2014 Caucus Presentation

Take a step forward … for public education downloadable handout.
http://www.slideshare.net/hollylangton1/delegate-handout

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Which is it?

Here’s the math. This year per pupil funding is at $2,577 dollars. Next year it’s $2,816 dollars, a gain of $239 dollars. But while the legislature was increasing funding for one area, it was decreasing it in another. Lawmakers took money the schools already had and moved it to increase per pupil funding.

Hidden budget cuts have a big impact on local schools

Moving money around is not the same as increasing the pot. But certain legislators convinced the Legislature to do just that. And then to claim they have provided the new money needed to educate an expected influx of more than 14,000 new students in Utah schools next year.

After the State Office of Education analyzed education funding dollars, they found it may not curb class sizes after all. In fact, there is less funding per pupil in the coming year, than there is this year.

President Rutherford B. Hayes didn’t utter much that was memorable, but in his inaugural address of 1877, he made a statement that is applicable to the flap over HB477, the bill limiting access to public records through the Government Records Access and Management Act, and Rep. Kraig Powell’s regret over his affirmative vote: “He serves his party best who serves the country best.”

Hayes’ fellow Republicans were bitter because he refused to give special favors to party politicians, but history labels Hayes as sincere and honest if not necessarily notable.

My experience during 16 years as a Republican in the Utah House of Representatives validates Rep. Powell’s anxiety. His bills and political goals could have been thwarted had he originally voted against HB477. I will share a few of my own experiences, but other legislators also have stories about inappropriate political consequences.

There are many ways to kill a bill, and I’m familiar with them. On occasion I would strongly disagree with the positions of legislative leaders, and I paid a political price.

In 2007, I could not get two bills out of the House Rules Committee: a bill on restitution for criminal victims and a bill on camcorder piracy of media. Neither bill was controversial and both were supported by professional groups. I was told by a member of Rules that the bills were dead because I was the sponsor. Although I was never told why I was an objectionable sponsor, that was the year of school vouchers, and I was adamantly opposed to vouchers.

The bills were important to those who had asked me to carry them, so after several unsuccessful attempts to resolve the issue with the Rules chair and the House speaker, I transferred the bills to another sponsor. The bills then zipped through the Legislature without a single dissenting vote. I dared not complain to the press, or the consequences could easily have been more severe.

For the Constitutional Revision Commission, I was sponsoring an amendment to clarify the succession of the lieutenant governor to become governor. That resolution was hijacked by another legislator who had much more power. It passed in the Legislature, was approved by the public, and is now law.

Hijacking of bills, while not common, is not as rare as the story of transferring bills to another sponsor, and then watching as the bills sail through at high speed simply because of a sponsor name change.

In recent years my bills were often unnecessarily delayed to send a not-so-subtle message that I should be more cooperative. In 2009, I carried a bill for prosecutors to alter the penalties when minors distribute inappropriate materials, nowadays referred to as “sexting.” The prosecutors and I watched in dismay and then worked hard as this bill stalled for five weeks, and we all knew the reason — my sponsorship. With a lot of good intervention from those who supported this bill, it passed just prior to legislative adjournment.

Even though I had significant seniority, I commonly was denied committees or assignments I had requested.

Rep. Powell’s apprehension that his bills may have been held hostage if he did not vote for HB477 was justified. Legislators, without being explicitly told, know there are occasional steep costs for not being a political party team player. I admire Rep. Powell’s honesty in exposing his legislative vulnerability.

There were additional ill-advised legislative exploitations in 2011. SB44 sponsored by Sen. Margaret Dayton severely limits the ability of two effective legislative advisory committees to meet: the Constitutional Revision Commission and the Tax Review Commission. Sen. Curtis Bramble’s SB165 further erodes the constitutionally protected right to public initiatives. Both bills are dangerous and deserve vetoes and should never have passed.

Rep. Powell’s proposal to require bills to have at least a 72-hour cooling-off period would help avoid another HB477 rush job. However, an even more effective cure would be to restore balance in Utah government. Yes, I mean electing both Democrats and Republicans.

The founding framers wanted legislation to be difficult. They wanted vigorous debate, and they wanted compromise. Utah no longer has some of these critical checks and balances, and HB477 is Exhibit A. Other exhibits are available. One-party dominance can too easily ignore the public interest.

