Education is everybody's business - especially in Utah where it's one of the biggest businesses in the state. Appropriately, Gov. Mike Leavitt has made education one of the top three priority items in his 1995 budget.
Leavitt's education budget is the largest in history. At $1.7 billion, it includes increases for teacher raises, $18 million for technology, more Centennial Schools, smaller fourth-grade classes in all schools and expanded budgets for applied technology centers - all excellent uses for taxpayers' money.But the highlight of the budget proposal is a $5.2 million plan to reduce class sizes dramatically in 40 to 60 disadvantaged elementary schools. The governor's idea is to give at-risk children a better chance to break a growing cycle of academic and social problems that too often results in violence and crime.
It's a well-thought-out plan that goes to the heart of what education should do and too often doesn't - giving children a sense of self-worth and accomplishment that eventually helps make them productive citizens. The proposal recognizes that many larger social problems begin with children whose potential is ignored or destroyed both at home and at school.
Increasing domestic violence and gang activity can be traced to instability at home. Schools can't substitute for the family, but in smaller classrooms, teachers can have more of an impact in children's lives, improving academic performance and self-esteem.
In proposing to help a relatively small number of children who are desperately in need, Leavitt shows courage and vision. Many politicians would favor diverting the money to more middle-of-the-road schools. But diluting the same funds by spreading them over a larger group of students, ostensibly to lower class sizes, would have little measurable effect except to mollify higher-income constituents.
If the program is approved and continued as Leavitt recommends, its long-term effects are not likely to show up for years. Targeting what Leavitt calls "highly impacted schools" could very well bring about some real improvements over the long run.
Investing in the future isn't a popular concept for many politicians who like to point to immediate results, but it should be - and it appears to be in Leavitt's education budget.