Paging Special Agent Johnny Utah to investigate Utah mystery

“Point Break” follows the adventures of newly minted FBI Special Agent Johnny Utah as he unravels the mystery of a group of Los Angeles bank robbers known as “the Ex-Presidents.” In what may be the greatest bad movie of all time, Agent Utah goes undercover to learn to surf because of his grizzled partner’s suspicions regarding a tan line.

Along the way, Utah finds love, hangs ten and beats up the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers before killing him in a shootout. Oh, and the film has the most over-the-top pedestrian chase scene of all time (old injury plot point alert!) Later, the highly driven Agent Utah jumps out of a plane without a parachute.

Newcomers to the film might wonder why an Ohio kid has a California surfer-dude accent right off the bus from Columbus, among many other things. That would be a waste of time. When you watch “Point Break,” if you can suspend your disbelief (did I mention turning a gasoline hose into a flame thrower?) You will laugh; you will cry; it will forever be a part of you!

My second favorite Utah, without quite the same enthusiasm but far less irony, is for the state of Utah itself. Color me a fan. Utah has a lot going for it, including strong in-migration, a healthy age demography, and being one of the only states in the union that does not have a projected decline in K-12 population.

Recently, however, the Utah State Board of Education issued the following news release announcing that Utah public school enrollment declined in 2023, despite a strong rate of in-migration and fertility. What gives?

I did not have a decrease in Utah K-12 public school population on my 2023 bingo card, but there it is regardless. Agent Utah is, alas, unavailable to help us unravel this mystery, but I’ll take a stab at it myself. I claim no expertise in Utah education, merely an interest and familiarity. I am open to both challenge and clarification from those with greater expertise, but here goes…

The ESA program is not yet a culprit in the decline as it is not yet live. Charter school enrollment growth, as noted in the release, is only a partial explanation and no explanation at all for a total decline in public school enrollment. Growth in homeschooling, however, is going gangbusters in the state.

My theory is as follows: regulatory capture applied as much to Utah public schools as in any other state, but there was an unusually strong impression of community control of public schools in the state. Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, controversies have roiled the state regarding everything from removing from pornographic materials to the King James Bible from school libraries. If that sounds more like union influence than community control in Utah to you, it might be the case that a growing number of Utah families have reached a similar conclusion.

Utah had only 3% of students attending private schools, compared to a national average of 10 percent nationally, so there was not a large private school infrastructure to rely upon. However, when American families were left to “yomp” the education of their children during the pandemic, it’s not terribly surprising that Utah families were enthusiastic adopters of home-school co-ops and learning pods.

In any case, that’s my theory. The whole thing reminds me of a speech from Johnny Utah’s nemesis, Bohdi:

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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of NextSteps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.