Thursday, January 24, 2008

Class Size Reduction Funding In Utah

I recently finished reading the legislative audit report that I wrote about here. To summarize, the audit was requested because for over a decade or so the Legislature has allocated "extra" money to Utah's schools with the express purpose of reducing class size. Utah has consistently ranked near the bottom of the US in classroom size, and this was seen as a way to attack that directly. Tens of millions of dollars have been allocated to schools through this Class Size Reduction (CSR) program, and the Legislature wanted to verify how it had been spent.

The report concludes that, despite some accounting difficulties, 100% of the money was used correctly. 99% of it went towards hiring new teachers. 1% went to pay for things like portable classrooms.

Yet the auditors found that even with those tens of millions of dollars all being spent to reduce class size, mostly by hiring teachers, since 2000 there was a net gain of only two teachers. And Utah still ranks near the bottom in classroom size.

How could this be? There's a couple of reasons. First, while an initial influx of money can be used to hire another teacher, that means that next year's CSR allotment has to be enough to continue paying those new teachers plus even more so that another round of teachers can be hired. In order to continuously reduce class sizes by hiring teachers, the CSR funding would have to increase exponentially each year, and simply put, it hasn't. In some years it wasn't enough to even maintain the new teachers hired in previous years.

Secondly, school enrollment has risen sharply each year; in fact, has beaten the projections in every year covered by the audit report. And while the Legislature is required by Utah code to increase CSR funding in proportion to enrollment growth, it never has.

In short, the auditors found that school districts all spent their CSR money appropriately, and even though the Legislature has increased CSR funding dramatically, it simply hasn't been enough to keep up with rising teacher costs and enrollment growth.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Roe v Wade - Thirty-Five Years

"We women know when it is or is not the right time to bring a child into the world...We act out of compassion when we wait to have a child until the time when we can give it the kind of life every child deserves. We act out of love when we consider what we would be taking away from the child or children we already have if we brought another child into our family now...We women know the truth: That given certain circumstances, abortion is the most morally responsible and loving choice we can make."

-Jean Stewart Berg and Anne Baker
Thirty-Five years ago today the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was a constitutionally protected right. Since that time there have been over 50 million abortions in the United States. Today, though, the yearly number of abortions has fallen to all time lows, with "only" 1.2 million per year. Contrast that with a total of 4 million births each year in the US.

Predictably, the New York Times is worried that the decline in abortions means crime will soon be on the rise.

I have written fairly extensively about abortion. I do not condone it, nor do I believe it should be legal except in the rarest of cases. See here and here for my posts on the topic. They contain the reasons for my view, and a lot of information and statistics, as well as many of the conversations I have had with others.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Legislative Audit Proves Accountants Rule the World...Or Ought To, Anyway

Last year the Utah legislature wanted to find out how school districts were using the extra Class Size Reduction (CSR) money they had been allocated. The auditor's report was released in December and revealed an accounting horror show.

"inconsistencies", "data discrepancies", "data is not fully audited for accuracy", "staff generally accept that older data is less reliable", "need additional time to research".

These are not audit findings anyone wants to see.

And it looks like it's the Legislature's fault. Accourding to the audit report, in 2003 they changed the rules regarding CSR tracking, no longer making it mandatory to account for the extra money seperately. Not surprisingly, most districts then dumped their CSR tracking systems. In the words of the auditors, "These districts' records identify expenditures but do not tie them back to a specific revenue source, increasing the difficulty of determining how CSR funds were used."

Over 60% of the money allocated to reduce class sizes is unaccounted for. Not cool. Granted, the auditors were able to perform some other tests that suggest that the money was used appropriately, but, again, with good accounting we'd know for sure. It's all about the accounting, people.

So next time you see an accountant on the street, pat him/her on the back and say thanks for ensuring your child gets a proper education.

Monday, January 14, 2008

JFK At The Tabernacle

On September 26, 1963 President John F. Kennedy spoke at the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah. See here for info on the Tabernacle, here to listen to the speech, and here for the transcript. The speech is very fascinating to me for a couple of reasons.

First are the nice things he said about Mormons,
"Of all the stories of American pioneers and settlers, none is more inspiring than the Mormon trail. The qualities of the founders of this community are the qualities that we seek in America, the qualities which we like to feel this country has, courage, patience, faith, self-reliance, perseverance, and, above all, an unflagging determination to see the right prevail."
Take that, Mr. Larry "I play one on tv" O'Donnell. :-)

The real meat of this speech is when President Kennedy outlines his reasons for the dramatic change in US foreign policy after WWII. Perhaps this is why the speech resonated with me. I had recently read George Washington's farewell address where he announced he would not be running for a third term as president, and where he outlined a few parting words of advice. One part of this advice was an admonition to stay out of the world's affairs. He explained that the more involved we are with the world, both politically and economically, the more influence the world would have on us, and he warned that this influence could be dangerous to our liberty-the same liberty he had so recently struggled to achieve.

