Baby Boom Busts Utah

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Hope Aldrich, Martha Matzke, and Sheppard Ranbom contributed to this report.

In addition to an 8-percent unemployment rate and the decline of its "smokestack industries," said Gov. Scott Matheson in his state-of-the-state address this month, Utah faces an education crisis of acute proportions: too many children and too few resources.

Utah's birthrate, he noted, is now twice the national average. Virtually one-third of the state population is under the age of 15; student-teacher ratios in Utah's classrooms are among the highest in the nation; and school enrollments are expected to rise 40 percent by the end of the decade.

Pointing to the potentially disastrous implications of the state's rapid population growth and industrial decline, the Gover-nor called on the legislature to support initiatives that would improve education in Utah--particularly the quantity and quality of its teachers--and support more intensive programs in mathematics, the sciences, and technology.

'Dramatic Commitment'

Such a "dramatic commitment" will be necessary, he said, to prepare the kinds of skilled workers that will encourage "high-tech" industries to move into the state.

Although Gov. Matheson has already recommended a "no-growth" state budget for 1984, he is preparing a $100-million "action plan for quality elementary and secondary education" that recommends comprehensive measures to improve the quality of Utah's teachers and to introduce new technologies into its curricula.

The Governor's proposal, entitled "Solving the School Crisis-Phase II," would be funded through a package of revenue-raising measures including: a rollback in property valuations to 1978 levels or an increase in local mill levies; an increase in severance taxes from 2 percent to 6 percent; elimination of the oil-depletion allowance; and quarterly collections of certain taxes.

"The critical under-supply of qualified teachers must be addressed immediately," the proposal argues. Utah is one of 15 states, it points out, that permit teachers to teach in subject areas in which they are not certified. This year, more than half of the teachers in the state's science amd mathematics classes are not trained in those disciplines--many are coaches or social-studies teachers, a state official says.

In the physical sciences, for example, 63 percent of all secondary-school classes were taught in the l981-82 school year by people not trained in that field, says Richard S. Peterson, a science-education specialist in the state education department. "It's hard to imagine, but it happens," he says. Fortunately, he adds, the students "don't usually get all those teachers in a row."

A study last spring by the National Science Teachers Association revealed that almost five times more science and mathematics teachers left teaching in l98l to go into other fields than left for retirement. This shift has been matched by a corresponding rise--as high as 50 percent--in the number of "unqualified" teachers brought in to mathematics and science classrooms to fill the gaps on an emergency basis, the study found.

In Utah, more than 7 percent of the science and mathematics teachers drop out each year, while the retirement rate is only 1-to-2 percent, according to Mr. Peterson.

To bolster morale and retain teachers, the Governor's action plan recommends:

Designing salary scales and career paths for teachers that will enable the best, or "master," teachers to earn as much as administrators.

Providing loans to prospective teachers in subjects in which there is critical need, and forgiving percentages of the loans for service.

Paying for the training of teachers who wish to transfer into the critical-need subjects, or of teachers already in those subjects but inadequately prepared.

Extending the nine-month contracts of teachers in those fields.

Developing a pool of employers willing to hire math and science teachers for the summer or to have employees teach for a few hours a week; creating tax incentives for the businesses to become involved.

Varying the content of teachers' contracts and responsibilities to broaden their options for working hours and conditions.

Upgrading state teacher-training programs.

Revising state certification standards and improving support systems for beginning teachers.

In addition, Governor Matheson's proposal asserts that the state must develop public support for an initiative to bring Utah's schools into the technological age. While the initial stages of the change, it says, may be accomplished through "resource reallocation," rather than new funding, state and local "partnerships" will be required to make full use of donated and purchased equipment.

The proposal calls for the establishment of a statewide clearinghouse on technology and a foundation for educational technology to receive and distribute equipment and gifts to schools.

Passage Unlikely

An aide to the Governor said last week that since the state faces a budget shortfall and new tax efforts may be needed to cover it, passage of the tax initiatives that would support the action plan is unlikely.

"This is the most conservative state in the country," said Alene E. Bentley, the Governor's press secretary. "We have a veto-proof Republican legislature, and they come to work in January asking themselves how they can cut the budget. Only this year, with the national recession hitting the state for the first time, many legislators are saying that programs are already lean, and that they are going to have a hard time finding where to cut."

"There is an obvious incongruity in trying to develop a new program when funds are being cut, but we have to make the effort," she added. "For Utah to benefit during the information revolution, we have to prepare students with those skills necessary to compete."

Vol. 02, Issue 18

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