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2011 Week Five: Feb. 22-25

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UEA Report on the 2011 Utah Legislature General Session

WEEK FIVE:

LEGISLATURE WEEK FIVE SUMMARY: February 22-25, 2011

Budget Estimates Released: Unlike many states facing huge budget deficits, Utah received good news Feb. 22. The state will have $263 million in ongoing revenue for the 2012 budget – an increase of $47 million from the estimate presented at the beginning of the 2011 Legislative session. In addition, $31 million in one-time money will also be available.

Educator Day on the Hill: Thirty educators and staff from Weber, Davis, Jordan, Granite, Logan, Alpine, Nebo and Cache joined the UEA Legislative Team for the Educator Day on the Hill activity Feb. 25. House Speaker Becky Lockhart visited with educators during lunch. She said there was never an 11-percent cut to the public education budget. The $93 million (4 percent of the 11 percent cut) was always in the budget. Rep. Joel Briscoe also met with teachers.

Bills on the move this week
(For the current status on all bills of interest see the UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet)


State budget up $47 million from earlier estimates

Feb. 22, 2011
(Reported by UEA Executive Director Mark Mickelsen)Unlike many states that are facing huge budget deficits, Utah received some good news Tuesday (Feb. 22) about revenues available to pay for education and other important state programs. According to Sen. Lyle Hillyard, the state will have $263 million in ongoing revenue for the 2012 budget – an increase of $47 million over the $216 million estimate presented at the beginning of the 2011 legislative session. In addition, Hillyard said $31 million in one-time money will also be available. That’s $25 million more than the earlier projection.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Hillyard said, noting that among the priorities will be an examination of how to deal with the state’s $313 million structural deficit, how to fund growth in education and in Medicaid. “It’s a doable task,” he said.


February 22, 2011

House Floor: (Reported by Kory Holdaway) Rep. Christine WatkinsHB98: Capital Outlay Funding Modifications, which would expand the permitted uses of proceeds from a capital outlay levy imposed by a local school board, was amended on the floor and passed 50-24. It now moves to the Senate for consideration. Rep. Wayne Harper spoke against on the premise that it would not be a good idea to use capital outlay for the m and o budget. Rep. Jim Bird amended the bill to make it more flexible.

Senate Floor: (Reported by Mike Kelley) The Senate gave preliminary approval to SJR9: Joint Resolution - Governance of Public and Higher Education, which would amend the state constitution to place public and higher education under the governor’s control. It passed “second reading” on a vote of 23-6. The Senate must now vote on the resolution one more time for it to advance to the House. To pass, SJR9 would ultimately have to receive a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate. The question would then be placed before voters in a general election.

Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) Despite opposition from organizations that claimed the change would negatively impact the state’s neediest citizens, the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee today passed SB270: Modifications to Sales and Use Tax, by a vote of 6-2.The bill, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams, would increase the state sales and use tax rate on food and food ingredients to the general state sales and use tax rate. Adams testified that his bill is not a tax increase, but rather stabilizes the sales tax rate and makes Utah more competitive with other states.

A representative from the Coalition of Religious Communities said their group had collected 1,400 signatures from individuals opposed to increasing the sales tax on food. A Coalition spokesperson said the sales tax on food “is doubly regressive.” Utahns Against Hunger and the Crossroads Urban Center also spoke against the bill.

Sens. Ben McAdams and Ross Romeroopposed the bill. McAdams said while broadening the tax base is desirable, SB270 impacts the state’s most vulnerable citizens. “This is premature and a major shift in policy,” Sen. Romero told committee members.


February 23, 2011

Senate Floor: (Reported by Tom Nedreberg) SB235: Charter School Students' Participation in Extracurricular Activities, sponsored by Sen. Karen Mayne, passed the Senate unanimously and will now go to the House. This bill provides that a charter school student is eligible to participate in an extracurricular activity at a public school other than the student’s charter school if the student’s charter school is located on the campus of the public school.

