Utah governor welcomes Magna students back to school, talks career goals, teacher pay

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox sits next to sixth grader Kevon Milo while visiting Magna Elementary School in Magna on Friday.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox sits next to sixth grader Kevon Milo while visiting Magna Elementary School in Magna on Friday. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)


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MAGNA — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox stood near the doorway of the sixth-grade classroom at Magna Elementary School, welcoming all 20-plus students who entered with a high-five.

"What's up, bro bro?" one of the students asked as he passed Cox — quite the casual greeting for a governor.

These interactions were the first part of Cox welcoming students and their first-year teacher, Karl Wegener, back to school.

Amid the typical classroom sounds of soft chatter, electric pencil sharpeners, pencils gliding across paper and the crinkling of plastic wrap that once preserved the bagels students were served for breakfast, Cox worked his way from desk to desk, helping the students with a worksheet that asked them to distinguish between proper and regular nouns.

After the students had some time to work on their assignment — with some one-on-one help from Cox — they asked the governor some questions, ranging from what Cox does to help Magna Elementary School, to what his "real name" is.

"We have schools all across the state and it takes a lot of money to run the schools, right?" Cox told the students. "We have to pay to keep the lights on. We pay teachers. We have to buy the materials in here. So I work with the Legislature to make sure that we get money that people pay in taxes that then come back to the schools so that we can fund our schools and keep our schools open and give you the very best education."

As for his real name?

"Spencer James Cox is my real name ... great question," Cox said.

Later, Cox got to ask some questions of his own, including what career aspirations some of the students have — noting it's fine if they don't yet know, adding that they "really can do anything you put your mind to."

One student said he wanted to be an NFL player.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox talks to sixth graders while visiting Magna Elementary School in Magna on Friday.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox talks to sixth graders while visiting Magna Elementary School in Magna on Friday. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

"I wanted to be an NBA player — didn't work out really well for me, but that's awesome. Keep pursuing that dream," Cox replied.

Another said that she wanted to be an engineer.

"We need more engineers right now than just about anything else in the state. You can make a lot of money being an engineer right now, so, good stuff. I love that," Cox said.

Cox closed his classroom visit by expressing the importance of teachers and that he hopes some of the students will want to become teachers someday.

"This is something I talk about everywhere I go. We need more teachers and we need awesome teachers," Cox said. "We have the best teachers in the world right here in Utah, and right here in this elementary school. And so I hope some of you someday will want to come back and teach kids just like you."

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox talks with Magna Elementary School principal Benjamin Peters while visiting Magna Elementary School in Magna on Friday.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox talks with Magna Elementary School principal Benjamin Peters while visiting Magna Elementary School in Magna on Friday. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

One key factor in attracting more high-quality teachers? Increasing their pay.

The Utah Legislature in January passed HB215, which created a state-funded scholarship program allowing eligible parents to use $8,000 for private school, homeschooling or other private educational options.

The bill, which also established a $6,000 compensation increase for educators, was controversial because it tied the educator supplement to the choice scholarship, which is a significant change in education policy.

Cox said while he was happy with that step, his administration "absolutely is" thinking about how he can work to increase teacher compensation.

"We'll continue to look at where we rank with the rest of the country. We know we're definitely lower on the per-pupil spending, we understand that but where are we on the teacher scale?" Cox said. "We've actually been climbing now. We're middle to the top end of the pack and we're headed that direction. We want to keep doing that. Just like any other industry in the state, if you want the very best in that industry you have to pay them and compensate them and that's what we're looking for. We need the very best teachers and we need more of them."

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Logan Stefanich is a reporter with KSL.com, covering southern Utah communities, education, business and tech news.

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