Prosperity 2020 promotes diplomas
Business leaders across the state have come together to form a coalition called Education First, that seeks to improve Utah’s education. The group’s sister organization, Prosperity 2020, is a nonprofit that focuses on public policy, according to Education First spokesperson Vicky Varela, who added that their goal is for two-thirds of all Utah students to earn degrees by 2020.
"Prosperity 2020 is a business-led effort to improve Utah’s educational outcome," Varela said. "It’s been building for a couple of years since a handful of business leaders came together because Utah’s education is declining by many different measures. You have these business leaders who are trying to hire people and they are having trouble finding people they need."
Supporting goals of Prosperity 2020 efforts include helping all elementary school students become proficient in reading and math, along with offering an extended-day kindergarten to at-risk students.
"We want every kid in Utah to have a strong start and if we can do it right at the beginning then it’s so much easier each step along the way," she said. "If they get these skills down then they have a much better chance of succeeding later on."
The group is encouraging students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math because that’s where the high-paying jobs are, said Varela, adding that they are also setting goals to help fund college education because students are getting into too much debt before they even graduate.
"We are trying to do everything we can to make that field more appealing and to get those graduate rates up," she said. "The state is covering about 58 percent, and the student 42 percent, when looking at total cost for educating a student. In other states, students pay more like 30 percent of the cost. We have to reduce that cost for our students."
Prosperity 2020 was established when business leaders and statewide chambers came together to discuss how to improve Utah’s education, Varela said, adding that the program has taken off since then.
"It’s been quite remarkable how all these pieces have come together. These business leaders are so passionate about it," she said. "I’ve been involved in education policy for 30 years in the state and I’ve never seen this amount of passion with purpose."
Education First and Prosperity 2020 have similar goals but different missions, said Varela. Education First has been organized over the last six months to support elected officials.
"There are about 12 legislature seats open this year so we’re out on the ground trying to identify those officials who might fill the seats and put education first," she said. "We feel like all of Utah should get involved in this because it matters to every one of our families. It’s a state priority."
Education First established an agenda based on business principles, which include setting goals, identifying methods for measuring progress and evaluating performance.
"There is deep public passion about this, there just has never been an organized effort around unified goals. We’re using basic core business principles that we know are successful for businesses and will also be the right tools for our schools," she said.
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