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My view: Investment in education is the right investment

Public education operates on drastically fewer dollars today than 10 and 20 years ago.
Public education operates on drastically fewer dollars today than 10 and 20 years ago.
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In my community of Roy, we take tremendous pride of being home to the Roy High Royals. Generations have grown up here, and likewise, generations have led worthwhile lives after attending Roy High. But in Utah’s transforming economy, the reality of our 70 percent graduation rate meant too many young adults were not becoming part of a much-needed talented workforce. For the nearly 600 students that didn’t graduate between 2010 and 2014, our community failed them.

After conversing with the school principal, Gina Butters, it was apparent the school didn’t have the resources to reach every student. It was simply scraping by on a limited budget, like most Utah schools.

I decided to make a personal contribution to Roy High, confident principal Butters could invest in ways to improve learning.

What developed was astounding. Gina hired academic coaches for students not attending school, largely due to difficult environments at home. When a student wasn’t in class, the coach would literally visit their house and bring them to school. Students soon realized the unique support they had to reach their goals. They converted the support of the community to greater personal expectations and heightened self-esteem.

Once attendance grew, student achievement followed. Just six students did not graduate last year, a remarkable accomplishment. The “Roy Cone Project” illustrates that by investing in education, student success soars while welfare, unemployment and incarceration rates can be expected to decline.

Some quip that “money doesn’t buy results,” and I wouldn’t disagree. But my experience shows proper investment is necessary to obtain desired academic results. And with school funding at all government levels decreasing in Utah, proper investment is missing.

“The notion that spending doesn’t matter is just not true,” said Kirabo Jackson of Northwestern University, who conducted a recent study on the relationship between education spending and academic results for the Quarterly Journal of Economics. “We found that exposure to higher levels of public K-12 spending when you’re in school has a pretty large beneficial effect on the adult outcomes of kids.”

Though the Roy Cone is a great example of investment paying dividends, it’s not the only Utah example.

Recently, Goldman Sachs and the United Way of Salt Lake partnered in the nation’s first social impact bond for early education. Out of 595 students, 110 were identified to likely need special education. After one year of preschool, just one student required special education. Not only did this brighten the future of 110 students, it also saved almost $300,000 in future special education costs.

Similarly, Tooele County improved performance through a federal grant. After hiring four counselors, disciplinary referrals dropped by 46 percent. For students often in the principal’s office, access to trained counselors produced better behavior and substantial growth in test results.

In business, if I found a commodity that could provide a return on my investment like Roy High, I wouldn’t decrease my investment. I would do everything in my power to invest more and continue increasing my return. Utah schools are that commodity: By investing in education today, our state will reap the rewards for the next several decades.

We proudly do more with less in Utah, but less isn’t always more. Public education operates on drastically fewer dollars today than 10 and 20 years ago, but student performance remains average. Utah, when has average ever been acceptable?

Our schools are ripe for a collective investment. To elevate the outcomes of students in Utah, increased investment is mandatory. I support the Our Schools Now ballot initiative for proper investment in education because our children and our communities depend on it.

Alan Hall is Chairman of MarketStar, former Chair of Prosperity 2020 at the Salt Lake Chamber and a member of the Our Schools Now steering committee.