"Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value." -- Vice President Joe Biden
Throwing money at a problem doesn't solve it. But putting your money where your mouth is is both a practical and a symbolic way of showing the world what you think is important and what you intend to do about it.
In 2014, the state of Utah spent $45 million more dollars on services for children than in did in 2008. Which sounds good, until you figure in -- as the folks at Voices for Utah Children have done-- that the number of children living in the state climbed by nearly 59,000.
Divide that out and, over the same period that the number of people under the age of 18 climbed by 7 percent, the per-child spending fell by 6 percent -- from $5,746 per child in 2008 to $5,424 each last year.
The two states are more similar than their politics indicate. Colorado spends about $2,000 more per student, but both are well below the national average. They also have somewhat similar demographics -- predominantly white with fast growing Latino populations. Both states saw their test scores fall over the first decade of the century, but Colorado's have bounced back some.
The Utah Foundation credits their commitment to early education. In Colorado, 34 percent of students attend publicly funded preschool and about 75 percent of kindergarteners are full time. In Utah, both those percentages are 13 percent. There is no state-funded preschool in Utah, only federal programs like Head Start.
Last week the state's top education official, Superintendent Brad Smith, scandalized more than a few good Utahns by paraphrasing Barry ("Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice") Goldwater in a speech to the Utah Taxpayers Association. He told the approving audience that state educators, parents and politicians should just get over their obsession with the fact that our state generally sits at the bottom of any list measuring per-pupil spending.
Utah public school students still get the smallest chunk of government education funding in the country. A report released by the U.S. Census Bureau Tuesday ranked the state's 2013 per-student spending -- $6,555 a year -- at the bottom of the heap for U.S. states. The analysis found that per-student spending increased by nearly 1 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2013, to an average of $10,700. But Utah's per-student funding earned a ranking of 51st -- behind all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
If we want an education system that cultivates innovation, then we must create a culture where teachers are encouraged to be innovative and free to excite their students to be constant learners. It starts by policymakers doing for education what former Motorola Chairman Robert W. Galvin advised: "Leaders must have the courage to take a risk and believe in the abilities of the people in their organization ... Leaders must establish an environment in which workers feel respected and valued."