Utah’s political party delegate system also exacerbates the problem. Jane Citizen frequently does not get to choose among all candidates. In many legislative districts, this decision is made by a small group of party delegates. How many of you got to vote for or against Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010 or Gov. Olene Walker in 2004? Only the delegates!

This makes our elected representatives far less responsive to the general public and far too responsive to their political party and party delegates.

President Hayes got it exactly right. Utah needs a system where elected officials serve us, and not their political parties.

Sheryl Allen, of Bountiful, is a former member of the Utah House and was a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2010.  Reprinted with permission.

With the winding down of days left in this year’s legislative session, things are ramping up.  Schools this legislative session have seen it all—in 131 different education-related fixes, reforms, budget issues, and pet projects.  Interestingly, 19 have been abandoned and only 8 have passed, leaving 104 left to see their fate before the 2011 General Session of the 59th Legislature adjourns sine die.  That’s just 10 days, folks.

Apparently, this might not be enough micromanaging or political intervention for the Legislature because yesterday Senator Howard Stephenson unveiled a bill to make the State School Board an extension of the political parties.  Yes, if this bill passes, school decision makers will be forced to run through a political party, be elected in a partisan election,  and become embroiled with all the politics that comes with it.  So much for making decisions based solely on what’s good for school children!

We can only hope that others in the Legislature consider the following survey information:

  • The poll shows 78% favor keeping the process non-partisan rather than getting nominations through political parties. (Feb. 2011 Utah Policy Daily, Opinionology Poll)
  • 66% oppose forcing candidates for the Utah State Board of Education to run through a political party which would require going through primaries and conventions in order to get nominated. (Nov. 2011 Dan Jones Survey)
  • 67% of those who took the survey indicated that their public schools “probably are not” or “definitely are not” adequately funded in order to provide a quality education. (Nov. 2011 Dan Jones Survey)
  • Respondents identified themselves by party:  51% Republican, 15% Democrat, and 22% Independent. (Nov. 2011 Dan Jones Survey)

There has been much debate and publicity on the idea of partisan vs. non-partisan school boards in the past couple of months.  As you can see, the more citizens have become educated on the issue, the more sure they are that partisan school boards do not serve the children of the state.

There are many, many reasons not to pass a partisan school board bill.  No one political party captures all of the issues in public education nor has all the remedies for its many challenges.  Public education should not be restricted by operating inside of the parameters of a political party or of its party leader(s).  Partisan politics, even well-intended, tends to be uneven and subject to the whims of lawmakers.  Schools should not have to brace for new administrations or new majorities or new representatives each election cycle.  Children and teachers need continuity and stability, even as they work to innovate and improve.  Local leadership provides local accessibility to all of Utah’s citizens.  Let’s not have school board members become “beholden” to politicians; let’s keep them accountable to their neighbors and local communities.

Contact your Senator and Representative today, and tell them to vote NO on SB224 Partisan School Board Elections.  Find out who your Senator and Representative are here.

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Despite reports to the contrary, there has been a steady decline—totaling 16%—in the actual dollar value of the WPU (Weighted Pupil Unit) over the course of the last several years.  The statutory value of the WPU was set (by the legislature) at $2577 for FY 2009 through FY 2011.  However, Flexible Allocation WPU Distribution, a line in the Basic School Program (formerly called Social Security and Retirement), adds to the value of the WPU because it is distributed as an add-on to the districts in exactly the same manner as the WPU, making the value of the WPU incrementally higher than that actually shown in the statute and on the budget sheets distributed by the Public Education Appropriations Committee. 

Originally, this line item was created to help districts pay for increasing retirement and social security costs.  It now functions as a WPU add-on, which gives local schools the flexibility to allocate the funds according to their specific needs.  Its distribution is based on the percentage of WPUs local schools receive.  So, fundamentally, cutting this line item is just like cutting the value of the WPU. 

The numbers below show the true value, and how it has declined.

