Saturday, February 13, 2010

SB 150 - Holding Back Your 1st Grader

Senator Karen Morgan introduced SB 150 - Reading Requirements for Student Advancement. It "requires that students in first, second, and third grades read at or above grade level prior to advancing to the next grade, with certain exceptions."

The focus of SB150 is to force students, parents, and teachers to ensure students can read at their class level. The goal is not to hold them back a grade, it's to threaten it so that everyone involved takes reading more seriously. Which may sound great in theory, but I think there are a number of possible unintended consequences to this policy.

The fiscal note says that if students are kept back that would add another child to the system for another year, thereby increasing costs. Sen. Morgan said that 20% of students leaving third grade don't read at grade level. If even half of those are held back, that increases our student population by 10%. In a state where we already have a student overpopulation problem, with its attending cost issues and class size problems, this policy doesn't seem like a good idea.

I would much rather see our efforts going toward lowering class sizes in grades 1-3 because that has shown to have the greatest effect on student achievement. With smaller class sizes, students in those grades would not only increase their reading ability but would show improvement across the board.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Should Cities Fund Rec Centers?

I live in Eagle Mountain, which has about 20,000 residents. Last year around this time city officials started circulating a plan to build a rec center. The closest center to Eagle Mountain is in Lehi, about a 20 minute drive away. Having our own center has been a strong desire of many residents, and many elected officials, for some time. However, when the city's plan to finance one was made known last year, there was strong opposition based on economic issues. So strong, in fact, that the city put all plans on hold. I'm sure that it being an election year had nothing to do with that decision.

I attended some of last year's meetings regarding the proposed rec center. It was stated that no private enterprise would build a facility like those that cities build. The closest thing we would have would be a Gold's Gym type workout center. But anything with swimming facilities and climbing walls and senior citizen areas etc. would never be built without public funding. There is just no money to be made in that area, we were told.

Since then our pro-rec center mayor was reelected and we added a strong proponent of the center to the city council, so it comes as no surprise that the idea is anything but dead. However, what strikes me about this issue is that the economic concerns voiced by the public last year have not really gone away, and even if they had for most people, there will always be some who have economic problems. If it's unjust to impose higher taxes when everyone is feeling threatened by the economy, then isn't it unjust if even one homeowner feels threatened?

So it would seem that raising taxes to pay for a rec center hinges on the question of whether a rec center is necessary for the common good. In this vein, I've heard it compared to city parks. Parks are paid for and maintained by public funds - everyone is taxed for them and they consistently need public funding to remain solvent. No one seems to have any problem with city parks which are clearly recreational facilities, so why would there be opposition to an indoor recreation facility?

While that argument seems logical, I'm not sold. Racquetball courts and family swimming centers would be great. My family would certainly love it. But I remain unconvinced that it is something that falls within an acceptable use of tax revenue.