clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


In Carolyn Tidwell's fifth-grade class at Brookwood Elementary School, there are 32 students and 19 English books. Even fifth-grade math students know that doesn't come out even, so during class some kids must share.

The school also has many aging books that are dogeared, doodled on and dated. In some academic areas, teachers are limited in their ability to send homework home with students because of the limited number of textbooks, Tidwell said.And Brookwood, a Jordan District school, is not a glaring exception - just one of many Utah schools that report shortages of textbooks and supplies.

Determining the scope of the problem among Utah's schools is a concern for the State Office of Education, said Bruce Griffin, associate state superintendent.

The office has undertaken a survey of all 40 school districts to learn how pervasive and how serious shortages are, Griffin told members of the Education Interim Committee of the Legislature.

The survey will provide the state office with meaningful information that can be "translated into possible action," he said.

The surveys were to be returned to the office by next week, and staff will spend the next couple of months analyzing the data, Griffin said. He expects to return to the interim committee, probably in August, with results.

What the office already knows is that except for Idaho, Utah spends less per child for textbooks than any other state in the West.

Figures from the Association of American Publishers showed that in the period from 1982 to 1987, Wyoming spent an average $43.88 per student to top nine western states. Utah, at $20.90 per pupil, was next to last - ranking ahead of only Idaho, which spent $19.13, the publishers' statistics showed. The other states, in order of ranking, were Arizona, $40.17; New Mexico, $40.13; Montana, $36.55; Nevada, $33.02; Colorado, $32.51; and California, $27.46. (The publishers' figure is higher than Utah's because some districts supplement their state appropriation from other sources.)

Nationally, the District of Columbia made the greatest expenditure at $64.71 in 1987, publishers' data show.

Although Utah's per-student figure is low, the state spends a comparable percentage of its education budget on textbooks as the other states, Griffin said. Utah has the lowest per-pupil expenditure overall among the Western states.

Districts are required to spend not less than 4 percent of their basic budgets on educational supplies, including books, library materials, periodicals, teaching supplies, audiovisual and laboratory materials, computer software and other items. Some districts dip into other sources, if they are available, to increase expenditures for textbooks and supplies.

Wear and tear and the rapidly changing content of textbooks often make books quickly obsolete - particularly in science areas, where new information is accumulating at an enormous rate, said Bonnie Morgan, curriculum specialist in the state office.

"Books change with new educational approaches and reflect new research in their fields," she said.

The average lifespan of a textbook is approximately six years. In study areas where the books get more intensive use, such as reading, math and science, the replacement periods may be shorter.

Morgan said 21 states now have statewide adoption and funding cycles for school texts, an option Utah may want to consider. Most Utah districts try to maintain such cycles, she said.

Sen Lorin N. Pace, R-Salt Lake, suggested that an entirely separate funding mechanism may be desirable, with an independent mill levy for textbooks and supplies. At any rate, the funding should be stabilized, he said, to prevent the periodic need for supplemental appropriations.

Brookwood Principal Brent Palmer said the supplemental boosts - in 1985-86 and again this year - "have virtually saved our lives." The money made available this year has allowed him to replace some dated math books and start a new reading program in his school that he had anticipated would take three years.

The rapidly rising cost of textbooks and other school supplies is a significant factor in the problem. The average elementary reading text, including a companion workbook, now costs $31.58 per student. While the texts can be used for several years, workbooks must be replaced for each new group of students. In some schools, the workbook materials are being duplicated on copy machines to save money.

Elementary science texts average $16.57; math books, $14.41

The costs rise with the sophistication of the material. In junior high school, the average cost of a textbook is $18.27 and in high school, $20.27. Some can approach $60 each, Griffin said.

Because of the $23 price of new Utah history textbooks, Palmer said, he was able to buy only 30.



Textbook/supply expenditures in Utah:

Year Spent per student *Average text cost

Elementary High School

1983-84 $17.97 $6.49 $14.86

1984-85 21.35 6.49 15.73

1985-86 25.19 8.07 l8.57

1986-87 19.34 8.41 19.00

1987-88 18.47 9.85 20.81

*Average costs in Utah, based on an elementary reading book and a high school history book.