Business Community Issues Report Card of Utah’s Legislative Efforts to Take the State Into the Top Ten in the Nation in Education

Prosperity2020LogoA packed Salt Lake Chamber board room heard principals of Prosperity 2020 and Education First present a 2015 Prosperity Through Education Report Card highlighting the positive strides the Utah Legislature made in 2015 to improve education, and what must happen in 2016 to elevate Utah’s education into the top ten in the nation.

In 2014, the two organizations developed a five-year plan and have been advocating that Utah fund specific objectives that will increase third and eighth grade reading and math performance, high school graduation rates and post-secondary degrees and certifications.

According to Alan Hall, CEO of Tempus Global and chair of Prosperity 2020, “Across America, the most vibrant state economies put education first. Decades of research show that a person’s earning power and a society’s wealth are tied to educational achievement. This applies now more than ever, as economic prosperity is driven by those with the knowledge and skills to compete in a global market.”

Unfortunately, Utah is seeing advanced warning signs indicating that Utah’s investment in public education, and the state’s educational achievement are not as strong as they should be. Hall told how Utah was once a leader in education nationally, but has slipped into the middle of the pack when it comes to critical educational outcomes. Utah’s standardized test scores have not fallen, but peer states have innovated and left Utah behind. Utah’s fourth grade students ranked 22nd in the nation in math and reading, and eighth grade students ranked 27th in math and 13th in reading.

“Utah’s globally-recognized, pro-business climate and diverse economy have powered a remarkable economic recovery, but we can’t afford to be complacent; doing so will change our state’s future prosperity,” said Richard Kendell, Ph.D., former commissioner of Higher Education and Education First co-chair. “If we ignore these clear warning signs about Utah’s educational underachievement, it is at our own peril. We must invest now or pay a dear price later.”

The Prosperity Through Education Plan is the result of extensive collaboration with educators and policymakers. It includes the following goals to raise Utah to the top ten in five years:

1) Improve 4th and 8th grade math performance with technology devises, technology-based math assessment tools, endorsements and technology training for teachers, professional learning communities and STEM endorsements for teachers.

2) Improve 4th and 8th grade reading performance with K-3 reading curriculum, professional learning communities, voluntary pre-school, community schools, support for at-risk students and optional full-day kindergarten

3) Increase high school graduation rates with additional counselors and mentors, counselor training, student advocates, academic couches and tutors

4) Increase post-secondary certifications and degrees with rewards for colleges that increase completion rates; access and outreach initiatives for underserved students; programs that meet high-wage, high demand workforce needs; financial aid and scholarships for lower and middle income students

Kendell shared highlights of the 2015 Prosperity Through Education Report Card that shows progress in funding specific plan objectives:

·       Funding needed to keep pace with growth at all levels of Utah’s public education system: Full Funding

·       Funding to take Utah into the Top 10 in 4th and 8th grade reading achievement: Work Remaining

·       Funding to take Utah into the Top 10 in 4th and 8th grade math achievement: Work Remaining

·       Funding to take Utah into the Top 10 in graduation and college readiness: Work Remaining

·      Funding for growth in teacher compensation, professional development and other public education funding: Full Funding

·      Funding to better compensate higher education instructors and researches: Full Funding

·      Funding to take Utah into the Top 10 in postsecondary certificates and degrees: Work Remaining

·      Funding to make higher education more affordable for middle and low income families: Work Remaining

“The Business community is calling on education and policy leaders to focus on the plan’s objectives. We can do many good things to improved education, but we are intent on pushing these items,” added Kendell.

“We’re all in this together, said Nolan Karras, President and CEO of Karras Company and Education First co-chair. “It’s not only imperative that the Utah State Legislature provide long-term funding to achieve these goals, but we also need to be innovative on a community level.” Karras lauded the United Way’s Collective Impact Initiative that partnered business investors with education, to provide quality pre-school for children in need. A recent report showed the program drastically reduced the anticipated need for special education funding of a large cohort of underserved children.

Gina Buttars, principal of Roy High School told of the success of the Roy Cone project in Weber County, which was a year-long collaboration between Roy School District, local business and community leaders and the Utah State Legislature. Results of the Roy Cone project for 2014 – 2015 are:

·       Truancy plummeted 15% (from 29% to 10% in the Roy School District)

·       Graduation rates jumped from an average of 71.3% to 78% (95% of Roy High School’s 2015 seniors graduated)

·       Third grade reading proficiency jumped from 73 to 79% in one year

·       Failure rates dropped from a yearly average of 15% to under 10%

In the coming year Prosperity 2020 and Education First will be presenting Prosperity Through Education Workshops throughout Utah for local educators, chambers of commerce and other community organizations. They will share information on the organizations’ Prosperity Through Education Plan and the Roy Cone project. To get involved and keep up to date on the top-ten education movement, and to read the updated Prosperity Through Education Plan and the Report Card online visit, and follow @Education1stUT on Twitter.