On the EDge: Dead last again in per-pupil funding

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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Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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  • BIG GUY June 16, 2015 at 8:53 am

    Typical liberal: counting how much money is spent. Conservatives care about results. Please explain the results below, Ed.
    State SAT scores
    hyperlink code

  • BIG GUY June 16, 2015 at 8:54 am

    Oops. Second line should read “Utah ACT scores.” Sorry.

  • BIG GUY June 16, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Bottom line: Utah is above national average and highest of all states that test 100% of students; higher than Colorado, Illinois, Michigan and others.

    • EdKociela June 16, 2015 at 9:38 am

      It is 36th in K-12 achievement, as noted.

      • 42214 June 16, 2015 at 10:03 am

        So, we’re getting a lot of bang for our buck Ed. Why was this fact omitted from your piece?

        • EdKociela June 16, 2015 at 11:00 am

          It is actually in the column. Go back and re-read.

      • BIG GUY June 16, 2015 at 11:28 am

        Ed, you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. “Education Week” is published by and for the nation’s teachers. It is essentially a union house organ. Gee, I wonder if it has any bias against low spending Utah? Do you think? “Education Week’s” scores are totally subjective which allows them to bad mouth a low spending state.

        A large number of objective national studies have shown almost no correlation between per pupil spending and achievement. For example, a mere 40% of New York fourth graders are proficient in math and 37% in reading. Yet New York spends more per pupil ($19,552 in 2012) than any other state and nearly twice the national average.
        You say “Utah is not very good at attracting high-tech, high-paying jobs.” That is a blatant falsehood. Salt Lake and the Provo/Orem corridor in particular are booming with national high tech companies (Google, Adobe, Microsoft, Oracle, etc.) and are highly regarded for their large number of tech startups. You need to get out more: just drive up I-15 in Utah County and look at the names on new office buildings.

        • anybody home June 16, 2015 at 4:56 pm

          Big Guy, we might finally agree on something, but probably not. You make the point that anything published by the teachers’ union is likely biased. I certainly agree on such a possibility. And using the same logic, I’m sure you’d agree that anything about the LDS Church published BY the church would be highly suspect and biased.

          • Simone June 16, 2015 at 8:00 pm

            especially when you consider the fact that the church recently came clean about the fact that Joseph Smith married children. Here’s proof. I found this on the Washington Post website:
            “The church has long renounced polygamy. And until now, it has never officially acknowledged Smith’s multiple marriages, only discussing his first marriage to Emma Hale Smith”.. In my experience, they openly denied it. “Unofficially”, of course.

        • BIG GUY June 16, 2015 at 7:03 pm

          ANYBODY HOME, any organization is entitled to express its opinions and points of view. Those opinions can always be expected to reflect the organization’s values and purposes and to cast it in the best possible light. When those organizations make recommendations based on their values and supported by purported facts or appeals to authority, it’s reasonable to check those assertions against third party data.

          I expect teacher’s unions to advocate for teachers; I expect them to use factual information when doing so. I expect the same of any organization…and of Ed’s opinion pieces.

      • BIG GUY June 16, 2015 at 11:46 am

        Ed, according to the Census Bureau, Utah had the 16th highest percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree as of 2007. I suspect it’s no lower now and may be higher. Not bad for a state that doesn’t think more taxing and spending is the answer to every problem.

        • Real Life June 16, 2015 at 12:18 pm

          Wow Little Guy, did Ed hit a nerve, or what? You can throw all the stats you want but you still can’t change the FACT that Utah is dead last in spending and first in average children. He didn’t make that up.

          • BIG GUY June 16, 2015 at 1:21 pm

            REAL LIFE, your comment is true but irrelevant to Utah’s educational results. Ed states that our students are at a “disadvantage.” Our test scores don’t support this. Ed quotes an Albert Shanker Institute paper. Albert Shanker was the president of the United Federation of Teachers, the national teachers union which naturally supports hiring more teachers and paying them more, regardless of results.

            Here’s one of many studies that show that spending more money does not improve educational results.

  • 42214 June 16, 2015 at 9:29 am

    Typical complaint, been hearing for 50 years, throw more money at the “problem”. Public education has always been you get out of it what you want. Disciplined kids wanting an education do well, others do whatever it takes to get by or just fail. It’s also been a bottomless pit for tax dollars.

    • RealMcCoy June 16, 2015 at 11:39 am

      It doesn’t help that some teachers have just given up on educating, and are more concerned with passing kids than teaching them.
      Some of the Hurricane school teachers are known to just give the lagging students enough extra credit to get them up to a passing grade, simply to push them through the grades, whether they learned anything or not.
      I have seen kids failing a class that ‘miraculously’ passed….thanks to a 1,600% extra credit paper (yes, that was ONE THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED percent, not a typo).
      I’ve seen a 2000% extra credit paper too. It was a coloring page, for a math class.
      I have also see AP classes where a student can fail every test, yet thanks to the miracle of extra credit, still receive an A grade. At least it makes the teacher look good.
      The bottom line is: Teachers will pass the students, to make sure they continue to receive funding for their classes.
      The national testing shows the real results of this teaching method.

