SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s per-pupil funding ranks near the bottom in the nation, and classroom crowding is a problem, but the state’s superintendent of schools still thinks Utahns are getting a great bang for their buck when it comes to public education.
The education offered in Utah schools the “most effective, most efficient in the country,” said Martell Menlove, state superintendent of public education.
He admits there is room for improvement but still thinks taxpayers benefit from the value their tax dollars yield in education.
In a one-on-one interview on the last day of the 2013 legislative session, Menlove addressed some of the challenges facing educators. Besides funding, there was significant focus this session on social issues — specifically teen suicide — as well as on many areas of the classroom.
This session featured more than 100 education-related bills. Menlove said his staff will look at the initiatives that passed and attempt to address the issues in the coming days.
Menlove was encouraged by an increase in funding for education, but said educators are only part of the solution in addressing the increase in teen suicides and other social matters.
“We don’t always have the training and resources. Most all of these people really do care about students, and they can be part of the solution; however, we can’t do it alone.”
Addressing teen suicide will take collaboration among families and people at all levels, Menlove said.
“I think we’re part of the solution, we’re not the solution by ourselves.”
One bill this session addressed classroom size at the K-3 level, but classroom-size caps were removed before the bill passed.
Menlove said classroom sizes are a direct reflection of the investment being made in public education. He said some efforts to shrink classroom size often come with a price and that imposing caps would force administrators to juggle costs elsewhere.
“When 85 percent of costs are in personnel, some of the cuts come with teachers, and classroom sizes go up. We have some concerns about that,” Menlove said.
Some lawmakers are concerned fiscal issues have made it difficult to craft a vision for how educational matters should be handled.
Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, ran legislation setting up an education task force to take a broad view of educational issues in an effort to create a vision of what the state should do.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, thinks the concept holds great promise and gets lawmakers away from legislation that appears to micromanage education policy at the state level.
Menlove likes the concept but wonders why the state Board of Education wasn’t invited to be a partner in the process.
“I have great optimism, and I plan to attend their meetings and would hope they would allow me to participate and offer some options.”