Legislators ought to take a lesson from farmers. They mortgage the farm and gamble on the weather and labor in being able to produce enough to pay down the mortgage. It’s their own money they’re gambling. Utah lawmakers don’t have to worry about a mortgage — it’s our tax dollars they gamble, and they haven’t figured out what they are supposed to produce.
Lawmakers like to gamble lots of dollars, but not theirs, ours. They pass laws on education without knowing why they are needed or what they produce. Some seem to act like a kid in a candy store saying, ”I’ll have one of these and one of those,” without knowing how it would improve the education of our children. The question taxpayers should ask lawmakers is, “If this were your own money, would you spend it this way?”
Our state leaders have yet to do what leaders are supposed to do, offer a vision of what education ought to be for the 21st century. Until they do, they will continue to make cosmetic changes to a system that is sclerotic and in need of renewal; one that prepares students to succeed in an ever-changing world.
Last year, lawmakers created the “Education Task Force” (SB169) that was supposed to establish “long-term policies to improve the state’s economic prosperity.” However, the co-chair of the task force, Rep. Becky Lockhart, is now proposing spending $300 million on technology for education, which prompted one legislator to ask why was the proposal being brought up with few specifics so late, and should it not have been brought up earlier in task force meetings. The response was that it’s part of the legislative process, and bills, particularly those with large fiscal notes, require time to prepare. The result is a loss of people’s trust.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, who talks about less government, wants to pass a bill (SB34) that would create another education policy-making body with a fiscal note of $2,543,300 that duplicates what is already being done by several agencies. The bill also calls for reviving the “Utah Futures” program that is sporadically used in career planning for students and appears to be an exercise in futility.
It seems no one bothers to evaluate what works and what is needed; rather, they reflect an attitude of we have the power and the purse — the taxpayers’ purse. We are still waiting for Sen. Stuart Adams, who is supposed to be proposing school grading 2.0, a school grading system that is simply another autopsy on education.
No one seems to be following the Education Task Force. So why have they proposed to continue it for another year? It’s not only the integrity and trust citizens lose in their government and their leaders. More disturbing is the education of our children whose future is being compromised by some lawmakers unwilling to provide the leadership, discipline and political will to do the right thing for the public good.
Utah’s public education is without leadership, and until someone is responsible for the management and supervision of public education, and offers a vision and the ability to rally the public to make it a reality, then it ought to be the governor, not the 104 legislators that seem only to see to the next election. Maybe if politicians had to survive like the farmers on their own money, we would have a more productive crop of schools.
Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: [email protected]