      • BIG GUY June 16, 2015 at 1:02 pm

        REALMCCOY, there is no “extra credit” on ACT and SAT test scores. On average, our students are among the best in the country. Sadly, the examples you cite are repeated all over the country.

        • RealMcCoy June 16, 2015 at 1:28 pm

          I didn’t say extra credit on ACT and SAT. I’m talking about in the regular classes. Kids think they’re smart enough because they get ‘passing’ grades, but it’s attributed to all this extra credit now.
          Then when the real tests (ACT and SAT) they see lower scores and wonder why.
          Did you know that math teachers let kids use calculators in math class now? I’m talking about regular math, not graphing or tech math. Then the national testing comes around and they aren’t allowed to use the calculators. They don’t learn the mechanics of basic addition or subtraction in school, then fare poorly when their calculator crutch is taken away.

      • BIG GUY June 16, 2015 at 1:52 pm

        REALMCCOY, I respect your right to criticize our schools today. Your criticisms and examples may be perfectly valid. And I certainly agree with you that “…national testing [i.e. ACT and SAT scores] shows the real results…” of a Utah public school education.

        Instead, I argue that contrary to Ed’s article, Utah children are not at a “disadvantage.” In fact, they are poster children for the fact that spending more money does not necessarily improve results, a conclusion supported by a number of studies. Ed’s references are qualitative, not quantitative, and written by representatives of teacher’s unions.

        • RealMcCoy June 16, 2015 at 2:26 pm

          And on that point I agree.

      • izzymuse June 18, 2015 at 9:14 am

        REALMCCOY, And the students’ parents are NOT part of the problem? The teacher, the parents/guardians, and the child are the “learning team”. A child’s education is not all on a teacher’s shoulders. As a parent, I am responsible for providing my child with the means to be successful in life. If I blame or credit a teacher, the community, and the government for my child’s “failure” or success in life, I’m failing to see the whole picture. Every child needs good guardians, teachers, and community. But we can’t put all the accountability on only one of the people involved in helping children learn and develop.

        • BIG GUY June 18, 2015 at 9:29 am

          IZZYMUSE, I agree completely although I didn’t read REALMCCOY’S comments as excusing parents.

          The best single predictor of a child living up to his/her potential as a student is parental involvement in the education process: expressing interest and support for education, ensuring homework is done, attending parent/teacher conferences, etc. Good teachers, good facilities and good programs are all important, but none is as important as parental involvement and support. (By the way, this may explain, at least in part, Utah’s high test scores and educational attainment.)

  • NotSoFast June 16, 2015 at 11:00 am

    Valet points made on both sides of the subject Ed.
    Besides quality teachers- not dummy down teaching methods, finger pointing politicians, etc., it take parents wanting to participate at home and staying in touch with the students teacher for valid suggestions. That’s my input.

    • EdKociela June 16, 2015 at 11:34 am

      A very valid point.

    • izzymuse June 18, 2015 at 9:26 am

      Yes, true. And the problem I’ve heard teachers express is the fact that they get all the penalty when a student is not learning (threat of low pay — no raise or increase, potential job loss, etc.), but the parents have no consequences for being non-supportive in their child’s education, AND the legislatures have no consequences for not providing some of the needed means for a school to facilitate learning needs. The parents/guardians, the teacher, the government, AND the child need to have consequences for “failures”. When we share the responsibility, we also need to share the accountability.

  • ladybugavenger June 16, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    Don’t believe everything you read. Statistics, facts, percentages its all a numbers game, not fact.

  • eddantes56 June 16, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    Ed, education is not about $ spent per pupil. If it were, how do we explain that the city of Baltimore is in the top 5 nationally, on $ spent per pupil? How in the world did children of the 50s and 60s score higher on tests than children of today when back in the day, $1,000-1500 per pupil was the amount spent.

    The two biggest obstacles to children learning are 1. Culture – parents who do not encourage/require results from their children and 2. Teacher’s unions – which promote the latest liberal cause in the classroom instead of old fashioned readin, writin and rithmetic. The unions are more concerned about the seniority of their teachers and their juicy pensions than cleaning house when needed and there is much house cleaning needed in the public schools…..that is cleaning up the trashing progressive curriculum and booting the many, many marginal teachers.

  • fun bag June 17, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    The problem is all the illegal mexicans

    • izzymuse June 18, 2015 at 9:18 am

      Yes, You can thank the government for all the free stuff that is given to reward illegal immigrants (food, medicine, education, …etc)!

  • fun bag June 17, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    this aint Pakistan here. They need to leave

  • 6XGoStillrs June 18, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    Ed, you should be the definition of IQ… Lobbing bombs from other states about their internal works, meanwhile praising of all the worthless people along the way, 1 gov huntsman. 1 + 1 = 2! A population of illegals plus 10 kids to every taxpayer lead to over crowded & under funded classrooms. Duh…

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