Tuesday, January 16, 2007
The Secret to Reduced Class Sizes
If the school-aged population in Utah grew at a slower (or flat) rate, it would soon become easy to get a handle on the problem of crowded classrooms in Utah. Since we can't force people with school-aged children to stop moving into the state nor those already here to stop having children, I have a better idea.
Inflation usually outpaces rising incomes. The only way for incomes to catch up with inflation is to stop inflation. In much the same way, increases in the school-aged population outpace the ability to provide for the education of that population. Faster increases mean more difficulty.
If Utah were a state where people stopped having children and where families from other states were not allowed to come, school-aged children would gradually become a smaller proportion of the population. This would result in a larger proportion of the state's population being tax payers, and their tax payments would go farther because they subsidize a smaller proportion of the state's population--i.e. those who don't pay taxes but use the product (education) for which the taxes are paid. In this scenario, we would ultimately have enough tax revenue to reduce class sizes and probably at the same time be able to pay their teachers more.
The reason that we can't 'get on top' of the class size issue is because we have a continually increasing school-age population. And the growth is predicted only to get worse. Since we can't solve the problem by forcing families to stop having children, and since we can't close our state borders, there has to be another solution.
A few years ago, we held a debate in a political caucus meeting about whether we should support an initiative that would raise the mill levy in our school district. I said I didn't support it, but most everyone else there (many of whom were public educators or their relatives) disagreed with me and was surprised at my stance.
I expressed my concern at that time, which was "If we provide educational choice in Utah (through vouchers or tax credits), we won't have to increase the mill levy, because you will have fewer students in your schools, but you will actually have more money to subsidize the students that remain, because only a portion of the money allocated for the public education of each child would be given to finance the child's alternative educational choice."
Their response was, "But that won't work, because you still have the same number of school buildings, administrators, and school teachers that you have to pay even if you take away a handful of students."
That is true. And that's why we should have been thinking about providing more educational choice (through vouchers or tax credits) for at least the last 10 years. If my school district had successfully encouraged 1,000 children to seek alternative forms of education over that 10-year period, they likely would not have had to request a mill levy increase. Because they wouldn't have had to build any new buildings.
And their class sizes would have been smaller.
If we really want smaller class sizes, an easy way to accomplish it without burdening the Utah taxpayer is to reduce the growth of the public school population. An easy way to reduce the school population growth is to encourage other educational alternatives.
There's no time like the present to begin planning for a brighter future.