. Gary Herbert greets the audience as he begins to speak during the PTA's Day at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013.
We really want them to get excited, because this is a way they can make a difference for all children in the state, not just the children in their district. —Liz Zentner, Utah PTA president-elect

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert on Wednesday urged members of the Parent Teacher Association to help "spread the good word" to lawmakers and community members about uniting behind the goals of the Governor's Excellence Commission.

Speaking at the PTA's annual Day at the Capitol, Herbert championed the state goal that two-thirds — or 66 percent — of Utah's adults hold a postsecondary degree or certification by 2020. The goal has been adopted by both public and higher education stakeholders, and a resolution to endorse the goal on a state level unanimously passed the Senate on Wednesday.

Herbert said the resolution and the "66 by 2020" goal ultimately will result in 2013 being remembered as the year the state united on the issue of education.

"Get your neighbors involved, call your local representative or senator, and say that this resolution that the governor’s had introduced of 66 by 2020 needs to pass," he said. "It is a game changer for us in Utah. It will bend the curve. It will help separate us from other states even more than we're doing now."

Herbert also spoke anecdotally about the conversations he's had with business insiders who say Utah's production of educated and skilled workers — particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM — is insufficient to meet the needs of employers. 

"I'm a free-market guy, and I believe that we don't want to tell people what they can be when they grow up," the governor said. "But we also need to make sure our educational achievement as a community at large in Utah does have the ability to line up with the demands of the marketplace for the practical purpose of jobs.

"That's what most people want," he continued. "They don't want a handout. They want to be independent."

During the PTA's Day at the Capitol, members of the nonprofit group were encouraged to spend the day familiarizing themselves with the legislative process, as well as meeting with lawmakers to discuss issues facing education.

The organization's legislative priorities for 2013 include funding for growth in education; support for the Common Core State Standards; direct, nonpartisan elections for State School Board members; increased anti-bullying efforts; and protection for children from second-hand smoke.

Liz Zentner, Utah PTA president-elect, said she attended a similar event 14 years ago that sparked an epiphany in her of the impact parents can have in the government processes of the state. Zentner said she hopes PTA members have a similar experience and want to help lawmakers understand the needs of their constituents.

"We hope they catch on fire," she said. "We really want them to get excited, because this is a way they can make a difference for all children in the state, not just the children in their district."

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