State legislators meet to discuss the future of education

Friday , May 22, 2015 - 9:30 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY – The House Education Committee met Tuesday to discuss the long-term plan for Utah education. The committee discussed the year’s progress and reviewed education bills that passed in 2015.

Committee chairman Rep. Bradley Last, R-Hurricane, explained the Education Committee receives a high number of bill requests each year. “We received 195 requests for education bills (in 2015), and 61 of those bills passed,” Last said.

Brad Smith, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, hopes the committee continues to produce laws for education change and progression. “We are moving from a question of what have you done to us, to what have you done for us. Hopefully we can reach the point where we can say, ‘What have you done with us,’” Smith said.

Smith explained “non-negotiable” elements to Utah’s future education plan. Education in Utah must be results oriented.

“If we do not have a focus on the children we have missed our mark,” Smith said.

He also suggested an equitable system that would serve every student and adaptability would be a key issue. “We need to prepare students for a future that we cannot ourselves envision at this time,” Smith said.

One of the first challenges addressed in the long term education plans is the rapid population growth in Utah. Allyson Goldstein, a policy analyst at the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, said that even though Utah’s population will be at 6 million by 2060, she expects the dependency ratio to decrease. The dependency ratio shows the number of people in a dependent age group for every 100 working adults.

Goldstein explained the achievement gap may become a greater need. “By 2040 Utah will have a 30 percent minority population,” said Goldstein. Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said, “(The achievement gap) could look very grim in relation to minority growth.” Dabakis suggested plans to assist the growing minority population in education as a vital step to Utah’s future education policies.

The committee also heard Nolan Karras present the Prosperity 2020 plan. “When we talk about future planning, there is none in Utah,” Karras said. “Once we were a leading education state, now we are in the middle of the pack.”

Karras presented a plan focused on increased accountability for students and teachers, early intervention programs, and more mentors who reach out to specific students struggling to graduate. He praised efforts at Roy High School, where teachers identified students who are not on track to graduate and reached out to invite them to class.

Alison Nicholson from the Utah Education Policy Center at the University of Utah, presented their education goals in connection with Tami Pyfer, the Education Advisor to the governor. Their plan focused on stakeholder input, targeting resources for better outcomes, and better reporting and evaluation on those outcomes. Pyfer reported the governor has begun a 10 year comprehensive education plan for Utah. They hope to adapt to the changing population and improve the graduation rate by expanding access, participation, and completion in education.

Spencer Jenkins, the assistant commissioner at the Utah System of Higher Education gave input on college education plans. He called for a “more explicit look at helping students complete (their education).” He identified three objectives to make that happen: (1) affordable participation, (2) timely completion, and (3) innovative discovery.

“We hope the strategic planning process presented to the legislature will help move Utah from middle of the pack to top of the pack on education,” said Smith. The committee will meet again on June 17 to continue these plans for Utah’s education.

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