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A group of prominent Utahns is calling for more education funding and innovation in light of a recent report that shows Utah is falling behind other states academically.

Citizens for Educational Excellence, headed by former Gov. Olene Walker and Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bank, wants more investment in Utah schools due to the content of a report recently released by the Utah Foundation. That report showed that Utah students most often rank last on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math, reading and science tests when compared with states with similar ethnic makeups, parental education levels and poverty rates.

"I would be the first to say funding isn't everything, that we can't blame everything on the lack of funding but it is still a factor," Walker said Wednesday. "You can't keep falling behind other states at the rate we are falling and expect extraordinary results."

In a news release issued by the group, Walker said she hopes to see Utah, which now ranks last in the nation in per-pupil spending, move out of last place before she dies, though she is not advocating for a tax increase at this point.

Anderson also said it's not enough for Utah's education system to be efficient.

"Utah's focus on efficiency is the enemy of excellence," he said in the release. "It distracts us from understanding that performance trends are down and risks are up."

The comments come after numerous speeches and comments by Utah education leaders, including state Superintendent Larry Shumway, on the efficiency of the state's education system.

Shumway said Wednesday his aim has been to help Utahns understand that school leaders are efficient in getting the most they can out of their dollars. Shumway has also said targeted investments, in areas such as early childhood education and technology, are important.

"I've been talking about that so taxpayers and others can recognize that as they make further investments in our schools, that those monies will be put to good use, that those investments will make a good return," Shumway said.

He said Anderson's point is a "good one that we can't substitute efficiency for the returns we want."

The group wants to see Utah launch a long-term strategic plan to reverse declining investments and performance and plans to organize meetings with the governor and lawmakers to discuss that. —

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