SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert called on state education leaders Thursday to “quit the fighting” and unite behind a long-term strategic plan for education.
At the monthly meeting of the governor's Education Excellence Commission, Herbert noted that lawmakers in the 2015 Utah Legislature introduced more than 150 pieces of legislation related to education.
"That seems to me a lot," Herbert said to laughs. "We are, in fact, not united in our efforts on education. We are very, in fact, divided."
The governor formed the Education Excellence Commission in 2010 in an attempt to bring together leaders in public education, higher education and charter schools to implement long-range education reform and planning.
Over the past 18 months, the commission has been developing a 10-year strategic planning guide meant to achieve the governor's goal of making Utah the best-performing education system in the U.S.
Herbert, during a discussion about a draft version of the 10-year plan, said stakeholders need to work together to resolve tensions between those who advocate for local control and those who would like to see a unified state strategy to deal with education issues.
"It's going to be everybody kind of working together," Herbert said. "And some of it’s just an attitudinal thing. We’re going to quit the fighting. We’re going to quit being offended when somebody comes up with a new idea, and we’re going to say, 'You know what? Let me consider it. Let me listen.'"
The 10-year roadmap was expected to be completed in the fall of 2015, according to Tami Pyfer, the governor’s education adviser. But she said it took longer than expected to get consensus on the main strategies.
Pyfer said the commission now has “solid consensus” on the four main strategies: supporting early learning, strengthening educators, ensuring equity, and promoting postsecondary education.
Pyfer said the difficult part is now putting together specific action plans and finding funding.
At the commission meeting, Herbert noted that only a few options exist to raise new revenue for education to fund a long-range plan: “We can raise taxes, we can grow the economy, or we can reprioritize taking from one bucket of money and put it into another bucket of money," he said.
“Probably all of the above are going to be necessary to get what we have to have,” the governor added.
In his proposed budget unveiled Wednesday, Herbert called for what will add up to $425 million in new ongoing revenues over two years for public schools and $108 million for higher education.
That means a majority of new ongoing revenue — about 79 percent — will be going to education, according to the governor’s office.
Herbert's proposal would raise the total state spending on public education to $3.4 billion, including a 4 percent increase in the weighted pupil unit, a mechanism for funding schools.
The governor's goal, set in 2015, is to invest $1 billion in new ongoing funding into K-12 education and an additional $275 million in higher education over the next five years.
Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, said the 4 percent weighted pupil unit increase falls short of what will be necessary to support schools in light of the teacher shortage.
But she said she is hopeful that Herbert’s 10-year plan will provide opportunity to infuse more money into education.
“He’s challenging it head on,” Matthews said. “I’m so pleased that the governor’s leading out on trying to unite that vision. We need to stop fighting amongst ourselves and get behind this plan, get agreement across the board, and then move on it.”
David Crandall, chairman of the Utah State Board of Education, said he was disappointed to see some items not funded in the governor’s budget proposal, such as a new building for the Utah School for Deaf and Blind.
He said the board would continue to work with the Legislature on funding requests.
Crandall added that it is “always a challenge” to get consensus on educational strategies among stakeholders.
“I think (the governor’s) right,” he said. “And I think he’s probably uniquely positioned from his office to bring groups together and to find common ground, and actually create more of that unified effort in advancing education.”
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