SJR9: Joint Resolution - Governance of Public and Higher Education would amend the Utah Constitution to move the general control and supervision of the public education system from the State Board of Education and State Board of Regents to the Governor. Sen. Howard Stephenson spoke in support saying it would bring Utah into compliance with separation of powers. The governor currently has no control over education and he needs that authority, Stephenson said. “The problem with Education in Utah is there are so many steering wheels in charge and no one has the ability to change anything or govern education.” The resolution’s sponsor, Sen. Stuart Reid, said each of the top 10 states in achievement except for one, New York, have the governor at the head of education.

Sen. Pat Jones said she has received a number of phone calls concerned that this kind of change would bring about a more partisan system. She asked if the sponsor had any indication how the governor feels about this. Reid said he did not. Sen. Gene Davis expressed concerns about the bill’s constitutionality of the bill. He said the Utah Constitution was written to provide a public education with a board of education to voice the concerns of local people. Sen. Ross Romero said placing this burden on the governor places a distraction to the many things he should be working on. “There are many dedicated people working for education and they should be allowed to continue,” he said. “The system is working, we shouldn’t change it.”

The resolution passed the Senate on a vote of 22-6, meeting the two-thirds majority required for a Constitutional amendment. It now moves to the House. If it passes there, it will be put on the 2012 general election ballot to be decided by voters.

SB67 (1st sub.): Annual Eye Examination for Children in Grades Kindergarten Through Three, sponsored by Sen. Luz Robles, would provide vision screening through age 8. The bill passed 23-3.

House Floor: (Reported by Kory Holdaway) HB183 School District Leave Policies limits the amount of association leave a local school board may grant for certain employee association or union duties. The bill passed the House on a vote of 46-22. The UEA remains opposed to the bill, however, the bill that passed was negotiated to minimize its impact.

Senate Education Committee: (Reported by Tom Nedreberg) SB78: Public School Early Graduation Counseling was presented in the Senate Education Standing Committee. It requires a public school to prepare a sample early graduation schedule and provide each seventh-grade student and the student's parent or guardian of early graduation requirements and the centennial scholarship. Gayle Ruzicka of the Utah Eagle Forum spoke in favor of the bill. She said counseling would have helped her daughter better prepare to graduate early instead of being rushed her junior year. The bill passed unanimously.

HB50: School Termination Procedures Modifications clarifies that a school district is not required to provide a cause for not renewing a provisional employee’s contract. UEA Government Relations Directory Kory Holdaway indicated the UEA supports the concept of the bill as it clarifies what is currently the practice in the districts, however, we continue to be concerned about the 3 to 5 year at-will status for provisional teachers. He said that education should be a profession held to high esteem and that we are now holding beginning teachers on provisional status (at will) longer than most private-sector companies, which may hinder some from entering the profession. Patti Harrington from the Utah School Board Association and Jackie Evans from the Utah Taxpayers Association spoke in favor of the bill. It passed unanimously.

HB195: Debt Service Obligations of a Divided School District would impose a property tax on residents of any divided school district to cover outstanding bonded debt obligations. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ken Sumsion, said he has worked through the summer with his staff and with the business managers of Canyons and Jordan districts to put in statue some practices to make any splitting of districts more uniform. It passed the Committee unanimously.

HB83: Charter School Revolving Account creates a loan fund to assist charter schools with start-up costs and other uses. Rep. Greg Hughes said the need for the bill was because of the first year startup expenses of charter schools paid for by a loan from the charter school account. The bill is to clarify what the loans can be used for in startup expenses. It passed the Committee unanimously.

HB92 (1st sub.): Public Education Regional Service Centers allows school districts to create regional service centers to provide education-related services. It passed the Committee unanimously.

House Education Committee: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) HCR13: Secure Rural Schools Concurrent Resolution, which expresses support for the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, passed the House Education Standing Committee. The Act is often a critical funding source for education in rural communities. Kory Holdaway, UEA director of government relations, spoke in support of the bill, but jokingly chided the sponsor, Rep. Noel (who is well known for fighting federal control of anything), for requesting federal funds. Noel said he would also like to use the resources on public lands to pay for the needs of schoolchildren.

HB398: Utah State Instructional Materials Access Center Fundingpassed the Committee after it was disclosed that the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind (USDB) suffered a $700,000 shortfall this year because certain public and charter schools failed to pay for materials produced by the Utah State Instructional Materials Access Center (USIMAC), which is operated by USDB. The new law, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Handy, would require reimbursement of such costs and authorize the Utah State Office of Education to withhold funding from a school district or charter school that breaches its obligation to pay.

