Editorial: Only the educated are free

By By Aaron Zundel

By Aaron Zundel

John Ruskin, a renowned British artist and social critic, once said, “Let us reform our schools, and we shall find little need of reform in our prisons.”

In the wake of partisan disputes about how to spend the state’s $1.6-billion surplus this legislative session, Utah lawmakers would do well to take notice of Ruskin’s words.

There’s a debate going on right now among lawmakers about how best to spend the year’s gigantic amount of extra cash. In particular, some Republican legislators feel that at least $300 million of the surplus ought to be rolled into tax cuts. State Democrats, however, feel that the money would be better spent on an increasingly cash-strapped Utah education system.

Seeing as how tax rates actually went down last year and Utah’s economy is, by all accounts, healthy and booming, the idea that legislators would rather turn a surplus into disposable income for citizens–as opposed to pumping it into a system which already spends less per student than any other state in the union–seems ludicrous.

The governor’s office, too, is siding with education. Lt. Governor Gary Herbert said in a radio interview with KSL’s Doug Wright that if Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. gets his way, the tax cuts will be closer to $100 million and Utah’s schools will receive approximately $460 million dollars in new revenue.

According to the American Federation of Teachers, Utah’s educators currently rank 38th in the nation when it comes to salary. In fact, with rising insurance premiums and inflation, many Utah teachers find themselves making less money from year to year. As a result, many of Utah’s most qualified teachers are leaving the education system to either teach in another state or join the private sector. And why wouldn’t they? It’s unjust that the demands for teacher performance are ever increasing (thanks to legislation like “No Child Left Behind”) without equally increasing their compensation. Better salaries for teachers would mean more competition for teaching positions between qualified individuals.

Classroom sizes and the price of tuition are additional education issues that have reached near-critical levels. Many educators are complaining that they feel overwhelmed and ineffective due to the sheer number of students in their care, and graduation and enrollment rates at Utah universities are on the decline.

It is said that education is an investment. And it’s a sentiment equally applicable to both the individual students who invest their time and the state legislators who invest our tax dollars. When you educate a populace, you’re investing money that pays out huge returns in the long run, economically as well as socially. Innumerable studies have shown that an increase in public education directly correlates with a decrease in crime. And additional studies have shown that education is one of the key factors in such things as economic prosperity and low unemployment rates.

A skilled, well-paid instructor will influence and educate a young mind far better than new textbooks or fancy electronics, and an affordable college education will benefit a young student far more than a lower tax bracket. The Legislature, especially Republican lawmakers, ought to keep that in mind over the next 42 days of squabbling.