Class size reduction funding, the crown jewel of the education budget proposed by Republican legislative leaders, had better produce results or at least one Utah County lawmaker will move to rescind enhanced funding in successive years.
"This is a $30 million gamble we're going to make. Don't waste the money," Rep. Jeff Alexander, R-Provo, warned state education officials and representatives of the Utah Education Association Wednesday."If you waste it, I'll make sure we won't put it back on ongoing funding," said Alexander, co-chairman of the Legislature's education appropriation committee.
The 1996 Legislature is proposing spending $52 million on class reduction, adding $30 million to the $22 million already earmarked for the effort. Lawmakers have proposed to spend an additional $500 million over the next decade to lower class size in elementary schools.
Other lawmakers criticized a plan to allocate funds based on school districts' average daily membership.
"We shouldn't just distribute this money equally," said Rep. Kelly Atkinson, D-West Jordan. "I want to see it spent where it can do the most good. Let's put it where we have the highest class size."
Sen. Craig Taylor, R-Kaysville, co-sponsor of the bill, agreed that the distribution formula could be refined as HB235 moves through the legislative process.
Others, such as Sen. Dave Watson, R-St. George, questioned if research supported spending $30 mil-lion more this year to cut class sizes in grades K-3 to emphasize reading instruction.
"Our analyst puts in $30 million and gives us four pages (of educational research) how it doesn't work," said Watson. "What have we got ourselves caught in?"
Watson proposed reducing the additional $30 million appropriation by $2 million. The motion failed.
Legislative fiscal analyst Mike Kjar said the information provided to legislators on class size represents the latest research on the subject. In part, the packet indicates that a targeted use of the money is most effective. Further, smaller classes are most beneficial in reading and mathematics at the elementary level.
State Superintendent Scott Bean said class size has a demonstrable impact on student achievement, particularly reading. "The success of any student will depend basically on reading ability."