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Monday, September 25, 2006

Dollars and Accountability

By Lyle Hillyard
State Senator, District 25

I attended the Governor’s Education Summit and then the joint meeting of the Public and Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittees during the last two weeks. I am excited about helping the Governor accomplish some pretty lofty goals for education in the next session.

Our current surplus is mainly in income tax (a.k.a. education money). Given this year's tax cut, and all the talk about future tax cuts, there seems to be a great deal of apprehension in the education community. I do not sense a great deal of interest in just adding more money to public education without some clearly agreed upon goals or accountability.

Recently, I was concerned to hear from a CPA from Kentucky that they are not finding people who are willing to spend the time training to become CPA’s. At the NCSL annual meeting last year, Bill Gates expressed his concern that he was being forced to look for engineers in India because the American students were not willing to pay the price of such a challenging education. He said the fastest growing major at our Universities was exercise science so people could become fitness trainers. I think we need more rigorous high school classes so that our children are really ready for what post-secondary education should be expecting.

I am also convinced that investing in more updated computers would be a good use of some of our one-time surplus.

I have learned that money can only be spent once. I hope people will rivet attention on the Governor, his staff, legislators and educational leaders as we try to make a meaningful impact in public education while also addressing the desire to cut taxes and reduce government. This work will be challenging; hopefully we can reach an agreeable compromise.


Blogger Daniel said...

You want to make a big difference in education in Utah?

1) Smaller class sizes, smaller class sizes, smaller class sizes. Our system is drowning in children, with class sizes of 30+, and our kids don't get the individual attention they need when they are struggling. Hire more teachers, get teachers aides, whatever it takes to get that down to 20.

2) Higher standards. Chuck our math standards and adopt the California standards wholesale. We won't compete in science and engineering until we start taking math and science seriously in the elementary and secondary school system.

3) Cut the fat in the school districts and return more control to local communities.

9/25/2006 10:57 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

I forgot one:

4) Immersion-based language instruction in all grades, starting in 1st grade. Utah has likely the highest number of foreign-language speakers in the nation, but we're not using that to a competitive advantage for our kids. Follow the lead of public schools in Eugene, Oregon, and do immersion-based language instruction in every school where it is possible.

Utah needs to start taking education seriously. Our schools can do so much more.

9/25/2006 11:00 PM  
Anonymous Tom said...

I had the privilege of spending a few hours last week with local board members and administrators.

This particular district, due to the variances in funding and through no fault of their own, is among the lowest in the state in per-pupil dollars. Their voted leeway is nearly at the state limit, and they are pushing a ballot measure to bring them to the maximum.

They, and other districts, were told in the past, "Raise achievement and accountability, and we'll give you more dollars."

They've starved high performing schools to redirect dollars to low-performing areas, and by doing so shrunk their achievement gap. The cost of this difficult decision is that in some areas they don't have classes of 30+ ... they have classes of 40+.

They're doing their part to raise money through local taxes. However, the promises of the past have changed from, "Achieve for funding" to "You've achieved, so you obviously don't need funding!" They are rightly troubled by this message from the legislature. They've improved achievement and local accountability, they've trimmed fat, and like all districts, are desperately working to retain scare educators.

They need your help, and to suggest you won't help scares them.

"Clearly agreed upon goals and accountability" are local decisions, ones the legislature may not see in their big picture view. They *do* exist locally!

It sounds more like an excuse than a promise.

9/26/2006 8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree: Smaller class sizes, smaller class sizes. It's ridiculous that children are crammed into classes that number 30-plus at elementary school levels and 40-50-plus for middle and high schools. Can't legislators see this unchecked growth and how damaging it has become to public education? No matter how many accountability goals are imposed, this overcrowded environment makes meeting them difficult if not impossible for both children and teachers. Provide a better environment for learning by lowering class sizes and then see the results guaranteed to occur across the board.

9/26/2006 12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Sen. Hillyard!

Sen. Hillyard, what do we do about the ultra-conservatives? They are so committed to cut, cut, cut, even when we have massive surpluses. They are ignoring needs staring them in the face just for the sake of their ideology. I am so sick of them saying "you're just throwing money at the problem." That is a lie! We need new computers, new textbooks, and smaller class sizes, NOW! I am fed up with them saying the UEA is the "enemy." That is nothing but shameful rhetoric. Teachers care about their students!!!

The problem in this state is the power of the Reagan ultra-right and their unwillingness to compromise. They need to be voted out of office so we can get on with the business of responsible government with reasonable people.

9/26/2006 12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a life-long Republican who spent yesterday afternoon walking a district for a state senate candidate who supports public education. And who is a Democrat. I hope my party and its Legislators will start to listen to the people and take care of Utah's future by providing adequate funding for public education now. I met other Republicans on my walk who will be voting Democrat this year too if the party line does not change.

9/26/2006 6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen to that! I have always voted but never been politically active. This year I have three campaign signs staked into my lawn -- all for Democrats who support public education.

9/26/2006 8:24 PM  
Anonymous Marie said...

I'm in a district where there were many new charter schools open this year. The kids in these schools have 25 students or less in each class and a teacher's aide. The traditional neighborhood school has about 30 kids in each classroom and no aide. That means if one of those 30 kids is a troublemaker, which is the case that some of the kids are complaining about, the teacher in the traditional class has to take her time to deal with the problem. In the charter school, the aide can take care of that student without the rest of the class being disrupted. How can charter schools afford this, but the traditional schools can't?

Those who remain loyal to the traditional schools are getting shafted.

Also, tom...

The district I am in balked at my suggestion that there are not enough advanced math and science classes on the jr. high level (let alone anywhere else). The district rep. went into a diatribe about how studies show that pushing kids to take these classes only burns them out and makes them hate math/science. Of course, he didn't cite referrences for these "studies", and he also refused to hear further as I suggested that student-driven interest in some children would make these classes worthwhile, and that perhaps then their peers would also be driven. It's somewhat hopeless.

BTW, look at the October 2006 issue of Discover, which features an interview with Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House. He has some interesting ideas on how to overhaul math and science education in the United States. I have seen some bills go through our legislature that address these areas in education as well, so I'm hopeful someone is paying attention.

I am supporting a Republican candidate in my legislative district. I'm not sure if I completely agree with his solution for education reform (vouchers), but I do feel he sees the problems the way I see them, and is open to hearing suggestions.

I am so frustrated with my Senator that I will be looking at the Democrat. Considering he's the head ot he Utah Taxpayer's Association, he probably has enough support to get re-elected, but I hope not.

9/28/2006 7:45 AM  

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