This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Utah Legislature has a history of starving public schools and then criticizing them for failures. Bills in the current session would label struggling schools with D or F grades but offer no resources to help them improve and would funnel scarce public funds to private online schools.
Thus, legislators continue to encourage parents to abandon traditional public schools for private or charter schools. Obviously, despite the resounding defeat in 2007 of a voucher law that would have sent public money to private schools, the Legislature has not given up that battle.
In Senate Bill 65, Sen. Howard Stephenson would set up a statewide online education program that would direct taxpayer money to private providers of online courses. It has passed the Senate.
Sen. Wayne L. Niederhauser and Rep. Greg Hughes are sponsoring a bill to have public schools graded, based on statewide assessments, and for high schools, the graduation rate. They are modeling this legislation on a similar program in Florida. It would provide parents with information to justify abandoning those schools.
This might be useful, provided that, once these struggling schools are identified, they at least can plead their case for funding to implement remedial courses or in other ways improve. Florida, after all, offers financial incentives to schools. Florida also has a constitutional amendment limiting class sizes. In Utah teachers must deal with the largest class sizes in the nation.
Florida also spends nearly twice as much per student on education as Utah, which sits dead last in that category. If we're looking at Florida as a model, let's start with financial commitment.
Legislators know that Utahns are devoted to their neighborhood public schools, and so, during election campaigns, candidates proclaim they are pro-education. But what many of them mean is that they support education only as long as educators and school officials do as the Legislature demands.
Thus we get a proposed constitutional amendment to take the election of Utah State Board of Education members away from voters and put the board under control of the governor and state Senate. Then there are bills that dictate the smallest details of school curriculum, such as mandating that schools teach that the United States is a republic, not a democracy, and requiring "civic and character" education.
Legislators' penchant for micro-managing education and undermining public schools is not the way to help Utah's youth prepare for jobs and help Utah prepare for the future.