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UEA Report on the 2019 Utah Legislature General Session

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WEEK ONE: 

2019 WEEK IN REVIEW: January 28-February 1

 
A record number of educators joined this
year's Week One UEA Educator Day

Several budget volleys were fired during WEEK ONE of the legislative session. First, the State Board of Education held a press conference calling on the legislature to provide $95 million for ‘safe and healthy schools’ and to increase the WPU by 5.5 percent to allow “for the greatest spending flexibility for districts and charter schools." On Monday evening, Speaker of the House Brad Wilson then called for ‘the largest single tax cut in Utah state history, followed by a similar request by Gov. Gary Herbert in his State of the State address on Wednesday.

The week concluded with UEA President Heidi Matthews reiterating the need for education investments and reminding legislators that during lean economic times our students were promised that as the economy improved, major investments in education would follow. “Rather than calling for the largest tax cut in Utah history, we believe now is the time to talk about the largest education investment in Utah history,” she said.

Record Number of Educator Voices on the Hill

More than 60 educators, representing schools in Logan, Grand, Ogden, Granite, Weber, Jordan, Nebo, Iron, Davis, Box Elder, Sevier, Uintah and Alpine School Districts – along with several UEA-Retired members – joined the UEA Legislative Team on Utah’s Capitol Hill for the year’s first UEA Educator Day on the Hill. This was the largest group ever to participate in a Week One Educator Day event.

“I was kind of intimidated at several points during the day, but every step of the way there were people there to help,” said one first-time participant. “It was a great experience. I really learned a lot and I feel like I made a difference for my students.”

As a result of a survey conducted by UEA in January, each of the 104 legislators on Capitol Hill will receive comments provided by educators who work in school districts they represent.

Seeking ‘the Largest Education Investment in Utah’s History’

 
 UEA Executive Director Brad Bartels outlined
budget requests for the 2019 Legislative Session

Responding to calls by the Speaker of the House and the Governor for the largest tax cut in Utah history, the Utah Education Association suggested at a press conference Friday that it is time for the “largest education investment in Utah history.” (View the press conference here.)

“The growing Utah economy provides an ideal opportunity for lawmakers to invest in the promise of a quality public education for every Utah student,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews. “We look forward to engaging with legislators and our education partners to modernize our flawed tax system and address critical student needs. Now is the time to keep the promises made to Utah’s students, teachers, and our future. Our students are counting on us,” she concluded. (See more about the public education budget.)

Matthews also introduced Brad Bartels at the press conference. Bartels started as UEA Executive Director on January 1.

Education Bills Beginning to Appear

When the session started, the UEA had a handful of bills on its Legislative Tracking Sheet. By the end of the week, that number had grown to nearly 50, with more introduced each day (see the current UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet). A few early bills to watch:

  • HB120: Student and School Safety Assessment directs the State Board of Education to create a ‘Threat Assessment and Student Support Team’ and requires the Board to develop model policies and procedures for threat assessment. The current version of the bill allocates $30 million ongoing and $66 million one-time to the program. It also requires each public school to establish a school safety team to conduct a school climate survey and a plan for “working with and responding to an individual who poses a threat of violence or harm to the individual, a school employee, or a student.” The UEA has not yet taken a position on this bill, but is concerned the current version places too much focus on physical elements of school safety and not enough on student mental health and prevention.
  • HB130: Public Education Exit Survey directs the Utah State Board of Education to create standards for an educator “exit survey” to be administered when a teacher leaves employment to collect data to better understand causes of the teacher shortage. The UEA supports the bill. It passed the House Education Committee unanimously this week.
  • HB188: T.H. Bell Program Amendments would convert the current T.H. Bell Teaching Incentive Loan Program to a scholarship program. The UEA supports this bill.
  • HB198: Education Accountability Amendments removes the requirement on the State Board of Education to use a letter grade when assigning a school an overall rating. The UEA supports this bill.

