Staying Informed - Legislative post by UEA Policy Ambassador Bianca Mittendorf
Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Bianca Mittendorf, teacher at North Davis Jr. High School in Davis School District
This week, though I did not have a chance to go up to the Hill in person, I did stay informed by listening to audio recordings of the House Education Committee meeting on Thursday, Feb. 21. During this session, policymakers and advocates discussed numerous topics but those of interest to me were HB213: Promotion of Student Loan Forgiveness and HB273: Prohibition on School Fees for Curricular Activities.
Davis educator Bianca Mittendorf
is a 2019 UEA Policy Ambassador
To begin, Rep. Susan Duckworth spoke about the need for HB213, stating, “We’re actually the first state to start this implementation of a disclosure.” Student loan debt is a big deal across the nation, as there are “…more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt.” In Utah, the numbers are more scaled down but no less startling: 287,000 student loan borrowers with $8.7 billion in total outstanding student loan debt.
As a college graduate with two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree and enough student loan debt to make me question my life choices, I am all for a program that would advocate for the promotion of programs designed to reduce some portion of the debt, in exchange for public service. (i.e.: Public Service Loan Forgiveness aka, PSLF). Trying to navigate the convoluted loan system makes repayment confusing and aggravating.
According to the “Highlights of HB213” handout, “28 percent of applications for PSLF were denied due to missing or incomplete information on their Employment Certification Form.” This demonstrates the need for more clarity regarding the application procedures for these loan forgiveness programs, which this bill seeks to accomplish. Lawmakers seemed to agree as the bill passed will 11 ‘yeas’ and 0 ‘nays.’
The next bill discussed was HB273: Prohibition on School Fees for Curricular Activities, presented by Rep. Adam Robertson. The bill seeks to change the way school fees in Utah are structured. Robertson cited the Utah Constitution, noting that it states, “public education shall be free,” though it does also indicate there may be fees in secondary schools. He then spoke to the hardships placed on parents trying to keep up with fees associated with Advanced Placement classes, sports, band and other subjects.
The bill would eliminate fees based on the time of day and scope of the activity. To be fair, as a parent, the prospect of having school fees eliminated is particularly enticing. Nowadays, the estimated cost of raising a child to age 18 is $250,000. What parent wouldn’t want to save a little of that cash? Though this sounds awesome, as a public educator, I recognize that the elimination of fees has the potential to take away tens of thousands of dollars from the already limited funding that public education receives.
This bill is difficult to accept as is because there does not appear to be any mention of how to replace the funds. According to the bill’s sponsor, it would be possible for the Local Education Authority (LEA) to get by without charging said fees as there are districts within Utah that have an economically disadvantaged student body requiring them to do away with school fees (otherwise most students would require them anyway). This thinking does not consider different challenges each LEA might face that may prohibit elimination of the necessary fees in order to comply with the bill. Ultimately, the committee voted to “hold” the bill.
To sum up, there was a lot of action packed into the House Education Committee meeting on Feb. 21. I am glad that even though I could not be physically present, thanks to technology, I was still present in the democratic process and stayed informed of the discussion’s policymakers were having regarding matters that concern me.
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.