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Much praise is being heaped upon the new City Creek Center that now graces the center of Salt Lake City and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints along with it.

I have heard many people saying that the project is largely responsible for keeping Salt Lake City and Utah from falling to the same depths during this economic downturn as the rest of the country.

The LDS Church recognizes that an economically weak city does not draw the visitors and investment that it needs to thrive, and that a beautifully manicured Temple Square and Main Street Plaza looked out of place next to empty, vandalized store fronts.

I am impressed by the church's foresight and ambition in taking on such a massive project.

That same kind of vision and foresight can be applied to other needs in our state and the investment will pay off just as much or more than those made in City Creek. I propose that the LDS Church next invest in the education of Utah students.

Let's entertain the possibilities for a moment. I will take as a jumping off point the $2 billion reported to have been invested in the project over four years, or $500 million a year. What if that were applied to Utah's public schools?

The money could be used in numerous ways, or combination of ways. It could pay for thousands of new teachers, which could lower the average class size significantly. It could allow teachers to have needed materials, and buy classroom sets of iPads for every student.

Or, what is the annual interest from a $2 billion endowment? It could assist with improving teacher salaries.

Most teachers have not had a salary increase for three years. Many have had preparation days reduced and have seen an actual salary decrease. Good salaries help attract the highly qualified.

One of the main things that it could do is help the people of Utah embrace the idea that educating our students makes the best possible citizens. Horace Mann, an early public education advocate, wrote: "It is an easy thing to make a republic but a difficult thing to make republicans."

What he means is that teaching people to be contributing members of a republic, or society, is difficult, but necessary to a strong republic.

Members of our Legislature pride themselves on the "efficiency" of our education system. What they mean is that we can educate so many children for so little money.

The problem is that this efficiency ends up costing us in the long run.

I support our chambers of commerce who are advocating for improvement in our schools through their Prosperity 2020 proposal.

The chambers recognize that Utah schools need improvement so that we can recruit and expand businesses. In turn, these businesses need to have confidence that their employees were educated in a successful, responsive and well-funded school system.

Our Utah culture is described as being concerned for our children and for families. And yet we continue to shortchange our public school system.

I know that the system can be improved. I am a teacher at a charter school trying to improve education, but an influx of public interest and an investment from the LDS Church would help immensely.

At the very least, the LDS Church should be a strong advocate for increasing funding for public education.

Nathan Florence is an artist, a teacher and an adviser to the Alliance for a Better Utah.