Influential stories of 2010: Education funding in Utah


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SALT LAKE CITY -- 2010 was a tumultuous year for education. Budget cuts forced educators to teach more students with less money; and for the first time, research showed the strain of growth and funding may finally be taking its toll.

Thousands of new students with millions of fewer dollars and money saving proposals that left some people aghast--like the one from a Utah legislator to eliminate the 12th grade.

Sen. Chris Buttars, (R) West Jordan, said, "There's too many taxes and we need to find a way to streamline government."

Individual school districts also took drastic measures to fill holes by cutting busing, cutting school days, laying off teachers and increasing class size. That last measure brought the breaking point for teachers in the Jordan School District, who threatened to picket community high schools.

Robin Frodge, Jordan Education Association President, said, "Utah already has the highest class size in the country. So for us to continually raise class size really continues to inhibit the ability of the teachers to run a quality program."

New research by the Utah Foundation suggested funding issues may finally be catching up to Utah. It challenged the widely held perception that even though we're last in the country for education funding, we're outperforming other states.

Stephen Kroes, with the Utah Foundation, said, "It turns out we're not performing as well as you might think when we're compared against states that are like Utah, because Utah isn't the average state."

The Utah Foundation compared Utah scores to those of demographically similar states, and in every category Utah was dead last or second to it.

The jobs stimulus bill President Obama signed into law offered some relief for cash-strapped schools. Utah would get $101 million.

That could potentially save the jobs of 1,800 teachers. Educators were relieved, but some republican legislators threatened to reject the money, likening it to crack cocaine.

Additional state money may be headed to schools as part of Gov. Herbert's proposed budget.

"We're going to add $50 million into the budget to help with the growth—14,000 new students plus coming into the education this year," Gov. Herbert said.

He's also proposed more money to extend all-day kindergarten, a program many educators believe is one of the best investments we could make.

Marsha Webster, a counselor at Woodrow Wilson Elementary, said, "Every dollar we spend on those kinds of things makes the dollar we spend on education in the classroom even better and more valuable."

Look for education funding to be a top issue during the upcoming Legislative session.

E-mail: dwimmer@ksl.com

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Nadine Wimmer

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