Respect for the Educator Voice
By UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh
I was encouraged last year when the Utah Legislature created a task force charged with making sensible public education recommendations for our legislature to consider. The goal, as I understood it, was to limit the number of new education proposals to those the task force agreed would make the most difference for our students.
When the final gavel fell on the 2014 Utah Legislature, they had considered a record 145 bills affecting public education. This represents the highest number in recent memory. Of those, 56 passed. So much for focusing on what’s important.
How many businesses could survive if they faced this number policy changes each and every year? From my perspective, the sheer number of policy changes and bills represents a lack of respect for Utah educators.
Everyone seems to agree that Utah educators are doing more with less than any other state in the country. We have the nation’s largest class sizes and lowest per-pupil spending. Utahns should be proud of the amazing work happening in Utah classrooms with little support.
One proposal that attracted a great deal of interest during the legislative session would have provided $200 million to place mobile device technology in the hands of every student.
How is it when teachers say we need to make major investments in proven educational strategies, our cries fall on deaf ears, but when technology companies say they have some new ‘silver bullet’ for education, everyone stands and takes note? The message we as teachers hear is that the realities we face in the classroom are not a priority.
Certainly teachers embrace technology, but not at the expense of basic funding needs. Class sizes are larger than ever and we have lost professional development days for our teachers, all the while expecting more for less from our educators. Utah teachers cannot do ANY more for LESS.
In the end, legislators agreed to fund new student growth and provide a modest 2.5 percent increase on the WPU, which essentially keeps us treading water.
As teachers, we would agree that a major investment in Utah public education is critical. And, as teachers, we have the best perspective on where that investment would make the most difference for our students. It is time that decisions regarding public education are placed with the education experts. The educator voice can no longer be ignored and disrespected. If we continue down this path, we will surely fail.
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