State school board member wary of plan to grade schools

During its monthly meeting last Friday the Utah State Board of Education considered a proposed rule that would create a report card for individual public schools. No action was taken as some board members, including Tami Pyfer of Logan, expressed concerns. “Several in the legislature have wanted to move toward education reform in the form Florida has taken over the last few years,” said Pyfer. “Grading schools happened to be one of the many things they did in Florida. “There are a couple of bills being proposed right now in Utah that have to do with grading schools. That is, giving schools a letter grade: A, B, C, D or F.” Pyfer said she is one of the members of the board that is not fond of the idea, for many reasons. “This Florida reform they’re talking about has so many components that are together in one package deal,” she said. “They constitutionally lowered class sizes, they have some of the lowest class sizes in the nation. And then they increased per-pupil spending.” Florida raised per-pupil spending to between $10,000 and $11,000 per student, compared to Utah’s lowest-in-the-nation figure, $6,200, and they also decided third graders not reading at grade level be retained. “In my day we called it flunking,” said Pyfer. So third graders not reading at grade level were not promoted and the next year fourth grade reading scores went up. “They point to this one data point, grading schools, in talking about the impact it had. I’m a little discouraged that some of our Utah legislators are picking up on this one thing, saying ‘Wow, let’s grade schools because it works.’ “They fail to look at our dire situation with per-pupil spending and with our class sizes. At our board meeting Friday we had quite a lively discussion about this. (In Utah) I don’t think we’re looking at the big picture.” The Board will ask the state legislature for $2.9 billion in base funding. “The last couple of years they have pretty much held our base funding steady but we have not been funded for any of the new growth. This year that new growth is about 20,000 students.” Pyfer said the last two years schools were not funded for new growth; it was the equivalent of 1,000 classrooms. “It was about 30,000 students over the last two years that we did not get funded for growth. There are those in Utah who say we got a sweet deal in education because they didn’t cut our budget. They forget, not funding that many new students amounts to getting a huge budget cut.” Pyfer said another concern grows from Utah being 65 to 70 percent public land, yet a typical property tax is not provided for school children in the state. She said a presentation Friday indicated that because of changes in tax policy over the last 20 years, Utah is short between $1.3 and $1.7 billion a year in revenue that would go to education. “The schools are paid for with a combination of income tax and property tax and this year the request to the legislature try and find some type of fair compensation for these public lands that don’t provide taxable income.”

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