The eagerness to concentrate on money matters overshadowed several significant education reform proposals contained in Gov. Norm Bangerter's recent budget address.
The governor's proposals, which will show up in legislative proposals for the upcoming session, include:- Discussion of local taxing options that would generate more state support for districts willing to raise property taxes for education.
- More local control of how education funds are spent.
- Requirements for more accountability for schools to the state and to the public.
- A process that would allow individuals who did not attend education courses in college to receive alternative certification so they could teach in Utah schools.
- A fund to reward 10 Utah schools to the tune of $10,000 each for stretching their efforts.
Bangerter suggested that Utahns who say they are willing to support greater funding for education "put their money where their mouth is" by voting for increased local taxes. In return, he said, the state would increase its support for those districts.
Only two districts - Salt Lake and Park City - come close to using the entire 10 mills of voted leeway allowed by the state to enrich education financing. Only 20 districts have voted any part of the 10 mills. The state now offers $20 per weighted pupil unit (the basic per-child state contribution to education) for the first two mills of voted leeway. The state would double that to cover the first four mills in districts that increased local taxes.
Bangerter said he will "consider a request from educators for a locally board-controlled leeway program within the currently allowed 10-mill ceiling."
The governor also wants to expand the block grant program that unties state strings from some categories of funding. Six districts now are in the second year of a proposed three-year pilot of the concept. Some critics say premature involvement of other districts in the program will destroy the value of the pilot project. The six pilot districts have been positive in their reports about the expanded local control of education spending.
At the same time, the governor has proposed making direct allocations of some education funds to districts, rather than having them funneled through the State Office of Education. The districts then would contract with the state office for desired services, he said.
Unnecessary administrative costs could be eliminated through this process, Bangerter said.
No specific details have been proposed, but the governor, in his speech, called for education leaders at state and local levels to work out a plan before the Legislature ends its 1990 session.
Bangerter, who has taken a strong pro-local control position, believes more local decision-making authority must be balanced with an increase in accountability.
He is calling for Utah's participation in a national assessment program _ a move that has been resisted by the State Office of Education - an increase in statewide testing of the core curriculum, and publishing of school-by-school comparisons.
If the Legislature appropriates the $100,000 he has requested for recognition, the governor will establish a committee and invite all schools to compete on the basis of improvement. Applicants would be judged on progress, not on current excellence alone, so all schools would have a chance at the $10,000 awards, said Colleen Colton, the governor's education aide.
Alternative routes to the classroom already are available in Utah to a degree, Colton said, but the governor wants to increase the potential for getting capable people into teaching positions. He proposes a one-year internship for would-be teachers who have not completed the prescribed college courses in education. He also envisions expanded use of paraprofessionals in schools, under the direct supervision of teachers.
There is some resistance to increasing the number of uncertified teachers in Utah classrooms. Alternative certification has been used primarily in states experiencing teacher shortages, opponents say, and Utah has no such shortage.
Debate already has begun on some of the items in the governor's proposed school reform agenda, and others will certainly come up during the Legislature's winter session.