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Utah education fails children, future state economy

Utah has put funding of its education system on the back burner for too long, and it is starting to show in the achievement levels of our children.
Utah has put funding of its education system on the back burner for too long, and it is starting to show in the achievement levels of our children.
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Utah has put funding of its education system on the back burner for too long, and it is starting to show in the achievement levels of our children. In the last two decades, Utah has lost the advantage it once held of being among the most highly educated states in the nation. We now often rank as average or middle-of-the-pack. Some of the concerning data include:

One in five Utah high school students don’t graduate

Some gains have been seen in recent years, but only four out of five ninth-graders go on to graduate from high school. These students forfeit higher wages with the potential for family sustaining salaries and a good quality of life.

Utah test scores are lower than peer states

While Utah's fourth- and eighth-grade students perform close to the national average on standardized reading and math tests, Utah students are performing poorly compared to peer states, i.e., states with similar income, parents’ education and ethnic diversity. Nationally, our fourth-grade students ranked 22nd in math and reading, and eighth-graders rank 28th in math.

Utah now ranks 18th in the U.S. for the percentage of working age adults with a degree

College readiness lags

While Utah had the highest ACT composite score among states in which all 11th-grade students are tested, only 24 percent of test-takers met all four ACT College Readiness Benchmark scores. About one-third of college students need academic assistance on the basics.

This is very unfortunate in a family oriented state that prides itself in maintaining a strong economy and an award-winning business climate. Across America, the most vibrant economies put education first. Decades of research show that a person’s earning power and a society’s wealth are tied to educational achievement. This applies more than ever, as economic prosperity is driven by those with knowledge and skills to compete in a global market.

Utah must get back on track by immediately making strategic changes and investments. The climate and timing seems right for improving education: (1) A 2014 survey by Envision Utah showed that Utahns ranked education as a top priority; (2) public and higher education, policymakers, business leaders and other community organizations have collaborated to create a five-year "Prosperity Through Education" plan to take Utah into the top 10 in the nation; (3) Gov. Gary Herbert has incorporated the plan into a long-term collaborative plan for Utah education; and (4) Sen. Howard Stephenson, in a recent Legislative Education Task Force meeting, lauded the business community for collaborating with educators to create a five-year plan that is “doable.”

With all these positive forces coming together, parents, educators, business people and elected officials have an unprecedented opportunity to work together to move Utah’s academic achievement forward.

It’s time to get involved in the conversation and take action to improve fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading performance, increase high school graduation rates and post-secondary school certifications and degrees. There are several bills being discussed during the current legislative session that support the plan. We urge you to visit www.educationfirstutah.org and sign up to receive updates on the legislation. The site provides a simple way for you to contact your legislators and tell them to make the education of Utah’s children a No. 1 priority. You can also follow and share the conversation at #UTED2Top10 and @Education1stUT on Twitter.

Let’s take Utah’s education back into the top 10 in the nation, now!

Alan Hall is chairman of Prosperity 2020. Nolan Karras is co-chairman of Education First and a former board member and chairman of the Utah State Higher Education Board of Regents.