Utah's unique resources -- youth and education

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 10:39 AM

Rep. Brad Wilson

Education is one of the most important public policy areas that the Legislature reviews each year.

Public education makes up the largest portion of the state budget in part because nearly a third of our state’s population is under the age of 18.

Each year the Legislature is charged with not only allocating money to the public education budget, but also with evaluating the direction and effectiveness of the education system.

Recently, a group made up of business and community leaders came together with a plan called Prosperity 2020. Recognizing Utah’s unique resource in our large youth population, the plan is designed to deploy the best-educated workforce into technology related fields to propel Utah’s enduring prosperity with a bright, motivated workforce.

The workforce of the future will require more post-secondary degrees than our current workforce and more emphasis in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Right now about 43 percent of Utahns have a post-secondary degree or certificate. In anticipation of future job requirements, business leaders believe we need to boost that number to 66 percent of Utahns by 2020.

This is a challenging goal and one that will require changes throughout our education system. We need to focus on ensuring that our elementary students are proficient in math and reading so those subjects can act as a foundation for more advanced learning and the grasp of abstract concepts.

In order to better align our education system to achieve this goal, the legislature has begun a phase-in of new requirements.

The first step took place last year when the Legislature approved computer adaptive testing which will better assess a student’s learning and skills ensuring that students are placed in appropriate learning groups.

This year there are bills aimed at our upper grades that seek to ensure all high school students take the ACT test in place of the UBSCT test and to establish a STEM center.

The ACT test can serve the same purpose in evaluating students that the UBSCT test currently does and has the added advantage of being a requirement for future college entrance. A STEM center will better direct, integrate, and focus students in these important subject areas.

The instruction may even be interdisciplinary to better acquaint students with the overlapping concepts in these subjects.

K-12 education isn’t the only area that will need to make some changes in order to achieve our goal. The state’s higher education system will also need to be a part of the equation. This doesn’t just mean our colleges and universities, but our Applied Technology Centers (ATCs) as well. Future technology jobs will require a workforce with a variety of skills that can be found in degrees and ATC certificates.

The Legislature just approved a change in status for Dixie State University that will allow the school to offer a broader range of degrees and programs.

In our own backyard, Weber State University is in the process of requesting funds for a new science building that will accommodate more students in STEM degree programs.

This is just the beginning. There will need to be more changes to education policy to ensure we are educating our students for tomorrow’s jobs. The Legislature will be launching a task force at the end of the session that will meet throughout the legislative interim to evaluate how to put the policies and funding mechanisms in place to reach our goal.

I’m excited about this goal and direction for the state as both a legislator and a parent and I hope all those that believe in this goal will support the task force.

Brad Wilson represents House District 15 in Davis County. He is writing a series of articles during the annual legislative session chronicling his experiences as a legislator.

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