Just imagine what Utah schoolchildren and teachers could do if they had anywhere near the resources of their peers in other states.
Results of last year's standardized language arts and science tests show Utah students clawing their way up, despite ranking far behind other states in financial commitment to public education. Utah is below all states and the District of Columbia in per-pupil spending. Despite that tepid government support, higher percentages of Utah students last spring received scores high enough to rate them "proficient" in those two subjects on the Criterion Referenced Tests than in the previous year. Math scores were unchanged overall.
And, most important, minority students gained proficiency in math, language arts and science.
However, while improvement is worth celebrating, it's important to note that the gap between Latino and white students remains anywhere from 20 to 33 percentage points in each of the three subjects.
Utah education achievement will not make the kind of strides necessary for our children to compete in the global job market until the Utah Legislature recognizes that Latino students and those of other minority groups will, before too long, become the majority. If those students continue to drop out of school or graduate unprepared for jobs or college, such failure by state leaders will result in a declining economy.
Excellence in education for all Utah children is the best economic development tool the state possesses. A well-educated labor force is necessary to attract companies that offer high-paying jobs. Turning out thousands of unemployable drop-outs will only increase the costs of social services and, sadly, law enforcement and corrections. Earmarking millions in revenue increases for transportation instead of dedicating more existing dollars and boosting the revenue stream with tax reform for education is shortsighted.
Dedicated Utah teachers, working with the largest class sizes in the nation while being paid less than their peers in several neighboring states, have managed to help their students improve test scores, but they can't continue to do "more with less."
Gov. Gary Herbert has pledged to promote education funding with the Legislature if he is re-elected. His opponent Peter Cooke makes the same promise. But only members of the Legislature can increase revenue for schools.
A 1 percent increase here and there won't do it. Lawmakers must put public education at the top of their priority list and get serious about funding it properly.