FY 2009

$350 million divided by 714,000 WPUs=$490 (Flexible Allocation WPU Distribution-formerly called Social Security and Retirement)

$490 (added WPU value)
+$2577  (statutorily generated WPU value)
=$3067 (True Value of WPU)

FY 2010

$280 million divided by 731,500 WPUs=$384 (Flexible Allocation WPU Distribution-formerly called Social Security and Retirement)

$384 (added WPU value)
+$2577  (statutorily generated WPU value)
=$2961 (True Value of WPU)

FY 2011

$217 million divided by 745,100 WPUs=$291 (Flexible Allocation WPU Distribution-formerly called Social Security and Retirement)

$291 (added WPU value)
+$2577  (statutorily generated WPU value)
=$2868 (True value of WPU)

FY 2012

$0 (added WPU value)
+$2577 (statutorily generated WPU value)
=$2577 (True value of the WPU)

The FY 2012 budget proposes cutting the Flexible Allocation WPU Distribution completely, causing the true value of the WPU to drop to the statutory value of $2577.  This is a hidden cut to the basic funding unit of public education and is difficult to track, but will result in further losses to teacher salaries in local districts, larger class sizes and fewer programs.  Additionally, if this is the avenue for funding growth, or supplanting education funds in another area, it’s tantamount to another undisclosed cut to public education.  Held harmless?  Hardly!

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I must be on a few Utah email lists still. Kim Burningham emailed me this afternoon regarding a potential bill (as yet, unnumbered) in the Utah Legislature regarding the selection of Board of Education members in Utah.

Kim’s email offered an opportunity to explore the rationale behind my position, to wit, open general elections are preferable both to the current system and partisan seats. Although I’m no longer a Utah resident, perhaps my experience on the Utah State Board of Education lends some weight to my argument. In short, I agree with Kim’s statement:

The education of Utah’s children is best served by a non-partisan direct election of school boards by the people.Email from Kim Burningham, received 20 Jan 2011

There are two issues at play here—first, the primary bill which would reportedly change elections of state school board members to be consistent with the election of local school board members, that is, via an open general election, and second, a purported movement by some legislators to amend the not-yet-a-bill to make both state and local board partisan offices. I support the first, and oppose the second.

I believe there are many negative consequences of partisan boards, not the least of which are greater polarization and the reduced weight of public voice. The only benefit of party affiliation is a perhaps slightly higher profile race, and I’m not convinced it out-weighs the costs.

Divisive artificial boundaries

Members of a partisan board join with pre-attached labels. For better or worse, we all use labels; they are part of our mental heuristics to make tasks easier and safer. If you harken back to high school, you remember the jocks, yuppies, nerds, thespians, partiers, drunks, punks, stoners, goths and bangers. (I didn’t grow up in Utah, so we didn’t have cowboys.) Perhaps your school had different names, but they were all there. Social groups were (and are) largely defined by labels, with unfortunately little cross-pollination. Each of us associates with such cliques by default. Exclusivity feeds our self-image. We identify with ethnic groups, interest groups (in the hobby/pastime sense, not just the political sense), religious groups, or even our departments at work, and evaluate our own worth by the success of the group and its members, even if that success is detrimental to a larger society.

Unfortunately, the downside of group membership is the tendency to distrust out-group members. It’s telling that so many in politics consider working “across the aisle” as a mark of distinction rather than a minimal standard of expected behavior. (And equally telling that others view unwillingness to compromise with similar distinction.) This behavior is not confined to politicians. Visiting the comment pages of political news sites brings up a host of comments overlooking individual differences, side-stepping civility and decrying “Rethuglicans” or “Democraps.” Intended or not, simply the presence of party labels will seed disunity and dysfunction in a state or local board, making it a less effective servant of the public.

Polarization and extremes

It is the nature of groups to be polarizing in their mindset. (“You’re either for us or against us.”) Consider presidential politics. Karl Rove demonstrated how effective polarization and vilification are as political tools. Candidates from both sides pander to the extreme wings of their respective parties in the primary and swerve toward the middle in the general election to capture moderate swing voters. Ultra-conservative tea-party candidates largely won in the most recent House elections in strongly Republican districts, as moderate candidates were ousted during primaries. On the Democratic side, recall how Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) was beaten by the liberal wing of his party, but went on to win re-election after filing as an independent and capturing moderate voices. The introduction of partisanship on the State Board of Education would lead to an increased number of extreme voices on the board. Perhaps you are one who believes those extremes would pull the board more in line with your thinking; I am not. Such polarization would distract the board from its duty to deliver quality education for the children of Utah by focusing too much time on tangential matters related to party ideology.

