The recent article by John Florez in the Deseret News (“Business must walk the talk on education,” Nov. 7) calls attention to the complexity of education in Utah. The Prosperity Through Education plan supported by the Salt Lake Chamber, Education First and Prosperity 2020 is the first of its kind; a five-year plan to improve Utah's now average educational attainment. As business leaders, we do not believe “average” will keep Utah’s economy moving. We have stepped up to recommend a solution. This plan is the business community putting “skin in the game.”
First, Prosperity 2020 and Education First are privately funded business-led organizations working to improve Utah’s education. These business leaders have worked hard to create a plan that has not existed until now. The effort is supported by hundreds of volunteers giving thousands of hours of non-paid service to make education a top state priority. Virtually every state that has accomplished significant educational reform and increases in student achievement has done so with the leadership and support of the business community.
Future community prosperity is everyone’s concern and not of interest only to business. Securing a quality education means a future with greater access to well-paying jobs, benefiting the individual, the family and Utah. It is true that our businesses depend on a highly trained and a well-qualified workforce, but the idea that the plan is only self-serving is an incorrect and unfortunate assertion.
Second, the plan was not developed in isolation, nor without a great deal of collaboration. Development of the plan involved experts in public and higher education, superintendents of public instruction and several key leaders in the education community. We made collaboration, consultation and consensus key elements in producing this education plan.
Additionally, best practices documented from some of the nation’s best schools are in the plan. These best practices come from more than 250 key research documents footnoted in the plan. Scores of experts and policymakers in both the education and business communities have reviewed drafts of the report and made valuable suggestions before the plan was printed. Though printed, we are asking the community to review the plan and provide their input. We view the plan as a place to start and build from, not a permanent solution.
The plan includes a broad range of solutions that, if implemented, will yield results to bring Utah from average back to the top 10 in the U.S. For example, the plan urges high quality education programs targeted to preschool and kindergarten students who have the highest chance of failing in school. Commonly, these students are from low-income and at-risk homes with few or no books. These students are often learning English as their second language, as well as a host of other disadvantages. We know that Mr. Florez has been a passionate advocate for this population and hope he will continue to be.
The plan urges an investment in reading and mathematics programs so that every student will meet high levels of proficiency by the end of the third grade. Reading and math achievement have not gone out of style and are not part of an “outdated system.” They are fundamental building blocks for improvement.
Real prosperity requires virtually every student to graduate from high school and that each is career or college ready. Students who drop out of high school are headed to poverty and public dependency. Higher graduation rates deserve a public investment, avoiding future public dependence.
To meet the ever increasing competition in the world, the vast majority of students will require education or training beyond high school to become self-sustaining adults. Many will need support, including some form of financial aid to achieve their goals. The report urges the creation of scholarships and other forms of financial aid to help students attend college and complete a certificate or degree program. Utah has the lowest amount of state financial aid per student in the nation. We will have to do better if we expect better results.
Mr. Florez states that the plan may require $175 million of your money, “but not their money,” referring to Utah businesses. This is a gentle reminder to Mr. Florez that private sector businesses are the lifeblood of Utah’s economy. Not only do these businesses provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of Utahns, but businesses pay taxes too.
Education is the key to our state’s future. It is Utah’s most important strategic investment. Congratulations to the business community for its vision and support.
Richard Kendell is an education adviser for Education First and Prosperity 2020.