Lawmaker grills ATC directors about redundant programs

Jan 28 2014 - 6:39pm

SALT LAKE CITY - There are too many competing interests and overlapping programs offered to secondary school students in Utah, according to one state lawmaker.

Sen.  Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, said he is dismayed to see overlapping programs lead to competition between local school districts and other programs, specifically applied technology colleges, in light of the fact Utah's dropout rates are the fastest growing in the nation.

He said many of those dropouts should take advantage of Utah's UCAT programs, and would if they weren't being steered another direction by high school counselors and officials.

Urquhart said he is so fed up with the lack of cooperation between competing educational interests that he will consider pushing legislation to establish new graduation rates in 2015 if state educators don't work out the problem themselves.

His comments came as part of an education appropriations committee meeting on Tuesday, focused on how existing funds are being spent in the Utah educational system.  Rob Brems, president of the Utah College of Applied Technology, and Mary Shumway, director of the state's career technical education (CTE) program were in front of the committee to talk about how CTE, UCAT and state universities were collaborating in their efforts to help Utah students.

Brems pointed out enrollment in UCAT schools is down.  Shumway also couldn't offer enough of a defense of CTE programs to satisfy Urquhart and several other lawmakers

The St. George Republican wondered why some junior and seniors weren't urged to utilize ATC programs and graduate with a diploma and then potentially pursue a college degree. "Why haven't we gone down that pathway?" Urquhart said.

Shumway pointed out math and language requirements have created some barriers for students.

"Who is the problem?  That wasn't an answer," Urquhart responded.  "

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, expressed some of the same frustrations as Urquhart about competing interests and overlapping programs.  He suggested an evening meeting where all educational interests for secondary students could be brought together to eliminate duplication and some of the competition.

Stephenson suggested some of the problem may be the Legislature

"If there are dysfunctions in it, we need to look in the mirror as a Legislature," Stephenson said of the problem.  He said a unified approach would save taxpayer dollars.

Davis Applied Technology President Michael Bouwhuis said the issue of overlapping programs and competition with local high schools is an ongoing problem.

"The competition for enrollment represents a significant issue for our school," Bouwhuis said. He did not find Urquhart's threat to establish new graduation requirements out of order.

"That needs to be revisited," Bouwhuis said of the proposal.

Not every district or region faces the competition or overlapping problem.

Officials from Bridgerland ATC in Brigham City and the Cache Valley School District talked of an ongoing effort to collaborate on course offerings.

Richard Maughan of BATC said he meets regularly with the four districts in his region and with people from Utah State University to talk about programs and what might benefit students.

Steve Norton, superintendent of the Cache Valley district, said Bridgerland offers programs his schools don't and he said students in his district benefit from the expanded offering from USU and BATC.

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