By Margaret Dayton
Utah State Senator, District 15
As the legislature gets underway, I want acknowledge the appreciation of legislators for the dedication and service of good teachers in Utah. Every candidate for legislative office has their area of focus- but no matter what other issues concern a candidate, every one of them has interest in and desire to help education. Perhaps that is the reason Utah ranks first in the nation with legislator visits to the classroom. Each year Utah legislators visit public schools in the state as part of the Legislators Back to School Program.
Classroom visits by legislators is not a new idea and has been occurring for years. In 2000, however, the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) launched a nationally organized program for schools visits
. Originally the program was scheduled for a week in mid-September to coincide with the anniversary of the passage of the Constitution of the Untied States. Age appropriate materials are made available for legislators to use in teaching classes on the Constitution of the United States and our form of government. The legislative visits program is now expanded to cover the whole school year.
For the past several years a resolution
has been introduced in the Utah Legislature by the Chair of the Education Committee recognizing Utah’s Back to School Program. Legislators often speak in support of the resolution wanting to share their stories of visits to schools. There has never been one dissenting vote on the resolution. After the resolution is passed, every principal and district superintendent receives a letter from legislative leadership encouraging them to invite legislators into their school classrooms. Data on visits are gathered from each state and sent to NCSL at the end of the school year. In the 2005-2006 school year, 220 schools in Utah were visited and 18,000 students participated in discussions and classes with legislators. These classroom visits are in addition to legislators meeting with school boards, meetings with parent organizations, and individual teachers.
Other tax-supported entities are also desirous of legislative visits. Law enforcement invites legislators to do ride alongs, the judiciary invites us to attend court, the prison invites us to visit, the social service workers want to have us review the case loads with them, the state parks folks want us to visit the parks - and so it is with each government entity. We are, however, a lay legislature. Legislators cannot accept all these important invitations for visits. Everyone does what they can – but every legislator tries to prioritize visits to the schools.
Legislators do not always wait for classroom invitations, and many of them have been involved with the schools before they were elected. To show support and appreciation for the teachers of my children when they were in grade school, I was a classroom volunteer, and went to the school every Tuesday for 12 years. I am so pleased to note the number of volunteers in our classrooms.
Once again, legislators are grateful for dedicated and competent teachers. The Legislator’s Back to School Program is a delightful opportunity for teachers and legislators to spend time together with students.