Red t-shirts flooded the streets of downtown Salt Lake City as the Salt Lake Education Association’s “Walk for Students” kicked into gear on Feb. 28.
Students, teachers and parents gathered at the Federal building on State Street and marched to the Utah State Capitol, demanding more legislative funding and smaller class sizes. Nearly 2,000 people made the trek, many of them holding signs pleading for Utah legislators to give more funding to schools for things like supplies and student counseling.
Tyler Kahn, a sixth-grade teacher at Newman Elementary in Salt Lake City’s Rose Park neighborhood, says the funding would mean more support for teachers.
“It would provide supplies for my students – and not computers – but the basics like pencils and paper,” he explains, noting that his and many other schools need more money to provide basic materials for students.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Utah ranks 50th in the amount of money spent per child. This means every other state in the nation provides teachers more money to educate children and have more one-on-one time with those students.
Recently, the Utah House Education Committee approved a 4% increase in the WPU, or weighted pupil unit, which is the money schools are given per student. According to a list of talking points given out during the rally, teachers want at least 6% to give the children classroom materials and developmental support.
Patrick Gardner, a science teacher at Horizonte Instruction and Training Center says, “science is hands on and it’s very expensive.”
This increase would translate to $1,234 more per student and allow teachers like him to keep his classes running. It would also give students more opportunity to experiment and learn.
Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, in a statement, called the march an “unnecessary disruption,” adding that there are “more productive ways to express concern.”
At the end of the rally, Sens. Luz Escamilla and Derek Kitchen, both Democrats from Salt Lake City, welcomed protesters to the Capitol.
“This is your house … the Salt Lake City democrats are fighting for you,” says Escamilla.
The rally lasted about an hour and a half, and though teachers and students were energized by the large group effort, they aren’t sure what impact the walkout made.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” says Katrina Herd, a kindergarten teacher at Mountainview Elementary who walked out with her colleagues. “We have definitely been burned in the past.”