“What did they know and when did they know it?” That’s a phrase that led to the impeachment of a president. That phrase rings true today when it comes to Utah’s education. It seems outrageous that our state politicians have known or should have known that our educational system was broken, yet kept pouring more money into it, instead of fixing it.
Fourteen years ago, then-Gov. Michael Leavitt created the Employers Education Coalition (EEC) to recommend how to fix a floundering educational system. It was an in-depth study that pointed out that the management system for public education was ineffective; that there were too many hands on the steering wheel, and no one was responsible — not the governor, Legislature or State Board of Education. Sen. Howard Stephenson, chairman of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, has lauded the EEC finding and the need for the development of a coherent management structure.
So, where is the public and parent outrage knowing our elected officials have yet to fix an ineffective system; and where are the public’s watchdogs that are supposed to keep our government accountable? Did they not consider it important to inform the public of how politicians have ignored fixing public education when they knew it was ineffective?
As a people, have we become so complacent that we allowed public education to become mediocre for our children. It seems to belie the rhetoric our elected officials tell us that education is a priority.
What makes the matter so outrageous is that the governor, legislators and business leaders keep wanting to spend more money, and they ignore the most serious problem affecting public education — its ineffective management system. Business people would never invest in an enterprise that was failing, had no clear management structure, no vision or expected outcome. So, why do they have no problem spending our money on this.
And why does the governor seem to keep leading the public to believe he is in charge of education with his Education Excellence Commission while often asking for more money, even though he has no power over public education. He had the opportunity to support Sen. Stuart Reid’s SJR9 that passed the Senate in 2011 calling for the governor to be in charge of education and did not speak out on the matter. And what about the Legislature that, in 2013, created the Legislative Education Task Force to finally have somebody create a vision for education with coherent policies. Three years later, there is still no vision for education. As Sen. Stephenson once wrote, “Caring professionals are the reason government education has not utterly failed, in spite of the dysfunctional system in which they work.”
The fix is easy. We need politicians who have the courage and integrity to act in the public’s interest. Our children should not be relegated to a mediocre education, rather one that prepares them to succeed in today’s digital world. We need leaders who will restructure public education’s management structure so that it has a vision, is downsized, cost-effective, has clearly defined outcomes, and where the governor is in charge and accountable to the public. The current system measures testing and graduation rates, rather than what happens to students after they graduate or leave school. Do they lead productive lives, have meaningful jobs, go on to higher education?
It’s outrageous that our elected leaders, who know or should have known our schools were ineffectively managed, seem to lack the courage to fix public education, which is the cornerstone and success of our free society. Taxpayers and parents, knowing why our children are being denied a world-class education, should be outraged and demand change.
Utahn John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee and as Utah industrial commissioner. His Bush 41 White House appointments included deputy assistant secretary of labor and Commission on Hispanic Education member.