Last week the state's top education official, Superintendent Brad Smith, scandalized more than a few good Utahns by paraphrasing Barry ("Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice") Goldwater in a speech to the Utah Taxpayers Association. He told the approving audience that state educators, parents and politicians should just get over their obsession with the fact that our state generally sits at the bottom of any list measuring per-pupil spending.
Utah public school students still get the smallest chunk of government education funding in the country. A report released by the U.S. Census Bureau Tuesday ranked the state's 2013 per-student spending -- $6,555 a year -- at the bottom of the heap for U.S. states. The analysis found that per-student spending increased by nearly 1 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2013, to an average of $10,700. But Utah's per-student funding earned a ranking of 51st -- behind all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
If we want an education system that cultivates innovation, then we must create a culture where teachers are encouraged to be innovative and free to excite their students to be constant learners. It starts by policymakers doing for education what former Motorola Chairman Robert W. Galvin advised: "Leaders must have the courage to take a risk and believe in the abilities of the people in their organization ... Leaders must establish an environment in which workers feel respected and valued."
For me personally, I was proud to stand with the Utah PTA, the Utah School Boards Association, the Utah Education Association, the Utah School Superintendents Association and the hundreds of individuals these groups represent, to advocate for the educational needs of our children.To those of you who stood by our children by writing your legislators, sending words of encouragement or participating in the rally, "Thank You!"
Even State Superintendent Brad Smith -- a lawyer, not a teacher, by training -- took a cheap shot at teachers and their friends by petulantly dismissing a Capitol rally in support of the governor's plan as the behavior of petulant toddlers.
Cracks like that don't help.
Smith, most of all, should be creating an atmosphere where the teachers and administrators who do the unfathomably difficult work of trying to educate children of all social, economic and ethnic backgrounds are treated as full and respected partners in a job that is not only the most important task of government, but of the whole of society.
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