OGDEN -- State Board of Regents member Nolan Karras told Weber School District administrators Monday that it's time to talk.
"It's time to have an orderly debate in our community about the future of education," said Karras at a district meeting to help administrators gear up for the school year. "Go back to your communities. Talk to your people."
Nolan is co-chairman of Education First, a 40,000-member citizens' group "dedicated to improved accountability, innovation, and increased funding for education in Utah," according to its website, www.educationfirstutah.org.
The group's goal, according to the site, is "... securing the economic future of our state by ensuring that the workforce of tomorrow has the skills to compete in a global marketplace."
Karras, a longtime Roy resident and graduate of Weber High School and Weber State University, told Weber School District officials the current generation of young people is less educated than that of its parents.
"Utah has young people, and that should be our advantage," he said. "The answer is to get these kids educated for the jobs that are out there."
Karras said schools need to become more efficient and innovative, and better at motivating and helping students stay in high school and graduate. Students should also be encouraged and helped to pursue training certificates and college degrees, he said. By 2020, Karras said, two-thirds of all jobs in Utah will require degrees or post-secondary certificates.
"It's been very frustrating to try and get people to pay attention," he said. "This needs to be more at a gut level. We need to get the public involved with what is happening. We think this is an 8- to 10-year project."
Reforming education in Utah will also take more funding, Karras said. Nobody likes to talk about raising taxes, but the money will have to come from somewhere, he said. Ideas Karras mentioned include a fraction of a cent increase in gas tax or food tax, earmarked for education. Karras also said he thinks education is far more vital to Utah's future than are the abundance of newly repaved roads.
Education First supports the Prosperity 2020 Business Promise (http://p2020businesspromise.com), a partnership among Utah leaders in education, business, and industry, working with the Governor's Office of Education.
Karras said he is impressed with the increased cooperation between businesses and education, and hopes such beneficial partnerships will increase in the future. But businesses need to know their investment will be returned in qualified workers, he said.
"Nobody's got answers at this point," Karras said. "We need to get better at debating, and I feel we are working toward that now.
"We need to get the public involved to find some answers, and build Utah education for a stronger economic future."