Utah Public Education

Utah Public Education

The children of our state are our greatest treasure and their education is critical to Utah’s continued economic success. Concern about public education funding is consistently a top issue in Utah and I believe most Utahns share the view that investing in future generations by improving the quality of education is a priority, although most of us balk at any increase in taxes to accomplish those goals.  Even though the majority of Utah’s budget (100% of all income tax) is earmarked for education, we know that Utah is still consistently rated as the state with one of the lowest amounts of taxpayer money spent per pupil. Part of the reason is that Utah’s per capita has one of the highest number of children under the age of 18. Notwithstanding Utah’s low ranking for per pupil spending, our students consistently test very well in comparison to their national counterparts. This begs the question as to whether or not additional spending will help students, or whether money in our education budget can be better spent.

We do know that increased funding for teacher pay is critical. We need to attract and retain the best and brightest educators to teach our greatest resource – our children. Higher ed institutions in Utah have seen a significant decrease in the number of students pursuing education degrees. One of the reasons students are not choosing a career in education is that they know that teacher pay in our state is much less than that of other states and some believe it makes no economic sense to incur student loans only to graduate and go into a low-paying career. One of the bills I sponsored last year was an amendment to the T.H. Bell Program (HB188). This bill changed the program to provide scholarships to students pursuing education degrees, instead of loans. This is one way we can attract good students to the education field, who will then become excellent teachers for our Utah students and so far, has been effective in attracting more higher ed students into the field of education.

Research has also shown that children who are unable to read on grade level by the end of their kindergarten year have significantly lower high school graduation rates than those students who are reading on grade level or beyond by first grade. We also know that students who do not graduate from high school represent a larger percentage of people who end up in our criminal justice system. To alleviate both problems, some of the work I have done through my service in the legislature has focused on providing resources for Kindergarten students who are at risk for not transitioning to 1st grade on grade level with their peers. I have sponsored legislation several times aimed at expanding our Optional Extended Day Kindergarten (OEK) program throughout the state in order to support children at risk of not being successful in school. The program includes providing the student with an additional 2-3 hours devoted to reading and language fundamentals.  The OEK program is optional for parents—no one is forced to take advantage of the program, but the data from those districts and schools, including Washington County School District, that have utilized this program has been phenomenal.

Credit goes to our great teachers.  The level of dedication and sacrifice by our teachers for our students is unmatched.  We owe them a great deal—especially during this pandemic.  We need to do all we can to continue to invest in our teachers and provide them with the tools necessary to do their job effectively.

Investing in our future generations by improving the quality of education is a key priority, but it must be balanced with an investment in education that is sustainable long-term, without imposing additional tax burdens on Utah’s taxpayers. I am dedicated to providing the best, fiscally responsible, educational opportunities for our students and also doing all I can to support our teachers.