Tuesday, September 05, 2006

utah's schools need help

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend (thanks, Labor). I certainly did. Taking a break from blogging and catching up on family, friends and pop culture certainly was nice.

Today I spotted an article in the Deseret Morning News about a school building a yurt. And while the article is supposed to be about how cool this school is, complete with trips to Mexico and Washington DC, the fact that there isn't enough space for all the children in most Utah schools is the real story.
The circular, tent-like building will serve as an addition to the Walden School of Liberal Arts — it's cheaper than a portable classroom — while the administrators continue to raise money for a new building on 2 1/2 acres on University Avenue that they purchased for $560,000.
School administrators would like a 20,000-square-foot building by next school year, but they are discussing financing options. "We don't know if it will be ready," school director Diana West said. "It's looking less and less likely."

Charter schools often face the utter lack of a building, while normal public schools face inadaquate space.
The Beehive State has the nation's biggest classes, with an average teacher-to-student ratio of 1-to-23 students. The national average is 1-to-15.6. Teachers say those ratios don't do the problem justice: Those in big school districts say high schools can have 40 or more students per class.

And parents agree: a Dan Jones poll conducted mid-August showed that "82 percent of Davis County residents said their schools were overcrowded, with 78 percent in Salt Lake County, 79 percent in Utah County and 72 percent in Weber County answering the same way. Elsewhere in Utah, 70 percent of residents said their classrooms are crowded."

Even 39%--a plurality--said we should definity raise taxes to pay for reducing overcrowding, and 43% in another question said the surplus should go to schools. Yet what did the legislature do this session? Spend billions on bonds for construction of roads canals and the like that won't even begin for years to come. And what does Jon Huntsman Jr. want to do with any budget surplus? Create a tax break for the super rich.

I was blessed to be able to attend a school in Utah with small class sizes from pre-k to 12th grade, but the only place to find that is a private school. Even small towns now band together to create large schools.

If Democrats take back Congress this fall, then help will be on the way. House Democrats in the past have sought to give local government's favorable school construction/repair/remodeling loans, and I am sure they would propose to do so in the future. The same goes for teacher training and recruitment programs, which would forgive student loans for those who decide to teach primary and secondary school for a couple years.

Certainly, the fact that Utah has more of its population under 15 than any other state in the nation, and that Utah is also one of the poorer states doesn't help matters. But we as a state shouldn't be making the situation worse by giving new tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy and buying more roads we shouldn't build. [We need to make our urban areas more compact and more public transit accessable to reduce traffic] I urge parents to talk to their legislators who are asking for their votes this November to promise them to make reducing class sizes and overcrowding the number one priority for them next session.

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