Reductions in education spending traditionally take the form of cutting teachers, administration or salaries. But with Utah's $700 million deficit lingering over lawmaker's heads, a new proposal has recently attracted as much curiosity as disdain: Make 12th grade optional.
State Sen. Chris Buttars from the Salt Lake City suburbs told the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this month that many students squander away their senior year, making it an unnecessary expense and another one to alleviate the large budget shortfall. He said eliminating 12th grade altogether would have saved $102 million.
"You're spending a whole lot of money for a whole bunch of kids who aren't getting anything out of that grade," he said. "It comes down to the best use of money."
Buttars later scaled back his proposal to just give students the option of skipping 12th grade if they finish their requirements in three years, according to The Salt Lake Tribute. That proposal could reportedly save around $60 million.
It's unclear how many students would opt for early gradation if given the option.
"What I'm trying to do is find that money for the $700 million ongoing shortfall in ongoing money, and at the same time try to keep as many dollars as possible in the program," Buttars said last week at an education funding subcommittee hearing, reports station KSL-TV in Salt Lake City. "This does that. Now, to what extent we don't know because it's their option."
The proposal has attracted national attention and has many opponents, including many students and teachers who see senior year as critical.
J.D. Williams, student body president at West Jordan High School in Utah, told the Los Angeles Times that he's against the plan.
"I need this year," Williams said. "My parents are against it... All the teachers at the school are against it. I'm against it."
"It is very shortsighted," John Balden, president of the Utah chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, told ABC News. "Students don't just play in 12th grade. They really do study. In higher education we find an awful lot of students unprepared for college. Twelfth grade is really a necessary grade."