Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Construction crews work on the first stages of a major renovation at Alta High School in Sandy on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Part of the renovation will include added security measures at the school's main entrance.

Here’s a radical idea for Utah taxpayers: Let’s stop supporting education.

The requests for more education funding are frequent. We find ourselves engaged in the education discussion annually, considering ballot initiatives, bonds and other funding mechanisms. Many residents cast a suspicious eye on where this money will end up. Will it increase teacher salaries? Buy new computers? Create new infrastructure? Add more bureaucracy?

Recently, Utahns are talking about using the state surplus to “fund education.”

Let’s not.

"Education" is too broad to be a useful category. Instead, let’s use those surplus funds towards specific, measurable goals that will result in better-quality schooling for Utah’s kids.

For example, we might direct the funds to raise teacher salaries to meet a specified minimum. (Yes, let’s get that detailed). Or, we might use those funds to hire a specific number of well-qualified teachers with a master's degree or 10 plus years of experience.

My preferred goal: Let’s direct funding to reduce the maximum number of students in core classes to 20.

It’s a concrete objective that is measurable.

Students will thrive in classrooms where they are more likely to receive the attention they need. Their teachers will be more likely to understand their strengths and challenges, and respond accordingly. Multiple studies over the last decade show that student achievement increases when class size is limited.

Teachers will have more time to customize instruction to meet the needs of their students. Their lessened teaching burden will allow them to be more responsive to student families. Ideally, this will also result in more teachers sticking with Utah schools for years, as they become experts in establishing teaching practices.

When public money is diverted away from schools, it isn’t because Utahns don’t value education. It’s because “education” is too general.

Struggling learners are often coached to create “SMART goals” — goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. It’s time we get smart with education funding and set funding goals that meet these markers. When we’re asking taxpayers for additional school funding, let’s make it clear what the money will be used for, how we’ll measure success, and when we’ll make it happen.

When citizens are given more information about where funding will go, they become more empowered to vote in line with their values.

4 comments on this story

I probably wouldn’t vote for my money to go toward “quality of life,” but I would vote for a new neighborhood park. I probably wouldn’t vote for my money to go toward “enlightenment,” but I would vote to build a new wing in my local library. Specificity matters.

I’d like to see Utah have some of the best schools in the nation, and I think most residents would agree. We get there by supporting specific, measurable goals for our schools rather than pledging more money towards “education” in general.