Legislative session begins Monday with bold education goals

January 26, 2014
Author: By Deanie Wimmer | KSL.com

SALT LAKE CITY — Starting Monday, the next 45 days are going to be important to Utah schoolchildren. State lawmakers begin the legislative session by funding and passing policies for Utah schools.

Utahns have heard it before, but there are three things that make it more likely this year. One, the state has some money. Two, lawmakers seem more willing to take on bold policies and three, business and community leaders are rallying behind education.

Parents of students attending Utah schools said the amount of teachers, class sizes and funding are among their top concerns.

Education is also the top priority of the state lawmakers, and pushing Utah schools to the top of the legislative agenda, this year, are a set of education ‘ABC's.’

'A' is for all in. Business, community leaders, even a few thousand volunteer tutors are coming together to improve schools and third-grade reading.

"It seems like this interest that has always been there is coming together in a more focused way," said Bill Crim of the United Way.

'B' is for bold lawmakers.

"I would say there is a 100 percent chance our money will go to education,” Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart said.

Lawmakers state their predictions and take on bold measures, like Sen. Pat Jones' bill that would bring hundreds of millions of dollars to education by reducing the number of income tax exemptions people can claim for raising children.

“Many families are paying no income tax, which, of course, funds our public education system, so I think it's a matter of fairness," Jones said.

'C' is children under 12. Many of the high-profile bills this year would benefit them.

Like a bill that would fund high-quality public preschool. Advocates said every dollar spent here, saves $10 down the road.

“Really, high-quality preschool that focuses on helping kids catch up, that kind of preschool virtually guarantees every child will be school ready no matter economic background they come from,” Crim said.

Another bill would give elementary schools the funding and option to extend their school day.

“What we would like to see, more than anything, is to provide the opportunity for the full-day kindergarten program,” Bennion Elementary principal James Yapias said.

The next several weeks will determine a lot for the 600,000 Utah students and their families.

“We really need to look at what we are doing, and if we really want our state to be a really great state,” Jones said. “Not a pretty great state, a great state. Then, we need to invest in public education.”

One thing to keep in mind, even if big money does come from the Capitol, much of it will go to fund new students. More than 10,000 Utah students enter schools this fall. That is enough to fill half of EnergySolutions Arena. So it will take a lot, just to keep up.

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Jerilyn Stowe
Vice President of Marketing & Communication
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