SALT LAKE CITY -- House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she believes the Legislature can find the nearly $300 million to fund her technology in schools plan if the lawmakers themselves catch her vision.
On Thursday Lockhart and Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, made a pitch for the plan to the Republican House caucus in an effort to inform the representatives of what she is hoping to accomplish, and also to build an alliance of support as it begins to make its way through the legislative process.
"Let's try to not be so focused on the money," Lockhart said to the 58 member caucus. "If we decide that this is where we are going, we'll get there."
The money, however, will be the key factor in whether Lockhart's vision of putting an electronic device in the hands of every Utah student becomes a reality or not.
The Legislature's Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee in their final prioritization list set aside $100 million for the program - $50 million would be one-time money that would cover infrastructure costs to get Utah schools technologically adequate for her proposal. Another $50 million, of annual money, will go toward teacher training on how to use the device and purchasing the devices.
Lockhart and Gibson, however, didn't want to worry about the money in their presentation. Instead they focused on selling the idea that technology is where education is headed.
Gibson explained to the legislators that the device is not intended to replace teachers but that it was simply a tool to improve education. He said it was a tool that could increase test scores and raise the graduation rate. He did warn the implementation of the program has to be handled correctly or else it will fail and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Lockhart's proposal is set out to create a structure that will ensure the plan does not fail.
Under her plan, an advisory committee would be created that would fall under the direction of the state school board. That committee would consist of representatives from the computer hardware and software industries, the Utah Education Network, members from the state school board, the executive director of Utah's STEM center and two public education representatives.
That committee would then create a master plan on how to get a laptop, smartphone or tablet to every Utah student. Once that master plan is created the committee then will seek out proposals from companies that specialize in providing technology to schools.
The board would then select at least three companies to become providers of technology to Utah's school districts. The districts then will select which provider best aligns with its needs. An independent evaluation board will also be created to ensure the program is operating properly.
Lockhart cautioned her fellow House members from falling into a thought process of thinking they received an education that did not include large amounts of technology and that it was good enough for them, so Utah's students can receive the same. She warned if the Legislature does not move on putting more technology in the classrooms that Utah will fall behind the rest of the nation in education.
"We are not doing them any favors by not giving them this opportunity," she said. "This isn't about the adults, it is about the kids. What do we owe to our children?"
Gibson and Lockhart reiterated that the plan is teacher centered. They admitted the plan will not work if all Utah does is buy devices and give them to students. Gibson said studies have shown teachers need over 49 hours of training on the devices before results show technology can improve education in the classrooms.
Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, praised the plan to the caucus. He explained that his children are already attending a school that gives each student a device and that his children have excelled with the technology.
"It is working very well," he said.
With the plan now laid out on how to accomplish Lockhart's goal, the biggest question that remains is how will Utah pay for it?
"We have no idea yet," said Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, the house budget chair.
Lockhart believes if everyone gets on board, it won't be hard to find areas in the budget to help make it a reality.
"If this is the vision that we want to have for education," Lockhart said. "Then we'll find the money... there is no better place to spend the money."