Fact Checking HB131, the Public Education Modernization Act

In recent interviews and committee hearings, House Speaker Becky Lockhart and HB131’s sponsor, Rep. Francis Gibson, have declared their massive education-technology expansion plan the future of Utah education. According to the two, it’s the one-size-fits-all solution.

Since education-technology expansion is not a new concept–it’s been around for over a decade–I decided to do some fact checking. Unfortunately, I found the data to be inconclusive.

The fact is, there are no facts. It’s simply a large bag of mixed results. Some schools and school districts have had success, others not so much. There have been no widespread or long-term studies.

In fairness though, I have defaulted to Speaker Lockhart and Rep. Gibson’s informational Holy Grail, Project Red.

Project Red is an organization aimed at infusing technology into education. Thomas Greaves, the Chairman of Project Red, testified in favor of HB131 at last week’s House Education Committee hearing. According to Greaves, the studies his organization has conducted suggest that one-to-one learning device initiatives have had a positive impact on multiple facets of education.

But here is the catch. These types of initiatives only work when they are “properly implemented.”

Okay. I can agree with all of that. But here’s my question: How much does a “properly implemented” education-technology initiative cost?

Speaker Lockhart and Rep. Gibson have asked for $200 million up front to fund HB131. In addition, Speaker Lockhart has acknowledged that it would cost another $300 million per year to maintain.

Should we be concerned about a program that costs more to maintain than to implement?

For Utah to keep up with its average increase of 10,000 new students per year, while raising per-pupil spending, improving teacher-to-student ratios, and then upgrading technology infrastructure every 6-7 years, replacing learning devices every 3-4 years, and providing continual teacher development and training, it’s going to need more than $300 million annually. To “properly implement” HB131, the numbers will undoubtedly amount to more than advertised.

But don’t expect any real numbers anytime soon from Speaker Lockhart or Rep. Gibson. They have successfully dodged all budget-related questions, with Rep. Gibson at times appearing defiant during last week’s House Education Committee hearing. “Won’t touch the money issue, will not go there,” he said.

There is also no guarantee that Utah will be successful at pulling this thing off, no other state has. When poised with this possibility, Speaker Lockhart said, “If it’s not working, we try something else.

Wow.

If lawmakers do pass Speaker Lockhart’s legacy bill, we will all be left to inevitably agree with the words of Tom Greaves, Chairman of Project Red, “Hopefully Utah is [the] one” that is successful.

HB131, the Public Education Modernization Act, has passed through the House Education Committee and has moved onto the House.

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