Lawmakers should stop punching holes in Utah public schools, writes editorial board

It’s hard to have much faith in the ship you’re about to sail on when so many of her officers seem focused only on building more lifeboats.

Utah’s public schools have always had their issues and limitations, long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19. The universal educational woes of every new generation are amplified in Utah by the paltry amount of taxpayer support provided by the state, still among the lowest in the nation in terms of spending per student, and by the frequent attempts of those in power to undermine public support for public schools.

For many years now, elected leaders in Utah and elsewhere have attacked schools, teachers, and curricula for focusing too much on the needs of marginalized groups and not enough on building personal biases of too many parents.

But the real stakes are far too high to waste time scoring culture war points. We should not divert attention and resources from what schools are, training the next generation of workers, thinkers, creators, voters and citizens. All of this is made even more difficult at a time when there are more single-parent households, more students still learning to speak English, and students of all grades and income levels who have lost nearly two years of learning due to of a pandemic.

Instead of discussing critical race theory and a few books, we should focus on reducing class sizes, working with the right amount of technology, building students’ ability to write, work in groups, to make presentations, to speak other languages, to learn about their history and how their government works.

And this year, the Utah legislature is again looking for a trick to cut state funding for public schools by allowing parents to use state money to enroll their children in private school. Proponents of the scheme, called the Hope Scholarship Scheme, say it’s not the same idea as the school voucher scheme that was passed by the legislature and forcefully crushed in an election referendum in 2007.

And, while there are some differences, the new idea isn’t all that different from the old one. Of course, it’s not better. As before, this is a plan to trigger a migration of students – and taxpayers’ money – from public schools to private ones.

As noted in HB331, sponsors Rep. Candice Pierucci and Sen. Kirk Cullimore would allow parents to take a certain multiple of the current state weighted pupil unit – the allocation of state money a school receives for each student enrolled in a public or charter school – and to use this money for tuition fees in a private school or other educational institutions. for purposes such as textbooks or tutorials.

The amount each family could qualify for would depend on income and family size. But the argument that private schools might be more economical is destroyed by the fact that HB331 would give low-income families double the WPU allowance, and more moderate-income families 1.5 times the WPU.

The bill would kick off the program’s first year with $36 million from the state education fund and leave the door open to private contributions.

The fact is, even with Hope scholarships, or vouchers, or whatever they might offer, the vast majority of families in Utah will still rely on public schools to educate their children. Anything done to blunt the ability of these public schools to do their jobs therefore threatens the future of most families and our entire economy.

Parents in Utah already have the option of transferring their children to different public schools or to one of the many state-funded charter schools. A further push to give them yet another taxpayer-funded escape is not necessary unless it is to remove this cultural anchor from our communities.

Even if your children do not attend or attend public schools. Even if you don’t have children. The strength of our community and our economy depends in large measure on a strong public education system. Most of us know this, and more of us should tell our elected officials what we think.

Some choices and opportunities for experimentation are appropriate and, in Utah, available.

But those who seek to undermine the ability of public schools to fulfill their responsibilities, then watch in feigned amazement when those schools fail to rise to the challenge, are not helping.

About Wilhelmina Go

Check Also

In southern China, residents revolt against COVID-19 controls

Frustrated residents of the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou broke temporary barriers and marched through …