Public Education Budget

 

Budget negotiations are in very early stages with the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing reports from various entities. The Subcommittee discussed SB1: Public Education Base Budget Amendments, the primary funding bill for public education, which essentially sets the next year’s budget before any new money is considered. Any increases to the “base budget” are typically decided in a supplemental budget bill near the end of the session.

Early in the week, the State Board of Education held a press conference where they presented the Board’s goals for the 2019 General Session. Among the board's top asks are $35.6 million to fund student enrollment growth, $176 million to increase the value of the weighted pupil unit by 5.5 percent, and $30.6 million in ongoing funding and $65 million in one-time funding to promote "safe and healthy schools." Combined, this budget request is very similar to the UEA’s 2019 public education budget request of 6.5 percent increase in the WPU.

Looking Forward to Next Week

There was little public discussion on education bills the first week, but that should change quickly as the number of education bills grows each day. The UEA Legislative Team has its hands full reading and prioritizing each one, then working closely with sponsoring legislators to ensure they understand the needs of concerns of educators in crafting their bills.


UEA calls for ‘largest education investment in Utah history’ – February 1, 2019

Educator Day on the Hill (reported by Mike Kelley): More than 60 educators, representing schools in Logan, Grand, Ogden, Granite, Weber, Jordan, Nebo, Iron, Davis, Box Elder, Sevier, Uintah and Alpine School Districts – along with several UEA-Retired members – joined the UEA Legislative Team on Utah’s Capitol Hill for the year’s first UEA Educator Day on the Hill. This was the largest group ever to participate in a Week One Educator Day event. Starting at 7 a.m., the group first reviewed bills, the education budget and other current education issues.

Several legislators stopped by to visit with the teachers and provide insight, beginning with long-time UEA member and first-year State Senator Kathleen RiebeRep. Lowry SnowRep. Dan JohnsonRep. Marie Poulsonand Rep. Joel Briscoe also paid visits to the group. Rep. Poulson shared details about her bill to eliminate the grading of schools (HB198). Rep. Briscoe issued a challenge to participants, asking them to go back to their schools and let colleagues know what happened today and to let them know they can have influence with their legislators.

During lunch, participants reported on conversations they had with their legislators. Many shared stories of being invited to sit with their representatives in the House.

“I was kind of intimidated at several points during the day, but every step of the way there were people there to help,” said one first-time participant. “It was a great experience. I really learned a lot and I feel like I made a difference for my students.”

UEA Press Conference (reported by Mike Kelley): Responding to calls for the largest tax cut in Utah history, the Utah Education Association suggested at a press conference today that it is time for the “largest education investment in Utah history.” (View the press conference here.)

“The growing Utah economy provides an ideal opportunity for lawmakers to invest in the promise of a quality public education for every Utah student,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews. “We look forward to engaging with legislators and our education partners to modernize our flawed tax system and address critical student needs. Now is the time to keep the promises made to Utah’s students, teachers, and our future. Our students are counting on us,” she concluded.

Matthews also introduced Brad Bartels, who started as UEA Executive Director on January 1.

Senate Education Committee (reported by Jay Blain): SB106: Mental Health Services in Schools enacts provisions relating to coverage of certain mental health services by the Medicaid program and certain health insurers. Four UEA members participating in today’s Educator Day on the Hill testified in favor of the bill. Aaryn Birchell, a teacher in Uintah School District and 2018 Utah Teacher of the Year said that as an English teacher, she has students write a lot and at times they write distressing things that need intervention. This bill will provide more access to mental health services in rural areas. The bill passed the committee unanimously and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

House Floor (reported by Mike Kelley): HB49: Repatriation Transition Tax Amendments modifies corporate income tax provisions relating to deferred foreign income. The UEA supports this bill because of the positive impact on the Education Fund. It passed the House unanimously and now goes to the Senate.

HB81: School Counselor Services directs the State Board of Education to adopt rules regarding certain services provided by school counselors and prohibiting school counselors from certain activities. It passed the House unanimously and now goes to the Senate.



