Legislative Republicans and Democrats are falling all over themselves in the rush to say how much good they will do for public education in the 2012 Legislature.
GOP Gov. Gary Herbert isn't far behind, saying education is his No. 1 issue this election year.
And a new public opinion poll – conducted by Dan Jones & Associates – for last week's Legislative Summit clearly shows why local politicians are so public-education crazy.
Eighty-five percent of the registered voters polled by Jones say that public education is either somewhat or very important to Utah's future – with 64 percent saying it is "very important."
By comparison, 74 percent say economic development is important. Transportation, health care reform and immigration drop away from those two high numbers.
Asked which areas of society are most needed for good economic development, 87 percent said education. Seventy-five percent said transportation infrastructure, with alternative energy sources and the arts falling away.
In your opinion, how important do you feel it is for the state to focus on the following issues using a 1-5 scale with one meaning “Not at all important” and five meaning “Very important.”
Not at all important
|Health care reform||6%||8%||18%||27%||38%|
|Immigration policy||7%||10%||23%||21%|| |
Lawmakers are going to decide how to spend around $400 million new dollars in the 2012 Legislature, which starts next Monday.
Asked where best to spend that surplus, 72 percent strongly or somewhat favor public education, 68 percent said pay down state debt, 57 percent said higher education, 46 percent said cut taxes ,while 43 percent said spend it on roads.
So, public education leads in all the different questions, Jones found.
Democrats are clearly going to make their education reform package of bills their hallmark political efforts this session.
Democrats have yet to unveil the package, although Sen. Ben McAdams, who is running for Salt Lake County mayor this year, says lawmakers should put at least $500 million more into public education.
Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, who is also running for county mayor, told the Legislative Summit that "We are failing our children. We have to change the (education) dynamic."
Education will be the Democrats No. 1 issue, Romero added. And it's no doubt that Democratic legislative candidates will be running on education this coming fall.
Herbert told the summit that Utah businessmen are demanding that potential workers be better educated. "And we have to respond. We have to fill that labor demand."
He noted that he recently met with bosses of LG Communications, an international firm that has operations in Utah. He asked them to add 500 workers to their Utah operation. They said sure. But they added that they already have 200 job openings here that they can't fill – skilled tech workers are hard to find.
"If we don't improve our education, we will under-perform as an economy," said Herbert.
His budget recommendation puts $111 million more into public schools – but that is far from the $500 million that Democrats want.
Herbert would also give a 1 percent raise to teachers (via the Weighted Pupil Unit). Teachers haven't had a raise in more than three years, he noted.
Herbert wants to put $23 million more into higher education.
While all that is better than the cuts public and higher education have taken during the recent recession years, it still is far from moving Utah much up the scale of per student spending – where the state still lags at the bottom of all the states.
UtahPolicy Daily will run a series of stories this week on the new poll and the Legislative Summit, which was cosponsored by Exoro and UPD.