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Moving the Ball in the Right Direction - Legislative post by UEA Policy Ambassador Sam Dixon

3/15/2019

Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Sam Dixon, teacher at Fairfield Jr. High School in Davis School District

UEA Policy Ambassador Sam Dixon (center) joined about
60 teachers at Educator Day on the Hill Feb. 1
In the days leading up to the last Educator Day on the Hill, I began to shift my attention from other things to the looming discussion of the tax overhaul. The details were vague at first, but as the week went on, I could see that House Bill 441 was going to be a big setback to our efforts. First, an email arrives, urging UEA members to attend this very important EDOH. Then another, notifying us that the morning briefing would now be held in the Capitol building to accommodate the larger turnout.

Thursday night, the legislature called a press conference to announce that they were going to put the brakes on House Bill 441. Opposition by educators and the business community created the political pressure necessary to stop it from moving forward.

I am certainly not a tax expert and I will leave it to my fellow Policy Ambassadors to clearly articulate the intricacies of HB441. However, I understand that income tax is our bread and butter, and that a decrease from 4.95% to 4.75% would mean a reduction over $300 million to education.

As I made it to the morning briefing, I was greeted with the good news. We got up to speed on our last day at the legislature and had a chance to celebrate the victory our influence brought us. We were visited by Sen. Kathleen Riebe who described what Educator Day on the Hill, and more importantly what teaching is all about.

Anyone who talks to Sen. Riebe knows the story of how she decided to become a senator. She got her start at Educator Day on the Hill and turned an experience of frustration at the legislature into a successful campaign for the Utah Senate. She transformed from a teacher to an advocate for education with the title of State Senator…who also teaches.

She said, “I was tired of just sitting on the sidelines and thought that it was time to get the ball moving in the right direction.”

Armed with my inspiration from the morning’s good news and Sen. Riebe’s story, I crossed the courtyard with some co-workers ready to talk to our legislators. It was a mixed reaction from the different representatives we spoke to.

My representative, Joel Briscoe, indicated his support for the pause on House Bill 441 and his opposition to Senate Bill 177 for school vouchers by gesturing a finger down his throat. My colleague’s representative, Steve Waldrip, took quite a bit of time to hear our concerns and even took some additional time to come chat with us at lunch in the Copper Room. There he made claims about wanting to double the teacher salary or at least settle for 50 percent increase. He got a standing ovation and made a good impression on all of us.

We also had a chance to speak with Stuart Barlow, who represents the district of the school where I work. Although this conversation was not my favorite of the bunch, it certainly gave me the most insight. I won’t get into the details of the conversation, but it is safe to say we don’t see eye to eye when it comes to the best type of tax policy to benefit Utah students.

This conversation got me thinking about our legislature and the state of our schools. Representative Barlow took the time to listen to the ways in which we struggle to teach in Utah schools. We did not see eye to eye on tax policy, but I do believe he cares about students and teachers. It seems as though there is a gap between the value of education within Utah’s history and culture and the reality of teaching and learning in Utah’s schools.

Representative Waldrip got a standing ovation for his remarks, but I don’t think we will see a 50 percent increase in salary this year. Besides, as a freshman representative, who knows how he will vote when it counts. Representative Briscoe supports safe schools, but he couldn’t even get passage of HB217 to stop open carry of guns 500 feet from school. Stuart Barlow genuinely heard our concerns and I believe that he sympathized with us, but he thinks the best way to alleviate funding problems is with HB441.

So where does that leave us?

I think Sen. Riebe figured it out. It leaves us in a position where schools will continue to be plagued by the same problems until we educate Utah about the truth of what it means to teach and learn in this state. Like Senator Riebe, we are doing our best to get in the game and move the ball in the right direction.

About UEA Policy Ambassadors—

In 2019, seven teachers volunteered to become UEA Policy Ambassadors. These teachers received training from the UEA Legislative Team and have agreed to participate in UEA Educator Day on the Hill, engage with their legislators and share their experiences with UEA members.

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