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Within the early days of the new 2012 legislative session, and on the heels of the recently announced Prosperity 2020 initiative by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Utah Democrats have announced their own remedies for our public schools. Called the Best Schools Initiative (BSI), Utah Democrats are hoping to drive the focus of public school reforms back to teachers.

BSI’s goals are for every student to have four things: (1) a great teacher, (2) individualized attention, (3) a world-class curriculum and (4) family and neighborhood supports.

While both plans are upbeat and sound hopeful, each contains flaws, not the least of which is throwing more money at the wrong solutions. The question for both plans is this: Does more dumping more money into public schools mean better academic achievement?

Like most things in life, the answer is both yes and no. If the question is, “Do resources invested in a child’s education make a difference?” the answer is clearly yes. But if the question is, “Are there direct correlations between more money to public schools and better academic results?” the answer is clearly no. As any good parent knows, there’s more to “resources” and “investment” than money. Utah spends much more on education as a proportion of its state budget than many other states, but less per pupil because we have so many children, and yet Utah schools are the envy of many states who spend double, even triple, the amounts per pupil.

The teachers union initiative, pushed by Utah’s Democrats, correctly expresses the value of parental involvement and individualized attention. Activist teachers always qualify their support for the successes of home schooling by arguing that public-school children would benefit equally from individualized instruction, like a parent gives to a child in the home, but they fail to understand that the success of individualized instruction has more to do with the parent doing the instructing and less to do with one-on-one time.

The key to academic success in K-12 – not simply “a” key – is parental involvement. In most cases, more money alone won’t compensate for failure in the home. In fact, the reason Utah students, on less per-pupil spending than other states, can outperform students in those other states is precisely because our families are strong in Utah. I wonder if these two camps have ever considered that the cost of education is on the rise because our families are falling apart.

If Utah’s business community wants great workers into the future, it would spend much more time and energy on strengthening family composition than worrying about education funding. If they take care of the one, the other will follow.

But family policy takes thought and political courage in a deteriorating culture. Education funding only takes political pressure. Promoting family policy also requires the valuing of human beings and not simply their price.

Utah Democrats, too, would be on the right track if they focused more on parental involvement and less on the agenda of the teachers union. At the heart of both of these education initiatives lies a deception. Money doesn’t make people smarter. What makes little children flourish academically is the knowledge that they have two parents who love them and are invested deeply in every one of their successes in life. Parents see the totality of the child. These proposals only see one aspect, and that’s where these initiatives are flawed.

There’s a reason why most Utahns believe that family is the fundamental unit of society.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

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