Rep. Handy’s other bill, HB415: Schools for the Deaf and Blind Foundation, allows the USDB to set up a foundation to collect donations from the community and business. Similar foundations are operated in school districts throughout the state. This bill also passed the Committee.

Rep. LaVar Christensen’s civic and character education bills, HB269 (1st sub.): Commission on Civic and Character Education and HB327 (1st sub.): Public Education Annual Report Amendments, passed out of Committee after substantial debate. HB269 in its original form would have allowed the use of 1 percent of state Trust Lands money to pay for civic and character education programs. The substitute bill removes the Trust Lands funding clause, but requires school districts to submit a summary report to the lieutenant governor and the Commission on Civic and Character Education on how civic and character education is integrated in school curriculum.

Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss questioned the practicality of the report, especially given the fact Utah teachers teach civic and character education every day. “I cannot even conceive of a report that could do all of this,” Rep. Moss said. Martell Menlove, Utah State Office of Education, said the report may be confusing because it has to go to the lieutenant governor’s office.

First Substitute HB327 requires the State Board of Education to annually report to the Education Interim Committee the methods used to instruct and prepare students on how to become informed and responsible citizens through an integrated curriculum taught in connection with regular school work.

Heard on the Senate Floor: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) At the end of Sen. Dan Liljenquist’s description of SB127: Post Retirement Employment Amendments – which will correct a problem created by his sweeping 2010 retirement legislation and allow retirees to work on a part-time basis provided their income is $15,000 or less – he was asked by Sen. Margaret Dayton how new teachers (who will be impacted by his new “hybrid” retirement system July 1, 2011) will be informed about the change. A concerned Dayton said a lot of new employees don’t realize the seriousness of their decisions [about retirement]. Sen. Liljenquist’s response was that he was glad he didn’t have to explain it to them.


February 24, 2011

Senate Floor: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen and Jay Blain) SB127: Post Retirement Employment Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Dan Liljenquist, passed the Senate today by a vote of 24-0. Described by the Senator as a “clean-up bill” to take care of problems associated with last year’s SB43, it allows for part-time employment after retirement. It also clarifies that elected officials are able to serve in a part-time capacity without suspending their pension payments. “I am sorry and I am fixing it,” Sen. Liljenquist said of his bill.

The Senate also passed SB308 (1st sub.): Amendment to Public Employee’s Benefit and Insurance Program, which modifies the Utah State Retirement and Insurance Benefit Act by amending retirement and long-term disability provisions.

SB206: Labor Organization Provisions in Teacher Contracts requires that an employer promptly cease or commence a union dues wage deduction upon the written request of the employee. Sponsor Sen. Stephenson claims some local associations require that members continue to pay dues for the entire year, even if they request cancellation. Because the impact of this bill is in keeping with current practice, the UEA believes this bill is unnecessary. There was no debate. The bill passed on the second reading and now moves on to the Senate third reading calendar.

SB179: Math Education Initiative would require the legislature to appropriate money to award grants to school districts and charter schools to adopt the Singapore math program and would also impose requirements for honors math courses and teachers. The estimated cost for implementing the legislation is $1.8 million. Singapore math is the program used by the top countries in TIMMS and others, according to bill sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson. Stephenson said he realizes his bill requires an appropriation that may or may not be forthcoming, “but let’s (pass) it and see which districts and charters may want to do it.” There was no debate. Sen. Ross Romero commented before he cast his vote “Spending $1.8 million is too expensive in these budget times, I vote no.” The bill passed on the Second Reading. The bill now moves to the Senate third reading calendar.

House Floor: (Reported by Kory Holdaway) Rep. Carl Wimmer’s HB191: Nonresident Tuition Waiver Amendments would eliminate the provision allowing nonimmigrant alien students who attend Utah high schools for at least three years to qualify for resident tuition.  The bill was substituted by Rep. Bill Wright on the House floor. The substitute bill allows in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants if the children have graduated from a Utah High School and the children can show that their parents paid taxes during the time they were in school. After the bill was substituted, the House voted to hold the bill for consideration at a later time.


