This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
For Utah education, it's a matter of whether our can-do spirit can be our will-do reality.
Gov. Gary Herbert this week announced that $2.1 million in grants will be available for his "Talent Ready Utah" effort, which he unveiled in his State of the State speech in January. The goal is to create 40,000 high-skill, high-paying jobs in the next four years.
The effort fits with the governor's larger, multi-year effort to have two-thirds of Utah workers complete some post-high school training by the year 2020. The funding announced this week is intended to "develop and enhance programs to meet industry needs, build career pathway programs and provide work-based learning opportunities," according to a news release from the governor's office.
It's all very laudable, but there's just one thing: If we're spending $2.1 million on skills training for 40,000 workers, that works out to be $52.50 per worker. How much skills training is that going to buy? Even if that funding persists for four years, that would be around $200 per worker.
Try as we might, we are not going to create a skilled worker for $200.
In Utah, we know how to innovate in education. It's borne of economic necessity. No matter how you stack up the students and the taxpayers, it's the toughest ratio in the nation. So we try to find a better way. Whether it's the governor, the Legislature or the State Board of Education, there is a flow of new initiatives and pilot programs aimed at improving outcomes.
But they rarely enter the mainstream.
Consider the successful teacher mentor program that the Legislature stopped funding this year. School districts were able to apply for money to hire teachers who spend all their time mentoring new teachers, whose defection rate has now become a top state problem. By all measures, the mentoring program was going well, but the Legislature cut off the funding. The reason? It's time for the districts to pick up the costs themselves. Salt Lake City School District is going to try to continue it, but at a smaller scale.
So it is with "Talent Ready Utah." If this really is a good way to go, we should be spending at least 10 times more money on it. If $20 million a year produces 40,000 skilled positions, the resulting economic benefit will more than cover the state's investment. It's not like we'll lose with the $2.1 million investment. We'll just gain a lot less.
Public opinion polls have consistently shown Utahns are willing to invest more in their schools, but they want to know it's an effective use of their money. If educators can show positive results, taxpayers will back them.
But we're not going to make big strides with small commitments. We need to find scalable solutions, and we need to find the money to scale them.