The best performing education systems require success in two separate but essential public choices: adequate funding for success, and wise spending of that funding to achieve the best results. Utah is poised to make significant improvements in both areas.

The Utah Legislature appears poised to make a substantial investment in public education, offering somewhat less than what Gov. Gary Herbert has recommended but slightly more than the State Board of Education asked for in the way of increases in the state’s weighted pupil unit. While the overall funding picture is looking better, we remain concerned about two critical areas in education spending, which we wish would be addressed more specifically.

Foremost is the critical shortage of qualified teachers, which is already a big problem for several school districts and one that will only get worse without a concerted effort to turn the tide. The 2015-16 school year began with several districts unable to fill needed positions. The pipeline for future teachers — those enrolling in college education programs in order to become educators — is suffering declines of up to 50 percent over the last five years in Utah and other parts of country. And it’s not just about recruiting new teachers. Retention is a big problem, as well. Studies show that about half of all teachers quit their jobs within five years; 20 percent after the first year.

This is a problem that is particularly acute in Utah where the school-age population continues to grow at a level that could escalate in coming years. Other states are considering dramatic ways to curb similar shortages. In Colorado, lawmakers are looking at a bill that would give tuition waivers for student teachers finishing their college educations. Lawmakers in California have been encouraged to explore similar incentives.

Reversing the trend will require increases in teacher pay as well as other encouragements to enter and stay in the profession. An increase in the weighted pupil unit would allow districts an option to bolster teacher salaries, but that would be optional. We would be encouraged by efforts on Capitol Hill to specifically address ways to invest in the education profession. The Legislature has certainly not been blind to the issue, and has done much in recent years to address it favorably. But we have seen little in this legislative session in the way of discussion that would suggest the issue is being given the priority status it deserves.

A second area of concern is in the category of tuition costs for higher education. The Legislature has embarked on a quest to reduce annual tuition costs, though this year’s anticipated appropriations still envision an increase of 2.5 percent. The state has set an ostentatious goal to lead more students to college enrollment in coming years, but regardless of their academic qualifications, too many students will turn away from college simply because they can’t afford the tuition or the debt that comes with borrowing to pay for school.

We acknowledge and applaud the Legislature’s focus on education and its careful approach to put money where it can get the biggest bang. But we also would like to see a more specific prioritization of policy endeavors to recruit and retain qualified teachers and to make sure that college can be as affordable as possible for the largest possible number of Utah students.