State Board office budgets reviewed – January 31, 2019

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (reported by Jay Blain): Legislative fiscal analyst Ben Leishman began by describing how funding works for the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) office. The following documents were presented and reviewed:

House Floor (reported by Mike Kelley): HB129: Campaign Amendments permits a candidate for public office to use campaign funds to pay childcare expenses while the candidate is engaged in campaign activity. The UEA supports this bill because it is an important option for educators who run for office. It passed on a vote of 72-1 and now goes to the Senate.


Bill to create a teacher ‘exit survey’ advances – January 30, 2019

House Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): The first House Education Committee meeting of 2019 began with introductions of legislators. Several committee members are former teachers and several other members have spouses who are teachers. Chair Lowry Snow welcomed everyone and thanked education stakeholders in the audience, saying he has “a great deal of admiration and respect for educators.”

HB130: Public Education Exit Survey passed unanimously. The bill directs the Utah State Board of Education to create standards for an educator “exit survey” to be administered when a teacher leaves employment to collect data to better understand causes of the teacher shortage. UEA supports the bill. Sara Jones, speaking on behalf of the UEA, said that having statewide longitudinal data to inform funding and policy decisions can help policymakers find the best solutions to the teacher shortage.

HB81 (1st sub.): School Counselor Services also passed unanimously. The bill directs the Utah State Board of Education to clarify in rule the direct and indirect roles of school counselors. The purpose of the legislation is to clarify for which roles school counselors are uniquely qualified so other roles they may be assigned, such as administering tests or making class changes, but which don’t require a school counselor can be reassigned to provide more effective and efficient support of students.


Public Ed budget committee hears initial reports – January 29, 2019

Senate Education Committee (reported by Jay Blain): The committee heard and unanimously passed several bills in its initial meeting.

SB37: Interventions for Reading Amendments Sunset Amendments renames the Interventions for Reading Difficulties Pilot Program as the Interventions for Reading Difficulties Program and repeals outdated provisions. It also extends the sunset date for the program from July 1, 2019, to July 1, 2024. Jennifer Throndsen from the Utah State Board of Education office said students in this program are showing five times the growth of students in different interventions. She added that many school districts are expanding these interventions to more schools with their own funding. Several other members of the public also spoke in favor of the bill.

SB55: Charter Trust Land Council Amendments allows grandparents who sit on charter school boards to also sit on their School Trust Land councils if it preserves the two-parent majority.

SB91: Acceptance of Competency-based Education clarifies the access to higher ed for students coming from competency-based schools.

Government Operations Committee (reported by Chase Clyde): Rep. Craig Hall and Rep. Stephanie Pitcher presented identical bills related to campaign finance. The intent of the legislation is to allow a candidate to use campaign funds to pay for childcare as long as the candidate is campaigning. UEA took an interest in this bill as many of our members have run for office and UEA feels this is an important option for educator candidates. Rep. Hall’s HB129: Campaign Amendments passed unanimously.

Rep. Mike McKell presented HB64: Lobbyist Expenditures Amendments. This bill puts in place the same lobbyist expenditure laws currently used by the Legislature and expands them to other elected bodies, including local school boards. The bill exempted several associations that are funded by tax-payer dollar dues. While the UEA is not exempted, we don’t expect this to impact our relationships with local school boards. It passed unanimously.

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (reported by Jay Blain): During their first few meetings of the year, appropriations subcommittees typically provide an overview of their budget areas.

In this meeting, the committee’s senate chair, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, shared that the cost to increase the Weighted Pupil Unit by 1% is $32 million. There is a $4.1 million property tax increase for each 1% increase in the WPU, he said. He also commented on all the money that has been put into public education, especially over the last four years. The amount has been remarkable, according to Hillyard.

Legislative Fiscal Analyst Ben Leishman gave a presentation on meetings, schedule and procedures. He also provided a brief on the education budget. The State Board of Education presented their strategic direction, led by Superintendent Syd Dickson. Board Chair Mark Huntsman and Vice Chair Brittney Cummins were also present. Tami Pyfer spoke for the governor’s office and said their focus this year is on safe and healthy schools.

