Covert: legislature should leave education harmless

In spite of revenue shortfalls, educators are hoping both public and higher education will be “held harmless” by lawmakers trying to balance the state budget.Barbara Covert, Uniserv director for the Utah Education Association in Northern Utah, says some legislators have discussed leaving the public school budget “flat.” Covert says with more than 1,000 new students expected next year, the only alternative for teachers would be increased class size with no money to hire new teachers. She says high school teachers are already saying they don’t have enough desks.”In elementary schools we want all of our students reading on a third grade reading level by the end of third grade. The more students in there the less time a teacher has to spend teaching those students how to read.” Covert says small class sizes is more than just a desire from teachers, but something that has been borne out in numerous studies. “Research has shown that smaller class sizes, that one-on-one attention is the best way for students to learn,” Covert said. “And other states are heeding that message.”Covert says, hopefully, lawmakers will consider using some of the “rainy day fund” or even raise taxes rather than allowing student learning to suffer.Republican State Senator Dan Liljenquist is defending a handful of bills he is sponsoring to restructure the state’s retirement system. Liljenquist argued for the bills Tuesday and said no current employees could be affected by the measures which would essentially get rid of the state’s defined benefit pension for new employees.Covert says teachers rallied against the proposed changes at the Utah Capital last Saturday.”To retain and attract new teachers into the profession, we need to keep the benefits that we have,” Covert said. “The Utah State Retirement System is not broken. “We are saying ‘slow down, use caution, let us come to the table and help solve any of the issues that are there.'”Covert says it was the retirement benefits that encouraged her to make education a lifelong career. She says Utah’s retirement system for state employees is a model for the rest of America.

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