Utah Business Leaders Don Running Shoes and Ask the Community to Join in the Race to the Top Ten in Education

Prosperity2020LogoProsperity 2020 and Education First members put on their running shoes and invited local business leaders, legislators and educators to join them in the Race to the Top Ten in Education in the nation. The two groups have collaborated with numerous education and business leaders to create a five-year plan to improve education.

At a business leader breakfast at EnergySolutions’ office, Vice-chair of Prosperity 2020 Keith Buswell, shared the group’s 2016 legislative priorities that support goals to improve math and reading scores in 4th and 8th grades, to enable more students to graduate high school, and to support increased numbers of post-high school degrees and certifications. He said Prosperity 2020 and Education First will also endorse additional legislation that aligns with the groups’ goals.

1)       Optional Enhanced Kindergarten Amendments, Sponsored by Education Interim Committee – The bill modifies and enacts provisions regarding early-grade academic improvement. It requires the State Board of Education to develop kindergarten entry and exit assessments for certain kindergarten student academic-improvement programs; and to administer a grant program to support those programs. The bill also recodifies and makes technical changes to provisions related to early interactive reading software.

2)       Grants for Educator Professional Learning, Sponsored by Education Interim Committee – This bill requires the State Board of Education to establish and provide requirements for a professional learning grant program, and to make technical changes.

3)       Optional School Readiness Programs for At-Risk Children, Sponsored by Sen. Ann Millner – This bill requires the Department of Workforce Services to determine eligibility for an Intergenerational Poverty Scholarship. It creates a Student Access to High Quality School Readiness Program and grant program, to expand access to high quality school readiness programs for eligible students. It also requires the State Board of Education to contract an independent evaluator to conduct ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of such programs.

Chamber President Lane BeattieDavid Doty, J.D. Ph.D., partner at Education Direction and former Superintendent of Canyon School District, agreed that these legislative efforts will help propel Utah’s education forward. He explained that Utah’s academic proficiencies remain mediocre, and although Utah’s recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) rankings appear to have improved, they actually haven’t. The reason is, rankings for the majority of US states have slipped further, making Utah’s appear to improve. Recent NAEP rankings for Utah include:

  • ·Fourth Grade Math:  Utah rose from 26th to 20th in the nation
  • ·Eighth Grade Math: Utah advanced 28th to 16th in the nation 
  • ·Fourth Grade Reading:  Utah went from 27th to 14th in the nation (this is the sole ranking that actually indicates improvement)
  • ·Eighth Grade Reading: Utah went from 15th to 10th in the nation

“Though ranking 10th in the Nation for eighth grade reading sounds great, if you look deeper into the numbers and you will find some alarming facts. For example looking at the 2013 reading and math scores for minority students only—Utah finished fourth worst in the nation, above only West Virginia, Hawaii, and Alabama,” said Doty. “This is not to discount some of the progress that has been made, but it reveals the stark reality of Utah’s achievement gap and what our state is facing if we do not significantly invest in proven strategies that help the most disadvantaged populations succeed in school.”

Doty reported that Utah’s high school graduation rate was 83 percent in 2013, which is still approximately 25th in the nation based on 2012 data. Also, Utah is 18th in the nation for completion of college degrees and certifications.

At the event, David Lockwood, president and CEO of EnergySolutions, told how an educated workforce is essential for doing business in the 21st Century. The company showed its ongoing commitment to support education and the community, by announcing a donation of $125,000 to Prosperity 2020. This and other donations will allow Prosperity 2020 to share the plan statewide and to encourage business-leader support for key 2016 education legislation.

“EnergySolutions is proud to support educational initiatives that prepare our children to succeed in the future, and the goals of Prosperity 2020 align with our goals, said Lockwood. “The results established by Prosperity 2020 will enable more students to graduate from high school and increase the number of post-high school degrees and certifications.”

Lane Beattie, President and CEO, Salt Lake Chamber, said, “This is just the mid-race ‘energy boost’ we need to help take Utah’s education-improvement effort to the finish line. Utah is now less than five years away from its 2020 goal. Now is the time to invest in education, so we don’t lose momentum.”

“Utah has to put education first, if we are to attract important business sectors to the state, and prepare our children to meet employer needs,” added Alan Hall, Prosperity 2020 Chair. “We ask Utah business leaders to put on their running shoes and join us in the Race to the Top Ten in Education. Our children’s and grandchildren’s futures are at stake.”