Forbes magazine rates Utah as the best state for business. However, Utah does not fare well in what many believe is an even more important function of state government: educating Utah's children.
Nearly a quarter of Utah children do not graduate from high school. Of those who do, about a third are not ready for college.
Gov. Gary Herbert soft-pedaled those realities when he explained his fiscal year 2014 budget recommendations to the Tribune editorial board Wednesday. He said he wants answers to the question of why the state's graduate rate is so low. He hinted that the new national guidelines for who may be considered a graduate could be to blame. And he pointed to a growing minority population as a factor.
Certainly, Utah demographics are changing, and the schools' Latino population makes up a disproportionate percentage of those who drop out before graduating.
But these minority children are Utah children, just as the white children are. They are not to blame for bringing down a graduation rate that for years the state claimed was among the best in the nation. They are instead victims of a system and elected leaders who tend to overlook their needs in order to concentrate on "economic development."
Herbert's proposed budget puts the bulk of new revenue into education but focuses on channeling student interest into science, technology, engineering and math the so-called STEM curriculum. He says he wants Utah children to provide the skilled workforce for high-tech businesses that the state wants to attract. He touts a goal of 66 percent of Utah adults with a college degree or post-secondary certificate by 2020.
But what about the 25 percent of schoolchildren who don't even complete high school?
The governor has thrown a bone to the idea of early-childhood education, which he must know can boost the graduation rate in years to come. But the bone is tiny: just $10 million for early intervention programs and technology-based intervention and assessment tools. That isn't enough even to expand the current voluntary all-day kindergarten for Title I schools to more children. Another small item in the governor's budget is called "educational needs of at-risk children" with a $3.9 million allocation. It seems that bit, lacking details, was added so Herbert could say he is doing something about the failing 25 percent.
It's important to train Utah students for good jobs, but that goal should be for all students, including those who are at risk of dropping out.