The Legislature has convened for its 2013 session. For public education, that's either good news or bad. It's good that anything is possible, bad that the same-old, same old could again prevail: too little money, too many students and K-12 inadequately funded.
Our legislators once again have the opportunity to pay more than lip service to the importance of children in Utah by devising ways to bring the state up from dead-last in per-pupil funding. And, also, they have the opportunity to go long -- to put in place measures to assure its sufficient funding for years ahead, years during which the state's school-age population will continue to grow almost exponentially.
First, of curse, legislators will have to realize there is and has long been a problem that teachers in this state, based on available national and international date, are under-compensated, under-supported and under-appreciated. Some legislators have ignored the mounting of evidence accumulation that success stories in education around the world are fueled by teaching held in highest regard as a profession, making the recruitment and retention of the best and brightest classroom-worthy teachers priority number one, and an all-out commitment to the equal importance of teacher, parent and student in the educational process. Compensating teachers more in line with sanitation workers than with true professionals, denying them full classroom and professional development support and engineering ways to micromanage them into submission have succeeded only in keeping Utah down in rankings of K-12 success.
Nothing less than better thinking and successful efforts by our elected officials will do. Education on the cheap, tried and denied for too long in Utah, just will not work for the future facing our children -- a future economists and others predict will increasingly separate the educationally prepared from those under-prepared. Upward pressure on wages, benefits and work conditions will no longer be assured for those in the bottom 40 percent of earners in the absence of strong labor movement as catalyst and with cheap, unorganized labor readily available, both homegrown and imported.
Only education has the potential to make a difference and only our 2013 group of legislators, venturing where too few have been willing to go before, can guarantee that difference.
In those legislators' favor, there are many options for fully funding K-12. Instead of saying "no" to all of them, inhibitions and prohibitions foremost as usual, "yes" should be the only acceptable answer to one or more; our children's welfare is the sole concern. We should consider: 2) reductions in the number of allowable exemptions on the state income tax, 2) increase in the top tax rate, 3) earmarked taxes on sweets or sporting events, gasoline or other considerations, 4) increase in extractions fees/royalties, 5) new sources of tax revenue as yet untapped in Utah but available for the funding education in other states (for example, legalized gambling/lottery or legalized recreational drugs).
Waiting for a "god from the machine" to resolve an otherwise not revolvable problem as in ancient Greek tragedy, so far has not worked in Utah.
There is some hope, in lieu of the god's appearance on state, but not in of adequate funding, for an end-around that can stretch resources for K-12. Combinations or some of the following could work; a few are already in trials here in Utah and several are enjoying remarkable success here and there around the country: 1) the "adoption" of schools, school districts, or students by well-heeled benefactors, 2) community involvement in schools through extensive commitment of time, labor and physical resources, 3) cost efficiencies through changes in the school day, school year and facilities use, 4) encouragement and utilization of on-line and home schooling to augment standard public education, 5) turning schools over to teachers and eliminating layers of administration in the process, 6) reconsideration of the "crimes" and laws behind the extraordinary funding required by corrections systems in the U.S., and last but definitely not least, 7) the development of an LDS version of Catholic parochial schools.
All of what I've offered is an attempt to get legislators and community members on board in the effort to make this the year the funding of K-12 in Utah, is at last a reflection of our commitment to children and their futures. The world is changing. Same-old-same-old won't be adequate. It will, in fact, be unconscionable.
Ron Smith taught English at Utah State University from 1965 through 1989. He also supervised the department's graduate teaching assistants.