Additional stakeholders

Introducing partisanship adds additional stakeholders to the election process at the expense of the citizen voter. Neighborhood delegates and (dare I say it?) automatic delegates (who, because board district boundaries do not align with legislative boundaries were not necessarily elected solely by citizens in the area they vote in) have a strengthened voice and must be courted and appeased. Legislators, the most senior of which have a great deal of influence in party politics, will have greater input into the selection of board members.

It will not occur in every district. It will not occur all of the time. But it will occur. The best guard against the possibility of influence peddling, deal-making, or vindictive politics is by distributing as much influence as possible directly to voters through open general non-partisan elections.

Further, PACs and special interests will have greater influence on candidates in a partisan system, as they often contribute directly to parties, and candidates receive some of these funds through the party. Increased dollars in education races may be laudable in that it raises the profile of education races, but not if the primary sources are out of district interests seeking to influence single issues. Non-partisan elections makes a PAC’s direct-to-candidate donations more transparent, and single-issue candidates typically find work with the board of education has a much broader scope than they ever anticipated.

Fewer stakeholders

Compounding the effects of centralizing the public voice to a few delegates, in a partisan system candidates are socially and politically faced with less obligation to members of the opposing party. In fact, lesser treatment of-out group members typically increases credibility with the in-group. To be most effective, school board members should be expected to represent the interest or all citizens; this is easiest when there are no incentives (or diminished repercussions) to partiality.

Useless labels

Whether or not you’re in favor of a two-party system, you must agree the labels “Democrat” and “Republican” allow for general assumptions on a slew of issues ranging from abortion and gun control to health care and global warming. You might associate Republicans with the “choice” movement, but “choice” means different things to different people (as opposing groups have sought to redefine it for their benefit), and the citizens heavily Republican Utah voted against the implementation of a voucher law passed by their elected representatives. Other than the plank in the Utah Republican party platform (2009) asserting the right of parents to choose “to choose public, private, or home education” (has this ever been in doubt?) and encouraging “initiatives to help all Utahans become literate in English,” there is little to guide a discerning voter. (To be fair, the county platforms, e.x., R-Utah County, can be more rigid.) The Utah Democratic Party Platform (2009) is similarly warm and fuzzy, calling for “rational education reform based on quality research,” a position both broad and reasonable enough to be unarguable but with a multitude of meanings depending on the listener. (There is, however, a dig at Republicans for Utah being perpetually lowest in per-pupil funding). Further, as the platforms are general guides and elected members are not bound to adhere to their all of their tenets (for example, you’ll likely admit our most recent Republican president did not march behind the banner of limited government), even the most local platforms might not be applicable to a candidate’s education views. Thus, what I see as a primary purpose of the party system—to collect like-minded individuals on a broad range of issues—becomes a less-effective label in the limited context of education.

Consider, for example, Utah’s education special interest groups. In other arenas, such groups often bind tightly to a particular party. While that may be true of PCE, such groups as the PTA, Utahns for Public Schools, and the Utah School Boards Association are decidedly non-partisan. Even the UEA is composed of members of both parties (although some Republicans might argue it’s dominated by Democrats). In short, party labels for board members are ineffective in providing voters with the same level of insight as compared with more general offices.

Perspectives from other states

Lastly, as a member of the Utah State Board of Education, it was my privilege to participate in national study groups and advocacy as part of the National Associate of State Boards of Education (NASBE). Members from most states are a part. As governance and authority differs from state to state, a common topic of water-cooler conversation is the composition of boards. To a person, every individual I met from a partisan board (appointed and elected) said it increased divisiveness and back-room scheming, and they pined for non-partisan offices.

Candidate/committee stacking

Clearly there is agreement that the current Utah system is inadequate and prone to manipulation. Each of the last several elections has seen one side or the accuse the opposition of manipulation by stuffing the candidate list and/or the nominating committee. Those fights (and the system that engenders them) are unproductive—and I say this as a past beneficiary of the committee selection system.