Bob Marquardt and Jessalie Anderson presented on behalf of Education First and Our Schools Now. Marquardt highlighted the passage of the Teacher and Student Success Act (TSSA) last year. He said they look forward to filling in the details this year and that TSSA will provide a framework to get money directly into classrooms.

Finally, the committee heard a presentation on the base budget bill (here is the bill).


Speaker calls for 'largest single tax cut in Utah's history' – January 28, 2019

Very little mention of education in opening-day speeches

Session Opening
 (reported by Mike Kelley): The first day of the 63rd Utah State Legislature began with the usual pomp, ceremony and speeches. It also included the swearing in of many legislators new to their office. In the House, about 20 of the 75 representatives took the oath of office for the first time. Seven of the 29 Senators are freshmen, including UEA member Sen. Kathleen Reibe. Two new leaders will guide the legislature, with Sen. Stuart Adams presiding over the Senate and Rep. Brad Wilson serving as speaker of the House.

 
New Utah Speaker of the House Brad Wilson
Photo: Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune 

In his opening comments to the House of Representatives, Speaker Brad Wilson said very little about education. He referred to efforts on school safety and aligning the higher education system with the demands of today’s economy, in addition to making “our education system more nimble and forward-looking…”

Wilson did, however, call for the "largest single tax cut in Utah's history." Referring to the $200 million tax cut proposed by Gov. Gary Herbert as “good,” Wilson said, “an even better idea would be to deliver this session the largest single tax cut in Utah state history, to the tune of at least $225 million." He also discussed the need for construction of a new state office building and to “fix a broken tax structure” caused by the shift to a service economy. He called for work to broaden the sales tax base while lowering rates. “This work will not be easy, but it must be done,” he said.

New Senate President Stuart Adams devoted much of his speech to founding father Samuel Adams. He said little about education, but, like Speaker Wilson, asked lawmakers to envision "the old state office building removed and replaced with a new building, with additional parking, allowing the public more functional access to their state Capitol."

Adams mentioned taxes only in passing, asking senators to "imagine a sustainable, broad, fair tax system.” Among a list of challenges that included improved air quality and affordable health care, Adams asked senators to “imagine an education system where students, in the safest environment, grow academically and socially, (have) the best graduation rates, the best placement rates, the highest quality teachers, paid well for their efforts…”

State Board of Education Press Conference (reported by Mike Kelley): State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson, Utah State Board of Education Chair Mark Huntsman and Vice Chair Brittney Cummins presented the Utah State Board of Education’s goals for the 2019 General Session during a press conference at the Utah Capitol. “We are excited to engage with our education partners over the next 45 days in policy and budget discussions focused on the outcomes we are seeking for each student,” Dickson said. “We seek a focused approach to our goals and a commitment from all to ensure each student is prepared. Our students are counting on us.”

Among the board's top asks are $35.6 million to fund student enrollment growth, $176 million to increase the value of the weighted pupil unit by 5.5 percent, and $30.6 million in ongoing funding and $65 million in one-time funding to promote "safe and healthy schools." Combined, this budget request is very similar to the UEA’s 2019 public education budget request of 6.5 percent increase in the WPU.

Money on the WPU “allows for the greatest spending flexibility for districts and charter schools," said Huntsman. "Local boards and charters can put this money to its best use by focusing on individual student needs, which can be as varied as Utah's geography."

Additionally, Huntsman said the school board is requesting $17.2 million in one-time money to revamp the state's outdated information management system, which would be spread over three to five years.

House Floor (reported by Mike Kelley): Opening day is typically for bills previously recommended by interim committees. The following three bills make technical changes and passed the House unanimously:

Senate Floor (reported by Mike Kelley): The following code clean-up bills passed the Senate unanimously and now move to the House for consideration:

See the 2019 UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet for the current bills being tracked by UEA.