Grading the Legislature’s Education Effort

Utah State Board of Education Member Kim Burningham

Kim Burningham, Utah State Board of Education, District 5

Grading the Legislature’s Education Effort

Dear friends:
(Note: In this post, Mr. Burningham speaks on his own behalf; the point of view expressed in this blog does not necessarily represent any organization of which he is a part.)

With the 2014 Utah Legislative session complete, a report card is due. (After all, if they insist on grading schools, the Legislature itself ought to be graded.) Many ways to grade exist; my grade is a personal evaluation of how the Legislature did on school issues.

My grade: C-
I could be harsher; others have been.

Bob Bernick, noted political analyst and former Deseret News reporter now a regular writer for UtahPolicy.com, was one. On his grading scale of 1-10 “with 10 being the highest of success and promise” Bernick evaluated the session as follows:
Public education funding = 0
Public education reform = 5

An editorial evaluation in the Salt Lake Tribune didn’t use grades, but observed: “Education fared better this year than during the Great Recession but not as well as it should.”

The fact is the Utah Legislature basically did more of the same. You know Utah ranks far below any other state in per-pupil spending. The best that can be said is the Utah Legislature’s commitment maintains that same rock-bottom status.

Trying to paint a rosier picture, some will brag about a 2.5 percent increase in the WPU or point to a total dollar increase in education funding. But much of that increase in funding is for new students; and the WPU increase will do little more than fund basic education and employee health and retirement funds. The appropriation of the Utah Legislature will not begin to pull Utah out of the basement.

Politicians genuinely interested in strengthening our education system must do something more about the inadequate funding. The huge class sizes, limited professional development, and meager teacher salaries are outrageous!

One effort to increase education funding received much press. Speaker Becky Lockhart advocated placing a one-to-one computer device in the hands of every student. Estimates of the cost of such a program vary. Lockhart suggested between $200 and $300 million would do the trick. The Governor’s Office, using a study by his education commission, indicated that figure was way low!

The one-to-one device initiative fell flat. Many observers fear that the gesture was mostly posturing for political capital in the future. When Speaker Lockhart was offered a measly $30 million by the Senate for the program, she walked out on the talks. The ballyhooed effort “got none.”

All of us want to improve public education. Lower class sizes, increased technology, better training for teachers, and increased opportunities for pre-k students will take significantly more dollars.

Our remarkable teachers are laboring in huge classes, offered insufficient support, awarded nominal compensation. Until the Utah Legislature and the Utah public is willing to increase funding, we can expect little more than we now get. Utah’s children deserve more! Our economy requires the best education possible.

I keep hoping and looking for political leadership that will act, not pontificate! Status quo funding will not make the grade.

Sincerely,
Kim Burningham

Kim Burningham represents District 5 on the Utah State Board of Education.

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1 comment to Grading the Legislature’s Education Effort

  • Alean Hunt

    Passing education legislation at 11:40 at night on the last night of the session must stop! This year it was SB257, last year it was school grading. Watching it pass was like watching a sporting event. The legislature wants to hold educators accountable, it’s beyond high time we held them accountable! I am tired them passing poorly written bills into law only to cry, “I did the best I could, or I thought it meant something else!” That is B.S.! You know it, I know it and they know it’. I don’t care if you have had that job 20 minutes or 20 years when they sponsor a bill or vote on it they are attaching their name and reputation! They were elected with our trust and they better stop anusing it by pleading ignorance as an excuse!