Conclusion

Utahns deserve boards of education unencumbered by the machinations of political parties. A recent political poll by Dan Jones (although admittedly sponsored by someone against partisan board offices) demonstrated unequivocally that Utahns oppose making either state or local boards of education partisan. (DesNews) Partisan bills have failed in the past (2007, SB194S02) despite a multitude of sponsors in the senate, but legislation for direct election has been unsuccessful too (2009, HB150S01, although this bill also had an unaccepted public substitute requiring partisan elections). Clearly the issue is on the minds of legislators. I hope they make the best choice for Utah.

As an elected member of the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) from 2005 through 2008, Tom Gregory served as vice-chair for the Law & Policy Committee.  In the past, he’s volunteered as a contributing editor for UtahPolitics.org during the 2004 gubernatorial election, and has worked as a substitute teacher.  After graduating with an MBA in 2009, he moved to Georgia to begin a PhD in Information Systems.  Reprinted with permission.

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Forced to tighten their fiscal belts even further due to the tough economy, state leaders across the country are seeking policy solutions that generate both immediate and long-term economic returns.

While the Utah Department of Workforce Services is forecasting every employment sector to grow in 2011, a trend that is a testament to Utah’s wise planning for the future, one proven education strategy, noted for strengthening the workforce, stimulating economic development, and building a strong educational base in Utah, is in danger of losing funding this year.

State funding for optional extended day kindergarten (OEK) was authorized in 2006 for four years, and will expire in June of 2011. This investment in early learning pays long-term dividends for our children and our state and should be continued. The educational and economic benefits of investments in early learning have been well-documented, and evaluations of Utah’s OEK program have consistently shown that it benefits the entire student population, not just students in attendance.

Education has long been a priority for United Way of Salt Lake. In 2010, that group conducted research to determine the significant challenges facing Utah individuals and families.

In the area of education, it asked what is necessary for children, youth and adults to reach their potential. Research indicated that early-learning opportunities were critical to the success of a student.

As a result of this research, United Way has refocused its efforts in education to work with the community to help build a strong foundation of early learning from birth to age 8. Continuing to fund the OEK program will help ensure that Utah students get the educational foundation they deserve — improving children’s cognitive, social and emotional skills; decreasing the need for grade retention and special education services and helping to close the achievement gap.

Although research consistently points to early learning as a key component for success in school and later in life, an alarming number of Utah children are not receiving the educational opportunities they need.

Less than half of children from birth to age 5 are read to by their parents every day, and children spent less time in pre-kindergarten classrooms in 2007 than they did in 2003.

In 2003, approximately 55 percent of Utah children age 3-5 years regularly attended a preschool program. By 2007, this number had decreased to 39 percent. (Utah State Office of Education, 2009).

Statistics like these highlight the need for a well-funded OEK program.

Additionally, a recent longitudinal study of OEK conducted in Granite, Jordan and Salt Lake City school districts by Voices for Utah Children found that children who attended OEK made significant gains in first through third grades and, in many cases, passed their peers who did not attend an OEK program.

In addition to being a proven program, OEK is popular with parents who want extended learning opportunities for their children.

On a personal level, I have seen the benefits my own young children have experienced with extended-day kindergarten, which is one of the reasons I am so passionate about this issue.

Our state cannot afford to let the funding for such a valuable and proven strategy expire.

The OEK program is critical to reducing the achievement gap and ensuring all Utah students have a strong foundation of early learning. Investing in Utah’s children is the soundest economic investment we can make to secure the future of this great state.

Reprinted with permission~Mike Zody is an attorney with Parsons Behle & Latimer and a member of United Way of Salt Lake’s board of directors and public policy committee.

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We made it through week #1

With week one behind us in this year’s legislative session, you might wonder just what else could come up.  So far, there’s an effort to shift the control of public education out of the hands of your elected school board members and give it to legislators, or to the Governor, or make  school board decision-makers into politicos.  Shifting power, that’s just for starters. 

Of course, public education is everyone’s priority, the Governor’s, the Democrats’, businesses’, Utahns for Public Schools‘, everyone’s.

Priority or not, the Legislature talked about cutting the education budget, then they talked about cutting the education budget again, and yes, they talked about cutting the education budget a little more.  Actually, one legislator talked about not cutting the budget—gee, thanks!

