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Business leaders and government officials on Thursday announced formation of a joint effort to create a detailed plan for improving education in Utah and building a coalition that will push the changes through the Utah Legislature.
The initiative is aimed at improving science, technology, engineering and math education with the goal of creating a workforce that will make the Wasatch Front into one of the top areas of the nation for technology companies and the good-paying jobs that they bring.
Utah has the lowest per-pupil spending on K-12 education in the nation, and Chet Linton, CEO and president of the School Improvement Network of Midvale, said part of the discussions will be about adding additional resources to the system.
"Resources usually means we need funding or we need tools or we need the things to get us there," he said. "One of the challenges I've found is we've been so segregated in how we talk about things. Everybody is in their own silo."
Gov. Gary Herbert helped to announce the group that will be led by Stan Lockhart, public affairs director for IM Flash Technologies, one of the state's top-tier high-tech companies. Pointing to technology jobs in the state that are going unfilled for lack of workers with the right education and skills, Herbert said creating a bigger highly educated workforce was "a necessity."
"Businesses are going to go where there's talent," he said.
The coalition is the outgrowth of Prosperity 2020, a business-led movement to support reforms and greater investment in education. The group bills itself as "the largest coalition of business leaders ever assembled to improve Utah's educational outcomes."
State education and economic development officials were on hand for the launch of the effort Thursday.
Lockhart said the coalition has no set agenda and the process of creating a plan to improve education will be open to anyone who wants to participate, including the state's teacher unions.
"There's ample opportunity to give feedback, and we sincerely want to find the best practices that can give our children the best improvements possible," he said.
The formation of a detailed plan and funding may take a year or two, said Lockhart, with participants expecting to build a political coalition that will then help push it through the Legislature.
Linton choked up when he mentioned that teachers will be one of the keys to the success of the eventual reform program.
"We need to help them be effective," he said. "If we're going to do this, policymakers, this is on your shoulders and we've got the business world in this state and other places saying, 'Let's do this.' "