A recent report that American School and University Magazine released on the growth in Amerca of public school districts, points out some very interesting things about the state of Utah's school system.
The magazine, which has been published since the 1920's and is probably one of the most respected magazines for school administrators and board members, presents the study of the trends in districts and states across the country every few years. In the report it not only compares like school districts and states as to what they are doing in the field of education as far as growth management, budgets, facilities and auxiliary programs.
The report shows that the majority of the fastest growing school districts are naturally in states that are growing fast too. These are states like California, Texas and Florida. In fact of the top 100 largest districts, 41 are from those state systems.
Most people recognize that the largest districts of all are the same ones that have existed for years. New York City has it's own district where over a million students attend school each day. Contrary to popular belief, that district is still growing with nearly 80,000 more students in 2002 than it had in 1992.
Los Angeles, the second largest district in the nation, has 735,000 students and the city is looking to pass a bond to build many more schools as it continues to grow as well.
A school districts size is often a function of how the geography of the district was set up initially. Probably the fastest growing district in the country is the Clark County School District (where the Las Vegas metropolitan area is located). It's growth has been huge in the past 20 years and this fall alone they had to open 12 new schools to keep up with the number of students in school. It is a county wide district that has a huge geographical area.
How does this state rank in large sized districts? Twenty years ago the state only had only two districts in the top 100 and one just on the verge of breaking into it. Granite School District was then the largest district in the state with over 80,000 students. Jordan District followed with around 50,000.
In 2002 four Utah school districts are listed in the top 100 and some role reversals have taken place. While Granite is still building a few schools on the west side of the district, it is closing schools on it's east side. Jordan, on the other hand has been growing quickly district wide, largely because the open space that was foothills and wheat fields ten years ago, are now filled with houses. Today Jordan has over 73,000 students and passed Granite a few years ago as the largest district in the state. Those districts rank as 41st and 45th in size on the report.
Davis School District (59,000 students, ranked 64th) and Alpine District (48,000 students, ranked 90th) also are now in the top 100 in size.
But while these huge school districts in Utah compare in numbers of students with many other states, does their educational levels compare? Many in this state would have us believe that Utah still has one of the best public education reputations in the nation. Years ago the fact was actually common knowledge amongst educators all over the land. But in recent years that view has changed in somes peoples minds. And a lot of that has to do with the amount of money we spend on our kids. That view is reflected in another part of the report in the magazine, a section that should be an embarrassment to all of us.
First of all the report points out that the highest per-pupil expenditure of the 2000-2001 school year occurred in Boston School District with $12,104. The lowest in the country was Alpine School District with only $4,117 being spent on each pupil in that year.
For a single district in our state to be held up as an example like that is bad enough, but in the second half of the paragraph where it states that first fact, comes a sobering thought.
"Per-pupil expenditures nationwide averaged $7,284," states the article. "In fact, only four of the 100 largest school districts in the nation had per-pupil expenditures of less than $5,000, and all four were in Utah."
That's every school district that was listed in the top 100 in size from Utah.
Now I didn't spend fifteen years working in public education in this state and come out thinking that money would solve all the problems the system has. In actuality, from everything I have seen, most school districts in this state have done a good job with the poor amount of money they have had to work with. Utah's system as a whole has efficiently utilized the dollars they have. But not that many years ago Utah was at least was only in the bottom third of funding for schools. Then it dropped to near the bottom of that list. And only a couple of years ago, even Missisippii, which had dwelled at the bottom of the funding list for years and a state not known for it's stellar schools, passed Utah in per pupil funding.
Those that fund the schools point to the fact that we have an unusually high number of public school students compared to our population, and so therefore the amount of money to use for education is much less than in other states. I don't disagree with that statement, it's true. But, although I think few school districts need funding like the Boston School District has (and they don't even produce that great of students overall) and that money isn't always the answer to every problem, there is a point at which politics come to a crossroads on this issue.
Conservatives in our legislature would have us believe that this state should all be for family values, or their version of it. Anyone who would propose that "users fees" should be levied on those that have more than three children in public schools is branded "anti -family." The same label is applied to those that suggest that people with more than three children in school shouldn't get any tax breaks for above the first pair and a half of kids.
Yet these same politicians are also the first to cut aide to children and needy families, and often are heard to proclaim that people should be responsible for their own messes. They put down social programs and say that citizens must be self sufficient. Yet they endeavor to prolong tax incentives for families with high numbers of children that, in essense, allows one of the largest welfare programs in our state to continue literally unchecked..
The fact is that someone needs to become responsible for the financial mess this states education system is in and also be accountable to provide financial support for the burden they place upon it.
It shouldn't be left to those that don't overuse the system.