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The Legislature should move carefully in addressing problems with funding of the state's applied-technology centers. The centers' value to the Utah education system must not be compromised in an effort to distribute funds more equitably.

A legislative audit of the state's five technology centers and four other ATC regions that offer training in leased facilities has shown that some regions are underfunded and that some school districts are being "double funded" for students who attend high school and take ATC classes.Currently supervised by and financed through the State Office of Education, which runs the public-school system, the ATCs have evolved into well-equipped facilities that provide a vital level of training for youth and adults in technical and vocational fields.

During the past school year, the centers have served 20,319 students with a daily average of 1,392 students, among them displaced homemakers and others who want to enhance their skills or need training for new jobs.

Curricula are often tailored so students can be trained to fill specific jobs for local companies. Graduates of short-term or more extensive courses become part of Utah's acclaimed work force that helps attract new industry to the state. The centers represent practical education at its best.

The audit recommended that the Legislature consider alternative sources of funding for the program, create a comprehensive regional strategic plan to distribute money overseen by a state governing board, and reward institutions for how well they accomplish the goals for their students.

The ATC system was due for some scrutiny, and the audit accomplished its goal of identifying areas that should be reviewed and possibly changed. But the benefits of any changes should be weighed against possible harm to the ATC program.

School superintendents are understandably worried changes in funding might exclude some students from the program. Though lawmakers are troubled by the fact some school districts receive funds for students who attend classes both at a high school and at an applied-technology center, they should move cautiously.

A proven program that helps put trained Utahns into the job market deserves protection from overzealous lawmakers bent on making changes.