Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
A Utah teacher reads her second grade class a book about verbs at Cottonwood Elementary School in Holladay on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.

Utah enjoys a large budget surplus, and how to best use it will be a major topic of discussion and debate when the Legislature convenes next Monday.

I fully agree with legislative leaders who say that lawmakers should be cautious in the use of the hefty surplus. Even though Utah’s strong economy is expected to continue in the new year, it makes sense for lawmakers to boost rainy day funds, spend on one-time projects and grant a modest tax cut.

Even while acting prudently and carefully, however, sufficient ongoing surplus money exists to invest where Utah really needs it — in our children and workforce.

No other use of tax dollars is as important as providing excellent education that prepares our young people for the jobs that will exist as they enter the workforce. No other investment will pay off as much in an improved economy and good jobs for Utahns.

Utah families understand this reality. Survey research shows that education continues to be Utah’s most important issue.

New money invested in education will be used to improve outcomes. Legislators who support more education funding want to maximize tax dollars and improve performance. No one wants to waste tax dollars. No one wants to see money go into an education “black hole.” No one wants money absorbed into administration. No one wants business as usual. All of us want accountability.

In my discussions with legislators, I’m hearing they wisely want to better align education outcomes with workforce needs. They want to break down barriers and create a more seamless system among public education, technical training and traditional higher education. Credits should be easily transferable, young people should move through the system faster and be trained for the jobs that exist. In today’s workforce, electricians, welders, skilled carpenters and construction managers are in high demand.

These improvements will require change and new ideas and accountability. Additional funding will also be needed.

Business leaders and education experts have been working for a number of years on improvements that will support and facilitate enhanced student learning and outcomes. Best practices have been studied from successful programs all over the country.

There is no simple, easy answer or silver bullet to create education excellence. Progress will come incrementally, with hard work and dedication.

We know that the nation’s highest-performing education systems value excellent teachers and pay salaries that can support a family. We know that better student counseling is needed, and more professional development, recruitment and retention programs. We know we need improvements in early childhood education. We know that self-learning using advanced technology can bolster education outcomes. We know that additional investment needs to flow right to the classroom, bypassing state and district administration.

We know that a “one-size-fits-all” approach does not work. Parents, teachers and local school leaders know how best to invest in classrooms to improve student achievement. Each school needs a Teacher and Student Success Plan.

A new fund, the Teacher and Student Success Account, has been created to pay for these innovations and proven educational practices. A significant plan to support this work is essentially ready to go that includes local control, a focus on student achievement at school level and accountability for the use of the dollars. It has broad support among business leaders, educators and many legislators.

7 comments on this story

I’m hopeful that the Legislature will invest in the Teacher and Student Success Account this year, in addition to funding student population growth and increasing the Weighted Pupil Unit to provide fair teacher salaries. That level of funding will jumpstart improvements to ensure that every child gets an education leading to a good job that will support a family.

If we can increase per-pupil spending over the next five years, we will be able to implement the learning practices mentioned above to achieve real education excellence.

With a large budget surplus, now is the time to invest in our young people.