Utah school districts that may be sued over school-prayer issues deserve the support of the governor's office, the Legislature and the State Board of Education, said Gov. Norm Bangerter.
The governor said he will request a one-time supplemental appropriation to help those districts that face high court costs to fight "the unnecessary and burdensome suits."Bangerter spoke Thursday to members of the Legislature's Interim Education Committee, the State Board of Education and State Board of Regents. The three groups are holding their annual summer information session at Southern Utah State College.
Bangerter said the American Civil Liberties Union, which has said it will sue up to a half dozen Utah school districts, is challenging a standard that has been in practice for 200 years. The issue should go to the courts, he said, for resolution.
"I do not believe that the precious and scarce resources of our education system, monies that were intended for textbooks and teachers, should be diverted to pay the legal costs to defend schools and districts from attacks from the ACLU," he said.
ACLU Executive Director Michele A. Parrish-Pixler said the ACLU has tried very hard to keep the issue out of the courts. "I find it very regrettable and troublesome that the governor would squander taxpayer money this way. Most of what we are concerned about has already been clearly decided by the courts."
She added that the ACLU's involvement in the issue of school prayer comes at the behest of students, parents and teachers who believe they have been subjected to discrimination.
"That's what we are talking about is discrimination and prejudice. It's not something we have gotten into for a lark," she said.
On another topic, the governor said that reform and restructuring are facts of life for all segments of America and education cannot be exempted. Such world events as the decline of socialism will affect American markets and ultimately will affect jobs even in Utah.
"We are all caught up in a wave of change whether we know it or not and whether we like it or not."
In visits to 27 Utah counties this year, Bangerter said, he heard three distinct messages. He said Utahns want school improvement, reduced taxes and a reduction in government waste. He suggested that those objectives are contradictory because improved education may cost money.
He predicted that Americans will see their federal taxes rise without any decrease in the federal deficit. He said national leaders are not dealing with their problems - just passing the buck.
Utah faces its own financial crisis if the proposed ballot initiative to remove the sales tax on food succeeds, Bangerter said. A projected $50 million surplus for fiscal 1990 could grow by $10 million or more, but would not provide the state with any real excess.
He said Utah has a backlog of needs that could easily absorb a budget surplus several times that large. He asked the education and legislative leaders to help educate the public about the potential negative impact of the sales tax reduction.
Bangerter also enlisted support from the education community for a Utah Education Summit to be held sometime in November to determine how the state will respond to the educational goals outlined by the president in his national summit last year. He said Utah must decide its own course of action regarding these goals.
A task force will be assembled to prepare Utah's Education Summit program.
A change in education is agonizingly slow, Bangerter said, but "for the sake of our many students we cannot afford to agonize too long."