OPINION – I was very lucky, growing up during a time when kids were still important.
We didn’t have many amenities back when I was a kid, no “Xbox” or “Wii” or any of that stuff. My biggest distraction was a baseball, my mitt and a bat.
Oh, yeah, and books.
Admittedly, I was a bit of a nerd who was perfectly happy to spend a hot and humid St. Louis summer afternoon in a shady spot with a book. I looked forward to the Bookmobile making its regular rounds at my school during the summer and would always walk away with three or four books to read when I wasn’t playing ball or hanging with my buddies.
But, I had an advantage that a lot of today’s kids don’t have.
I grew up in an educational environment that was rich with dedicated teachers, prioritized the fundamentals – especially reading – and funded our school districts.
Our teachers are still dedicated souls, sacrificing much to educate our young people, even if it often means dipping deeply into their own pockets for supplies that the school districts simply cannot afford, but are necessary to teach our children.
We are the ones who have let our children down.
We keep electing people to the Legislature who are more bent on hanging onto their jobs than building a future.
The latest results are in numbers revealing that Utah is 51st in the nation in per-pupil spending.
Now, the politicians will quickly jump on this and argue that student proficiency isn’t tied to dollars.
If you believe that, well, it just goes to show how a lack of funding our schools has affected your ability to reason.
The Albert Shanker Institute has published a paper written by Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker that definitively states there is an undeniable connection between dollars spent for education and how much our kids learn.
Baker tells us:
In direct tests of the relationship between financial resources and student outcomes, money matters.
Schooling resources which cost money, including class size reduction or higher teacher salaries, are positively associated with student outcomes.
When schools have more money, they have greater opportunity to spend productively. When they don’t, they can’t.
It’s really pretty simple when you think about it. You get what you pay for.
That’s no knock on our educators. In fact, I admire them for staying in their communities rather than being lured elsewhere by big bucks.
Those people in the Legislature, however?
Complete and utter failures as far as our kids are concerned.
Education comes from taxes and, of course, the Legislature is bent on not raising taxes. It helps residents keep their happy on and, by extension, helps elected officials keep their jobs.
Meanwhile, Janie and Johnny go through 12 years of the Utah public education system at a disadvantage.
The latest Education Week annual Quality Counts report gives Utah a “D+” grade for K-12 achievement and a “D-” for spending. The state comes in 36th in overall ranking. According to Education Week’s latest report, the U.S. average for per-pupil spending stands at $11,735 after adjusting for regional cost differences. Vermont spends the most with $18,882 per student, while good old Utah spends roughly one-third that amount with $6,688 per student.
We’re not giving our kids a fair shot at success.
Again, the politicians will tell you that Utah ranks first in terms of how much of its budget goes to education, clocking in at 40.8 percent. In comparison, Vermont is second, dedicating 40 percent.
And, that is where the problem is rooted.
Utah is not very good at attracting high-tech, high-paying jobs. Agriculture, mining, tourism, and light manufacturing pretty much fuel the state’s economy. The wages are low, benefits sparse and revenue is always based on a number of fluctuating circumstances. Soaring fuel prices can curb tourism. Drought and climatic disturbances can wreak havoc on the agricultural industry. Mining revenue is strictly market-based. Light manufacturing is traditionally a realm of companies moving into areas where they can pay low wages, low taxes, low energy bills and buy property cheaply.
Under the eye of Gov. John Huntsman Jr., Utah sought massive amounts of venture capital to spur business growth. During his administration, a corner was being turned. Unfortunately, he moved on to bigger and better things and the hope and promise of his visionary plans stalled.
Again, the spin on this from the current administration is that Utah has low unemployment when compared with the rest of the nation. But, that doesn’t mean Utah workers are raking in the dough. According to figures from the Utah Department of Workforce Services, the state ranks 37th in wages.
With more emphasis on education, the state would develop a smarter, more diverse workforce, which would drive more high-paying jobs to the Beehive State, a fact Huntsman also recognized when he made education and new business his twin No. 1 priorities.
It’s really simple.
Education fuels jobs. Jobs bring more money to the state coffers. More money in the state coffers results in more money available for education, which improves the viability of the Utah economy.
You can’t have one without the other.
It’s time for our elected officials to realize that.
Unfortunately, until they do, our children will suffer.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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