Representative Sandstrom IS SUCCEEDING in making it possible for clubs to use school playing fields as well as school buildings; Representative Powell MIGHT be able to make it legal for your students teachers to ask you to voluntarily have your students bring their own school supplies; but Representative Morley WON’T be able to tell history teachers how to teach their classes.

Everyone is hooked up to social media these days; are you?  If you’re interested in knowing what we know—almost before we know it—follow UTPS (Utahns for Public Schools) on twitter, and follow our friends, too: UTPublicEd (State Board of Education); UtahHal (that’s me); swcarey (from Utah PTA); and lschencker (Salt Lake Tribune education reporter). You can find Utahns for Public Schools on facebook, and check out Utah Public Education.

So far this week, thirteen committee meetings have been canceled, eleven revised, and fifty have come off without a hitch. There are 42 days until the final day of the 2011 General Legislative Session.

And…

Phew, at least we know it’s okay for legislators to accept free Girl Scout cookies—I know you were all worried about that!

Stay tuned for more legislative information and updates from Utahns for Public Schools

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Vote November 2nd

Utah State Board of Education candidates respond to important education issues.

Information on public education issues.

What’s on my ballot?

Election candidates

Constitutional Amendments:

Amendment A

Amendment B

Amendment C

Amendment D

View Issues & Propositions By County

Sample ballot

Your polling place

Voter information pamphlet

Forward this blog to others in your address book, or post this blog for your friends on facebook and twitter. http://blog.utahnsforpublicschools.org/archives/2010/10/25/be-an-informed…her-voters-too/

“Democracy is not for the lazy, but instead requires engaged citizenship,” ~Jowers

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When is Election Day?
November 2

When the polls are open on Election Day?
Elections Polls open at 7am and close at 8pm.

How do I vote early?
Click here to find early voting locations for your county. Early voting begins on October 19th and ends on October 29th at 5:00PM. To vote early, you must be registered at least 30 days before the election. The locations and hours for early voting will be determined by the county clerk who will notify the residents of a county through the newspaper.

Where do I go to vote?
You can find your polling location by visiting http://vote.utah.gov/elections/location/

When do I register to vote?
Voter registration forms must be postmarked at least 30 days before an election in order to vote in that election. You may also register in-person at the county clerk’s office 15 days before the election; however you will not be eligible to vote early. You must send in a new registration form if you move, change your name, or wish to change your party affiliation.

How do I register to vote?
If you have a currently valid Utah driver’s license or ID card, you can register to vote online at https://secure.utah.gov/voterreg/index.html. A voter registration form can be found at http://elections.utah.gov/VoterRegistrationForm.pdf. Voter registration forms should be sent to your respective county clerk’s office. A list of addresses can be found on the last page of the voter registration form.

What are the requirements to register to vote?
A person must be at least 18 years-old, a citizen of the United States, and a resident of Utah for 30 days.

Where can I find election results?
Election results will start being posted after the polls close on election night. You can find these at http://electionresults.utah.gov/xmlData/main.html.
Education is an important responsibility for elected officials at all levels, and thus an important area to consider in every election. Every member in society has an investment in a quality public education school system. Good schools lead to strong economies, better jobs, less crime, and many other positive social outcomes.

Public Schools:Are We Doing Enough?

In a recent report [Sept 2010],  Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card, Utah receives an “A” for fairness in distribution of public education funds, but an “F” in effort. Effort is a state’s spending for education relative to its fiscal capacity. Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card defines “Effort” as the ratio of state spending to state per-capita gross domestic product (GDP).

School Funding and Tax Policy Series Reports I-IV  highlight legislative policy changes that are responsible for Utah’s decline in Public Education funding effort. In addition, it is a warning that if these trends persist, they will continue to significantly limit funding to Public Education in the future.

School Funding and Tax Policy Report I
School Funding and Tax Policy Report II
School Funding and Tax Policy Report III
School Funding and Tax Policy Report IV

Of course, funding alone will not lead to better academic performance and outcomes for students. Funding also must be invested wisely, focusing on key areas such as quality instruction, strong curriculum, programs for struggling students, smaller class sizes in the early grades and other targeted subject areas. These and other research proven strategies will prepare students to assume the responsibility they’ll encounter and to succeed in today’s economy.

“Make Your Vote Count on November 2nd—Support the Candidate that Supports Your Neighborhood School!”

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