Audit: Class-reduction effort needs more money

Audit: Class-reduction effort needs more money

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's schools are properly using money earmarked to reduce class sizes, but lawmakers still aren't providing enough to keep up with rising enrollment, according to an audit released Tuesday.

Legislators have grumbled for years that they don't get enough credit for trying to create smaller classes. They set aside $70 million for the effort in 2006, up from $56 million in 2000.

The audit found that most school districts don't track how the money is spent, but those that do are using it to hire teachers.

The report said class sizes haven't been reduced since 2000 because lawmakers only have provided enough money to continue to pay teachers hired that year, the last year there was a significant increase in spending.

Under state law, money set aside for class-size reduction must be spent to reduce student-teacher ratios greater than 18-to-1. Utah has a ratio of 22.6 students per teacher, according to the Utah Office of Education. The national average is 15.8 per teacher.

Utah spends less per student than any other state and has the nation's largest class sizes.

An audit was ordered after lawmakers questioned whether the money was being spent on administrators' salaries and other programs.

In four of the six years reviewed, there was a decrease in the number of teachers supported by money to reduce class sizes, the audit said. Analysts estimated that only two additional teachers have been hired since 2000 as a result of class-size reduction funding.

"Essentially, for the last six years funds functioned as maintenance funding rather than providing for new class-size reduction efforts," the audit said.

A reason why the money has failed to meet the goal: Average teacher salaries and benefits have increased at about the same rate as the money intended to reduce class sizes, the audit found. The increases were described as reasonable.

If lawmakers want to reduce class sizes beyond what they did in 2000, they will need to increase funding, the audit said.

The audit said the Legislature should review whether charter schools should automatically get money because many already have class sizes lower than the state average.

State Superintendent Patti Harrington hopes the report gets the attention of lawmakers. "It will take strong determination and a large, sustained infusion of funding tied to enrollment growth to reach the national class size average," Harrington wrote in response to the audit.

She said smaller classes are important if Utah wants to attract teachers and improve student achievement.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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