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Utah lags behind in educational storm

A third-grade teacher teaches math to her students Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.
A third-grade teacher teaches math to her students Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

I teach 31 K-6th-grade students who have mild to moderate disabilities in reading, writing and math. I just read in the Deseret News about the 2 percent base budget cut from education (“House, Senate approve base budgets," Feb. 10). Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said, "It's an exercise that will prepare them (so that) when the storms that are out there somewhere do start to roll across the horizon, we're ready." The evidence plainly demonstrates that storms have been swirling around and through Utah education with hurricane-force winds for years.

The class sizes hurt our students, but that is just one result of the huge deficit in educational funding. Our district recently purchased a new reading program, but can’t afford the student work books for the program. Teachers print what they need off the Internet and students get black and white copies of some of the pages.

Math books are a huge problem. In the upper elementary grades, the teachers do not have math books that cover the upgraded math core standards. There are no books for students to take home, so parents and students do not have the resources they need to complete homework. Teachers are printing all student materials for class and homework, plus they scramble to find the information they need to teach.

Teachers traditionally work long hours after school and on Saturdays. Lack of funding is even squeezing those service hours teachers give freely to the children in Utah. During the winter months the heat is turned off in the schools soon after the children leave. Teachers who stay late to prepare for the next day wear coats or wrap up in blankets. We used to come in on Saturdays, but due to budget cuts, we are allowed to enter our schools just one Saturday a month.

When I think about class sizes, student workbooks, math books, heatless winter nights and schools locked on Saturdays, I feel like Oliver Twist. After suffering deprivation for years, Oliver gathers his courage to take his empty plate to Mr. Bumble and begs: “Please sir, I want some more.” Utah pays $6,206 per pupil and is last in all the United States. Idaho is second to last, but they spend $453 more a year per pupil than Utah. Why don't Utah kids deserve as much as Idaho kids?

In the faculty room a few weeks ago, I heard the question, "If you were young and could start over, would you choose a career in education again?" There was laughter, but one teacher answered what I was thinking, "Not in Utah." I love teaching, but I have discouraged my own children and grandchildren from becoming educators in the great state of Utah because of the poor pay, declining benefits and austere working conditions. I often wonder how Utah is going to find sufficient teachers in the future to mentor and educate their growing population of children.

This year the Utah Legislature has the money and the opportunity to start to drag Utah in from the raging educational storm. They have started out with a 2 percent base budget cut. “Please sir ….”

Jill Major was the 2008 Davis School District Special Education Teacher of the Year and a 2014 Utah Education Association Excellence in Teaching Award recipient.