Time for Utah to develop comprehensive plan to address inequality in public education

Canyons School District recently changed its boundaries to shuffle students among its high schools, notably Alta High, which is well under capacity, and Corner Canyon High, which is operating at 115 percent of capacity. The district’s solution is to move only 63 students from Corner Canyon to Alta while moving 175 students from nearby Jordan High School to Alta. All this despite the fact that Jordan doesn’t have the overcrowding problem facing Corner Canyon, and, in fact, will ultimately end up with more students overall than before the boundary change.

Many parents, particularly those at Jordan High, see the changes as nonsensical. They insist the logical move is to make up Alta’s shortfall with Corner Canyon students, not Jordan students. They also point to the fact that Corner Canyon is slated for a multimillion-dollar expansion in the coming years, and a boundary change that diverted some of its student body to Alta would relieve some of the pressure making an expensive expansion necessary. Corner Canyon parents, however, overwhelmingly prefer to keep their children where they are, despite the fact that class sizes are large — 45 students per classroom in some cases — and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

The entire dispute is largely focused on perceived financial disparities between the schools. Corner Canyon largely serves a more affluent population than both Jordan and Alta, and many students and parents consider any change in schools to be a step down. All this is happening in a school district that broke away from the larger Jordan School District several years ago in an often less-than-amicable split fueled largely by concerns that the wealthier schools on the east side of the district were subsidizing the poorer ones on the west side.

This is not the first such dispute over school resources, nor is it likely to be the last.

While the state is committed to providing a quality public education to all, the challenge has long been how to provide an equitable experience for all students, regardless of their financial background. Several proposals have been floated over the years that would take steps in that direction, but, in practical terms, this goal remains more theory than fact. Parents, educators and even lawmakers often seem more interested in protecting their local turf than in finding workable solutions that benefit the whole state, not just the neighborhood school.

That’s human nature, but legislators ought to know better. It’s time for Utah to develop a comprehensive plan to address inequality in the public educational experience. Until that plan materializes, expect to see a slew of ongoing squabbles like the one in Canyons School District for the foreseeable future.