Guest editorial: Our Schools Now is a chance to make a difference for Park City’s children | ParkRecord.com

Guest editorial: Our Schools Now is a chance to make a difference for Park City’s children

Moe Hickey
Former Park City Board of Education president

As Our Schools Now amasses signatures to qualify an initiative for next year's ballot, discussion is rampant within our community about investing more in teachers and students. Earlier this month, the Park Record editorial board endorsed the initiative being on the ballot, while a guest editorial appeared with a different opinion. I am pleased this initiative has spurred conversation on the importance of education and the impact of educated residents in our communities.

In that guest editorial, many questions were posed that I would like to respond to. I fully support greater statewide investment in local schools and see this initiative as the only solution.

First, understand what is being proposed. By increasing the state income and sales tax less than half of one percent (.45%), Utah schools would receive approximately $1000 per student. As Park City School District has roughly 4,700 students, our schools would collectively receive nearly $4.7 million each year to invest in each school's teacher and student success plan. These plans would be created by school principals, teachers and parents and submitted to the local school board for approval. This provides flexibility to those that know our students best and proper management and oversight.

In Utah, it's hard to argue that we shouldn't be improving education. For PCSD students, 51 percent are proficient in math, 53 percent proficient in science and 51 percent proficient in English. Many other measurements show similar results.

Notably, the Our Schools Now initiative is not coming from education groups, but from business leaders across the state concerned that our children are not obtaining the skills they need to be competitive in the global economy. Community leaders such as Gail Miller, Scott Anderson and Lane Beattie have been advocates for greater investment in schools for years. As state level investments have not significantly increased, these leaders are giving parents and grandparents the opportunity to make a difference at the ballot box.

The guest editorial suggested that, because the initiative also includes public higher education, it amounts to "political payoff". As business leaders know, a high school diploma no longer ensures success. Since the end of the recession, 99 percent of new jobs in the United States have been awarded to applicants with a post-high school education. Given that, our state must offer high-quality, accessible and affordable options of higher learning with a focus on workforce development.

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Concerning to some is how the new funding would be invested. The Governor recently released a roadmap with research-based strategies to improve education in Utah, which focuses on ensuring early learning, supporting and strengthening educators, ensuring access and equity, and completing certificates and degrees. Taken together, the cost to implement each recommended strategy is more than $1.4 billion, annually.

The need to improve outcomes in Utah is obvious while the ways to do so have been identified. After investing at the local level in counselors, mentors and coaches, schools in Roy decreased absenteeism rates and increased the graduation rate by 19 percent. Adequate funding would allow this success to be expanded to other schools.

The most exciting element of Our Schools Now is that local education leaders will determine the most pressing needs of our students. For our kids, funds would allow for mental and behavioral health professionals and resources, additional aides and tutors for enhanced individual learning opportunities, and expanded early learning programs for students that start school below their peers.

The needs of our students grow increasingly loud, but we have an opportunity to make a difference. Over the last two decades, state representatives have reduced education funding by billions of dollars. It's long past time for the people of Utah to share their voice before another generation of Utah students miss out on high-quality learning.