Daniel J.H. Greenwood

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Education and the High Road to Prosperity

May 6, 2004

Today, Salt Lake City competes for new jobs with the whole world. To compete, Utah must have something exceptional to offer.

Too often, we’ve taken the low road of self-exploitation: low wages, minimal environmental protection, low taxes. Utah has advertised itself as willing to let ourselves be taken advantage of, and sometimes it happens. But the low road has serious problems – who wants to live in the nuclear waste dump capital of the country? Why should we condemn our children to poorly paid jobs or leaving home? Do we really want young families to be holding down multiple jobs?

And the low road becomes lower and lower as the world shrinks. Today, to follow the low road, we must demonstrate not only that we are willing to work for less than employees in Georgia but also Gujarat (India), not only that we will accept more pollution than Brownsville but also than Bhopal. Is this really the game we want to be playing?

The high road alternative is clear. Highly educated workforces in exciting, vibrant cities attract highly paid, highly interesting jobs. New York or LA cost more, but New Yorkers and Angelenos make more too. This is a better game to be in.

If we choose to, we can compete with New York and Los Angeles, or at least with Denver and Seattle.

We have spectacular mountains, extraordinary outdoor recreation, unusual foreign language expertise, a central time zone, a highly urbanized population, a reasonable work ethic, a wonderful new public library, a relatively compact center with a major research university.

Now we need to bring our educational system from good to excellent, encourage the arts, revive downtown with restaurants, museums, theaters and public spaces, create a transit network including dedicated bike and jogging paths, and make this city an exciting center of intellectual and entrepreneurial ferment.

The core of the high road is education. Education is the life blood of a community. First, of course, education is a goal in itself, not just a tool to other ends. Well-educated people have more to think about, more to talk about, are more able to participate in the arts and self-government, more interests, more ideas and more needs. Second, education is the way to create and win challenging, creative, interesting, well-paid jobs in this highly competitive world.

But our educational system is starving. The lowest per student spending in the country in the primary schools with the huge classes that are a necessary result; a flagship University without enough classroom seats for its undergraduates, known nationally as just the place for other schools to go to poach rising professorial stars.

You get what you pay for – but for some reason our politicians seem to think this doesn’t apply to education. According to an article in this week’s Salt Lake Tribune (Thurs May 6, 2004), 11% of Utah teachers quit each year. It isn’t hard to see why: huge classes, low pay, rigid structures take the satisfaction out of teaching. Alternative careers offer more reward, financial and otherwise, and less frustration. At the university level, the story is much the same, except that professors more often leave town than leave the profession. Schools in other states offer better working conditions and more pay; one has to have a good reason – and usually not a professional one – to stay. If we want excellent education, we are just going to have to pay for it.

That means taxes. We pay high taxes on our gasoline and have good roads as a result. Now it is time to pay the rest of the taxes that will allow us to have good schools and good jobs too.

It is time for a new kind of taxpayers revolt: taxpayers demanding that the government provide the services they need and charge them for it.