February 25, 2010

House Revenue and Taxation Committee: (Reported by Tom Nedreberg) HB301: School District Property Tax Revisions combines nine property tax levies currently authorized for public school funding into two levies. As she presented the bill in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, Rep. Merlynn Newbold said “the public has asked for more simplicity and districts have asked for more flexibility…this bill addresses both.”

Rep. Joel Briscoe asked about the different caps, and lack of caps, on some of the levies and if, by combining them into a single levy, it would change the truth-in-taxation hearing responsibility for increases in any of the areas money may be used. Patti Harrington said the Utah School Boards Association opposes this bill. This bill has a problem in the complexity of the issues it tries to solve, she said. Local levies are for local issues and while flexibility is important it is already there. She believes that, in combination with HB313: Charter School Funding Amendments, this bill will force school districts to increase property taxes because some of the money will be going to charter schools. While the bill’s truth-in-taxation exemption is good in some respects, it denies the chance for the public to have input, Harrington noted.

UEA Government Relation Director Kory Holdaway said he sees the bill as a “mixed bag.” “Although we see the bill providing more flexibility, it reduces transparency because you don’t know where the money is going.” Under the current system, if a district implements a certain levy, the public knows how it will be used. Collapsing the levy categories eliminates that transparency, he said.

Royce VanTassel of the Utah Taxpayers Association spoke in favor of the bill. He said reducing the number of levy categories will actually provide greater transparency. Rep. Brian King said he likes the greater flexibility but rejects the idea that less information equals more transparency.

The bill passed the Committee on a 10-5 vote.

Senate Education Committee: (Reported by Sara Jones) HB220: Civics Education Amendments was amended to require teaching about different forms of government including "a republic, a pure democracy" and that the U.S. is a "constitutional compound republic." The Senate Education Committee passed the bill.

SB53: Eligibility for Interscholastic Activities in Secondary Schoolsreturned to Committee after a lengthy discussion last week. Sen. Mark Madsen stated that the bill is intended to allow a student to transfer through either open enrollment or transfer to a charter school. An amendment to prohibit a school booster from engaging in recruiting was passed. In public comment the Utah Athletic Association stated that recruiting is too narrowly defined since the bill only prohibits recruiting solely for athletics. Therefore if a student is recruited for any other purpose, with athletics being secondary, then recruiting would not be prohibited. The Committee amended the bill and passed it.

With just five minutes remaining in the Committee meeting, and allowing very limited time for discussion and debate, Sen. Howard Stephenson presented SB73 (1st sub.): School Teacher Tenure Modifications, which would prohibit a school district from using a "last-hired, first-fired" seniority policy. The second part of the bill - tying teacher evaluations to career status – was removed and will be referred to interim committee.

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh testified against the bill, stating that seniority provides an objective measure for staffing when all other factors are equal. She also warned that eliminating seniority as an objective measure would make performance evaluations extremely high stake, and that because both the legislature and state school board are working to revise teacher evaluations, this decision should not be made until those changes are in place.

The bill passed Committee.

Senate Floor: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) SB179: Math Education Initiative passed the Senate on a vote of 19-6. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, creates a program that awards grants for the improvement of math education. The legislation has a $1.8 million price tag. Among other things, the bill directs the Utah State Board of Education to use the money to award grants to school districts and charter schools who adopt Singapore Math.

SB206: Labor Organization Provisions in Teacher Contracts passed the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, requires that an employer promptly cease or commence a union dues wage deduction upon the written request of the employees. The legislation also states that a labor organization is not liable to an employee for any claim, service or benefit that is available only to a member of the organization if the employee requests cessation of union dues wage deductions. Because this reflects current practice, the UEA believes this legislation is unnecessary.

House Education Committee: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) Several educators – among them Tony Romanello, a physics teacher at Alta High School – spoke during the House Education Standing Committee meeting in favor of HB110 (1st sub.): Teacher Salary Supplement Program Amendments, legislation that would establish an appeal process for educators denied funds related to the Teacher Salary Supplement Program, established in 2008.

The original bill was intended to address a problem prevalent in many Utah public schools – difficulty in recruiting and retaining science and math teachers, according to bill sponsor Rep. Marie Poulson. She said following the passage of the Teacher Salary Supplement Program, some educators were turned down because they did not have subject-specific degrees.

