Public education is one of the perennial focal points for the legislative session. This year’s session is no exception. Gov. Gary Herbert has allocated $261 million in his 2014-2015 budget proposal to increase education spending. That increase will go to pay for the additional 10,300 new students expected to enter Utah’s schools this year, as well as a small 2.5 percent increase in per-pupil spending.
Utah’s education system is currently ranked 38th nationally; we’re dead last in per-pupil spending.
There’s always a lot of talk, but not a lot of action on education issues.
To the credit of Utah lawmakers, this year they are actually trying to do something. Currently there are two bills, SB111 and SB118, working their way through the legislature aimed at increasing the amount of tax revenue generated for education spending.
But what I have found shocking and almost comical is the huge debate surrounding House Speaker Becky Lockhart’s massive education-technology spending plan.
The Public Education Modernization Act, or HB131, calls for a one-to-one ratio that would provide every student with their own technology learning device. The plan comes with a hefty $200 million price tag. Lockhart has alluded that this price tag, as well as its sources of funding, are merely placeholders, subject to change. She has said that “everything is on the table and that there are no sacred cows,” telling lawmakers that they should “try not to be so focused on the money.”
So how much money are we talking about?
A draft report from the Governor’s Education Excellence Commission claims the costs could skyrocket as high as $750 million the first year and $300 million a year after that.
That’s a lot of money.
In a state that is already struggling to fund public education, spending $750 million on luxury goods is simply absurd. On top of the $261 million already allocated by the Governor to simply keep up with the cost of public education growth, where is this money supposed to come from?
Medicaid? Transportation? Air quality measures?
The state simply cannot afford to implement Lockhart’s legacy bill. But even if those types of funds were available, there are more important issues to address than buying every single student in Utah an iPad.
Instead, why don’t we hire more teachers to address Utah’s 21.9 student-to-teacher ratio, the second highest in the nation?
In its simplest form, education will always boil down to personal interactions. Speaker Lockhart’s use of technology is merely a power word for her political platform. Good teachers will always be the best means of inspiring and guiding students. You simply can’t take the human factor out of education. The real key to impacting education is to hire great teachers and empower them to do their jobs.