Monday, June 18, 2002

RE: Governor’s Call for Employers/Education Coalition
CONTACT: Howard Stephenson, President, 972-8814 (cell 815-6800)

Mike Jerman, Vice President, 972-8814 (cell 808-8814)

The Utah Taxpayers Association supports Governor Leavitt’s call for an Employers/Education Coalition to find long-term solutions to Utah’s education challenges. “We are hopeful that by bringing employers together to address the problems of education in Utah, we can improve the quality of Utah’s educational product,” said Howard Stephenson, President of the Association. “We agree with Governor Leavitt that employers must be viewed as customers of the education system.”

“More money has always been the historical solution for each new public education crisis,” Stephenson said, “And we realize that funding must be found to educate 100,000 new kids entering the system by the year 2010. But before any new funding sources are provided, taxpayers must be sure that the new money will not be used to simply continue the current lethargic, unresponsive administration of public education.”

The Taxpayers Association says it will work to see that: (1) public education administration shifts from the current monopolistic management style to the type of business management that has made America’s free enterprise system and higher education system the best in the world, (2) public education is subject to the power of the marketplace through consumer choice such as tuition tax credits, and (3) more candidates from the private sector are elected to the state and local school boards.

The Taxpayers Association presented a list of evidences that existing public school funds are not being used efficiently and that administration of public schools is not customer-oriented:

• Even though school district administration in Utah is far less top-heavy than the national average, funding is still not reaching the classroom where it is most needed. According to data from the Utah State Office of Education, only 54% of public school employees are classroom teachers, and this percentage has actually decreased over the past nine years from 56%.

• Utah’s pupil-teacher ratio is approximately twenty-to-one yet typical class sizes are thirty students or higher. This suggests that professional staffing in the classroom is not the priority it should be.

• Utah has increased per student spending well in excess of inflation yet student performance has not increased. Since 1989, Utah’s per student expenditures have increased 29% after adjusting for inflation and student growth, and pupil-teacher ratios have decreased. However, Utah’s scores on national tests such as NAEP and ACT have shown little or no improvement or in some cases have actually declined.

• The current public education system is unwilling to step up to the challenges of competition, as evidenced by the state and local school boards’ responses to charter schools. For example, Pinnacle Canyon Charter School in Helper receives less than 70% of the funding per student which Carbon County School District spends, yet Pinnacle has a waiting list of 180 students and has applied to the State School Board for permission to expand. Instead of taking on the competition with confidence and creating a superior education product, Carbon School District Superintendent and the school board have spent their energy complaining about the existence of Pinnacle, and trying to get the State School Board to reject Pinnacle’s application for expansion. “For an example of how private enterprise meets competition successfully even in a down market, see Dell Computer’s success story in the June 10, 2002 issue of Forbes Magazine.”

• Utah public schools are known nationally for having the most elaborate school buildings. While low-cost school construction is common in other states, Utah’s school buildings are typically architectural showcases. This attention to the school edifice is at the expense of the learning that goes on inside the schools.

The Taxpayers Association noted that countless task forces, audits, commissions, and alliances over the years have not solved our education problems because we have insulated education administration from the positive effects of competition. The group urged the organizers of the coalition to include successful education innovators including private school and charter school leaders.

The Utah Taxpayers Association believes a well-educated workforce is essential to sustained economic growth, business profitability and strong families. The Utah Taxpayers Association is unwavering in its commitment to improving education in Utah. However, it recognizes that education problems will not be solved by commissions and alliances that simply propose more money and cosmetic changes to a system that has not adequately responded to the increased funding it has received over the years. Meaningful reform is needed and will only be achieved when the public education management approach is changed and accountability is increased through expanded consumer choice.