Romanello said when he graduated from the University of Cincinnati, the university did not offer subject-specific degrees. When he arrived in Utah in 1987, he was granted a math certification, but since Utah did not offer a secondary education degree, the state classified his degree as ‘other.’ “Under the current Teacher Salary Supplement Program, this means that the computer automatically rejects my application with no further consideration,” Romanello told committee members. “House Bill 110 addresses this problem, by allowing for a degree equivalent.”

Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss recalled an incident involving a teacher who had the necessary qualifications, but was denied the stipend and “jumped ship” for an administrative job.

The bill passed out of Committee.

HB134: Focus on Primary Classroom Teachers Program, sponsored by Rep. Jim Nielson, creates the Focus on Primary Classroom Teachers Program, and provides for the distribution of additional WPUs (Weighted Pupil Units) to a qualifying district or charter school, depending on how relatively high the district or charter school is in comparison to other districts or charter schools in the state in its allocation of resources for primary classroom teachers. The legislation also provides for data collection for one year, with funds to be appropriated for the second and ongoing years of the program. The price tag, beginning with the second year, would be $5,282,850.

Rep. Nielson testified the major focus of education should be in the classroom and said if districts participate, “it should ignite a race to the top,” encourage districts to improve, and raise the bar for everyone.

Martell Menlove, Utah State Office of Education, and Geoff Leonard, Utah School Employees Association, stated that others – including education support professionals – play a critical role in education and should be considered as the bill is debated.

“I would encourage you not to overthink this,” Rep. Nielson said as the Committee questions and debate continued.

The bill passed out of Committee.

Currently, 48,000 students are enrolled in kindergarten in the state of Utah. HB151: Compulsory Education Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Joel Briscoe, modifies the definition of "school-age minor" by reducing the age of a school-age minor from six years old to five years old, for purposes of establishing compulsory education requirements; and provides an exception to compulsory education, allowing a parent to defer kindergarten for one year.

Rep. Briscoe told the committee that some children are not ready for kindergarten and that for some, currently enrolled, there is an absentee problem that must be addressed. He provided the committee with data showing that chronic absentees in kindergarten have the lowest academic performance in first grade. In addition, poor children who were chronic absentees in kindergarten had the lowest performance in reading and math in fifth grade, according to a 2008 study.

After some debate, Rep. Briscoe said he wanted to gather some additional Utah data. The bill was held in Committee.

Before adjourning, the Committee also passed SB235 (1st sub.): Charter School Students’ Participation in Extracurricular Activities, sponsored by Sen. Karen Mayne. This bill provides that a charter school student is eligible to participate in an extracurricular activity at a public school other than the student's charter school if the student's charter school is located on the campus of the public school, or has local school board approval to locate on the campus of the public school. It also says the State Board of Education, in conjunction with the Utah High School Activities Association, may establish rules that allow a charter school student to participate in an extracurricular activity at another public school. 

Educator Day on the Hill: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen and Tom Nedreberg) Thirty educators and staff from Weber, Davis, Jordan, Granite, Logan, Alpine, Nebo and Cache joined the UEA Legislative Team today for the weekly Educator Day on the Hill activity.

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh told participants how powerful their voices are on Capitol Hill. “They listen to you. You are the most credible voices up here,” she said. She said there are more than 110 bills pertaining to public education – among them legislation regarding funding issues, governance issues, teacher evaluation, curriculum, grading schools, and charter schools, to name just a few.

In sharing tips about lobbying, Kory Holdaway, UEA director of government relations, asked participants to share why they teach, and their desire to establish a relationship with legislators.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart visited with educators during lunch. She said there was never an 11-percent cut to the public education budget. The $93 million (4 percent of the 11 percent cut) was always in the budget. Rep. Joel Briscoe also met with teachers. He shared the process of legislation and how he's learning that sometimes games are played where many issues are put forward by certain legislators so there can be a lot of discussion.

Nebo School District teacher Jim Griffin was also on Capitol Hill with about 30 of his students. UEA Vice President Tom Nedreberg talked to the students about the value of teachers on the Hill lobbying for education and students. The students also got to hear from a number of legislators including Speaker Lockhart.