In the years that followed, America for the most part had heeded Washington's admonition. However, after WWII things changed. In the words of President Kennedy,
"The fact of the matter is that we, this generation of Americans, are the first generation of our country ever to be involved in affairs around the globe. From the beginning of this country, from the days of Washington, until the Second World War, this country lived an isolated existence. Through most of our history we were an unaligned country, an uncommitted nation, a neutralist nation. We were by statute as well as by desire. We had believed that we could live behind our two oceans in safety and prosperity in a comfortable distance from the rest of the world."
But why the change? President Kennedy said it was "the inevitable result of growth," and that "no nation so powerful and so dynamic and as rich as our own could hope to live in isolation."

Of course, JFK recognized the difficulties that arise from this change in policy,
"We find ourselves entangled with apparently unanswerable problems in unpronounceable places. We discover that our enemy in one decade is our ally the next. We find ourselves committed to governments whose actions we cannot often approve, assisting societies with principles very different from our own."
These difficulties, President Kennedy said, caused many people to advocate retreat from our influence in the world.

Kennedy's response to the isolationist advocates? Impossible. As much as we may want to retreat from the world and its problems, we cannot. He reminded his audience that it took Brigham Young over 100 days to cross the United States to the Salt Lake Valley, but that it now took 30 minutes for a missile to cross continents. Technology has made the world a much smaller place, which in turn has made isolation a fairy tale,
"We cannot return to the day of the sailing schooner or the covered wagon, even if we wished. And if this Nation is to survive and succeed in the real world of today, we must acknowledge the realities of the world."
This speech was given in 1963, and if anything the world has gotten even smaller in the 45 years since then. Technology has advanced at an incredible rate, making our influence even greater. We have spent much of the last 5 decades knee deep in world affairs, and have received a lot of criticism for it. Still, much like President Kennedy said, because of our size and wealth, the United States is always looked to in times of political and humanitarian crisis. Which begs the question, was JFK right?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Baseball Hall of Fame

Today this year's baseball Hall of Fame votes will be announced. Jayson Stark over at has a good article on who he voted for and why. Some of what he writes coincides with the baseball-related thoughts I've been having lately.

I got into baseball in the late 80's. I started collecting baseball cards and became stat obsessed. Bo Jackson and Jose Canseco were huge back then; my card collecting buddy chose Bo as his favorite player, and I chose Canseco. In 1988 he batted over .300, was the first player to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in the same season, and had 120+ rbi's. He won the MVP that year, just a couple years after he had won Rookie of the Year. He was the game's current and future star. Sadly, he stopped being the good all around player that I loved and became a home run hitting, .250 batting average getting, injury riddled, defensive liability best known for letting a fly ball bounce off his head and over the fence for a home run. Even more sad was that once his quest for 500 home runs ended because no one would give him a job anymore, he wrote a tell-all book about steroids, naming names and incriminating players all over the game, including himself. In a way it was a fitting end to his career, as he became the face of the steroid era for me, and his book was a big step towards exposing all the secrets.

What this has to do with today's Hall announcement is that Canseco's career ushered in an era of huge offensive numbers. An era that was directly preceded by very low offensive output. Home runs and batting averages were way down when compared to the 90's. When Cecil Fielder hit his 50 and 51st home runs on the last day of the 1990 season, it was the first time since 1977 that a player had reached the milestone. In fact, only one player hit 50 or more home runs between 1965 and 1990. The 80's are the only decade in baseball without a 50 home run hitter. Coincidentally, these are the stars currently up for enshrinement. And they've been waiting a long time.

Jim Rice, Dale Murphy, Andre Dawson, and Tim Raines come on down!

Their numbers don't compete well with the stars of the next decade. None of them reached 500 home runs. None of them broke single season or all-time hitting records. But compare them with their contemporaries, and they shine. All of them were the stars of their era. And all of them belong in the Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Kathleen H. Hughes, "Remembering the Lord's Love"

"The Savior's invitation is clear and direct, and importantly for us, it is constant: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden. . . . Take my yoke upon you, . . . for . . . my burden is light'(Matthew 11:28-30). This is the Lord's promise to me and to you."My prayer for each of us is that we will remember when the Lord has spoken His peace to us and has encircled us in the arms of His love. And just as important, will you, if you haven't felt that love for a while, seek to see it and feel it as you go about the ordinary tasks of your life. As you do this, over the days and months and years of your life, the memories of those interactions with the Lord will become sweet gifts to open a second time--or many times--to bolster you when life is difficult." 'Peace I give unto you,' the Lord promises, 'not as the world giveth, give I unto you' (John14:27). Peace. Strength. It is what we long for and what is possible. We only need to turn toward His reaching arms."

Kathleen H. Hughes, "Remembering the Lord's Love," Ensign, Nov. 2006