Why I Am Running
I believe that our schools are the vital resource for parents, students, and our broader society. They are the key to our economy and our democracy. I believe the state board of education needs advocates for public education to ensure that taxpayer money is spent wisely and that our students can achieve high standards.
I believe the best way to do that is to increase transparency and accessibility. Linda Hansen and Laurieann Thorpe both have done excellent jobs at visiting schools during their service on the board, and I will continue that if elected. My goal will be to visit all of the 73 schools in Board District 3 during the two years of my service. I would welcome meeting with a broad range of stakeholders; the district I seek to represent varies in many demographics and needs, so I think it is vital to reach out to as many people as possible to inform any votes.
Additionally, I am concerned that much of the board’s work flies under the radar. Absent the most controversial issues, news coverage of the board is almost non-existent. This leaves it susceptible to the whims of lobbyists and groups whose interests may be ill-informed or corruptive.
As a Board member, I would be more open and public about items on the agenda of every board meeting, mostly through more effective use of social media and newsletters. To maintain transparency, I intend to publish my calendar, either in advance or retroactively, so that the public can see who I meet with and who is influencing my decisions.
I cannot tell the future, but I can tell that this situation has been chaotic for parents, students, teachers, administrators, and everyone. What I heard from all involved is that leadership is needed–and that leadership must be informed by science. My goal is to have as much in-person learning as possible, but there are reasons to consider alternatives, though we can acknowledge they will not be as effective or fair. As a board member, my votes on emergency activities will be guided by the following principles:
- Safety–the most important thing we must do is protect the health and well-being of our students, teachers, and their families.
- Evidence—our decisions must be based on research and best practices there are available, so that we are not wasting money, putting students even further back, and frustrating parents.
- Equity—as many have noted, this crisis has further exposed the inequities present in our education system. While there has been an admirable effort, there is no question that some students have not been able to take advantage of the limited learning opportunities that home-based schooling presented.
- Maintaining and increasing education funding—Now is not the time to cut the education budget. While the legislature and governor set the budget, the board must make it clear to them that reductions in funding will reduce our state’s economic recovery and competitiveness.
Children with special needs
As the husband of a special education teacher, I strongly believe the board needs a voice to speak out for those students. The board needs to continue to emphasize their needs in strategic plans, ensure that legislation actually helps and doesn’t hurt, and give teachers the flexibility and resources to help these students. I support efforts to hire and fairly pay support staff and paraprofessionals to help teachers and students.
The State Board is empowered to make standards, but we only achieve success by having respect for democratic processes and participatory improvement, a high regard for teachers, clear strategies with buy-in from all stake-holders, and accountability frameworks that include room to innovate. Board District 3 compromises some of the greatest diversity in any of the school board districts. We need to find solutions that work for teachers in West Valley and Wendover, in Callao and Tooele and everywhere in between. My visits with school teachers will help me make sure that they are given the resources to work with their communities so that their students can succeed.
The School Board needs to encourage the legislature to increase teacher pay, and restore strong retirement benefits. The State Board should put out standards for compensation that districts should attempt to meet, and work with education associations and others to keep salaries close to other professions.
The School Board should ensure that teaching is seen not just as a viable, long-term career, but a career that is respected by the workforce. It must been seen not as a sacrifice to be an educator, but an honor that is well-compensated. The Board should ensure that teaching is made not just a recitation of facts to be tested upon, but an opportunity to help children become their best selves regardless of their background.
The School Board also must actively increase racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in the education field. If the school workforce represents our broader community, it will be easier to address pay gaps that have existed for far too long.
Students who are afraid, for any reason, to go to school will not have positive educational outcomes. Challenges not only exist now from the coronavirus, but we still see bullying, hazing, and suicide among too many students. Additionally, we are not free from violence occurring in our schools. While the pandemic should encourage more school medical personnel spending, the State Board should encourage spending on mental health assistance for students. Additional counselors, social workers, special educators, and other professionals can work with parents, teachers, and administrations to help students achieve beyond what a test can measure.
School discipline should be handled in school, and not through law enforcement unless absolutely necessary. I am committed to ending the school-to-prison pipeline, transitioning funding for school resource officers to more effective disciplinary approaches, and helping youth in custody overcome mistakes to become productive members of our community.
I believe parents should be free to choose any school that they want to for their child. However, our neighborhood public schools educate the almost 90% of our students, and deserve our greatest investments, attention, and efforts to make them the best schools anywhere. That includes making targeted investments in schools to keep them open and strong in as many neighborhoods as possible.
Charter schools are public schools, and I believe they can be part of Utah’s education solutions. These schools present innovations that have been adopted in neighborhood schools, and I support the efforts they take to experiment with new methods. Nonetheless, we’ve unfortunately seen failures of charter schools in the past few years, and I believe we can look at making sure charter schools, as well as neighborhood schools, are utilizing our tax dollars wisely and safely. As part of this, I support increased transparency for charter schools, such as requiring charter and educational management companies be registered as 501(c)3 non-profit organizations. Many other states require this simple step toward transparency and I believe we need to do that in Utah now.
When schools close, whether they be charter or neighborhood, we need to more to help parents know what is happening, what their options are, and involve them in the process. When the risk of closure becomes a possibility, parents should be informed as soon as possible. When a closure is announced, the closing school should be required to help parents find options before the school is shut down.
Finally, I do not support private school vouchers or tuition tax credits. These programs have not shown success in their limited experiments, and, as I said, our greatest investment should be in making our neighborhood public schools more accessible and achieving.