Friday, May 30, 2008

Investing in Kids Part 1

Yesterday, the Utah Foundation released a new report entitled “What Can $3,702 Buy: How Utah Compares in Education Spending and Services.” It’s a great read for anyone interested in the future of public education in Utah. (Okay, it is a bit long, so you might want to start with the Executive Summary.) Although most of us know that Utah’s per-pupil spending is the lowest in the nation, the new report looks at more than just the spending, revealing the true cost to our students. Utah Foundation President, Stephen Kroes, summed it up in an interview with the Deseret News:

"Having larger class sizes, lower-paid teachers, fewer librarians, larger school districts, and higher student-to-staff ratios in almost every category are indications of schools adapting to low resource levels. . . . But by merely getting by within these constraints, our schools do not appear to be poised for excellence.",5143,700230217,00.html?pg=1
In fact, a comparison between Utah and states with similar populations reveals that our low funding effort correlates with lower student performance. From the report:

Utah Foundation’s report “School Testing Results, 2006 & 2007” found that Utah is scoring well below what would be expected for a state with its demographic profile. Utah Foundation identified significantly lower spending levels as a possible contributing factor. Certainly below a specific threshold, spending could be an important constraint on student achievement. In addition, although most people agree that the primary objective of schooling is academic achievement, parents and the public also value other educational outcomes not measured by standardized tests (such as civic virtue, creativity, critical thinking or social skills) as well as certain institutional qualities of the education system (such as responsiveness to parents). These also might be detrimentally affected by Utah’s lower spending levels.
So, while lower spending is sometimes considered to be a sign of fiscal restraint, and can also reflect efficient management, we must be aware of the “specific threshold,” below which we short-change our students.

The new report provides great information, and I hope it will become the basis for many productive discussions on how we can improve the educational opportunities for all Utah’s students. I’ll be addressing some of the specifics in the report in the upcoming days and weeks. I hope you’ll join the discussion.

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