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2011 Week Four: Feb. 14-18

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UEA Report on the 2011 Utah Legislature General Session

WEEK FOUR:

LEGISLATURE WEEK FOUR SUMMARY: February 14-18, 2011

The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee focused discussions on the reallocation of a $91 million cut from public education made in the early days of the legislative session. This unallocated amount increased public education cuts from 7 to 11 percent. Motions to recommend priorities for any new funding failed. Of great concern to the UEA is the Subcommittee’s recommendation to cut the $217.5 million “Flexible Allocation” line item, which funds Social Security and retirement costs in the school districts.

Co-chairs from the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee provided reports to the Executive Appropriations Committee, reporting that the Subcommittee made cuts of 11 percent from the public education budget, but included funding for new-student growth. That was challenged by Rep. Brian King who asked how districts would pay Social Security and retirement when that line item was removed to fund part of the growth.

Educator Day on the Hill: On Monday (Feb. 14) more than 30 members of the Canyons Education Association joined the UEA Legislative Team on Capitol Hill. The educators were on furlough due to budget cuts. Nearly 40 educators from Cache, Uintah, Jordan, Granite, Davis, Box Elder and Weber participated in Educator Day on the Hill on Friday (Feb. 18). They attended a meeting of the Senate Education Committee where many of them spoke against SB73, which impacted the outcome of the bill in Committee (see below).

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


February 14, 2011

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) Today, the Canyons Education Association sent more than 30 educators to Capitol Hill. They are on furlough due to recent budget cuts. After a briefing on legislative issues by the UEA Legislative Team, they packed the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee room to hear debate on school-related budgets.

Subcommittee discussion focused on the reallocation of a $91 million cut from public education made in the early days of the legislative session. (This unallocated amount increased public education cuts from 7 to 11 percent.) Although motions to accept the reallocation proposals failed in committee, at present the following "add-backs" are being considered:

  • Adult Education - $9 million (down from $9.2 million last year)
  • Carson Smith Scholarships - $538,200
  • Extended Year for Special Education - $2.5 million  (proposal by committee chairs to put amount into WPU)
  • Fine Arts Outreach - $213,200
  • Guarantee Transportation Levy - $500,000
  • Imagine Learning - $300,000
  • K-3 Reading Improvement - $15 million
  • Library Books and Electronic Resources - $400,000
  • Regional Service Centers - $1 million (down from $1.4 million last year)
  • Science Outreach - $304,500
  • Teacher Salary Supplement - $374,000
  • Teacher Supplies and Materials - $5 million
  • To and From Pupil Transportation - $54.3 million (down from $65.6 million last year)
  • Utah State Office of Education - $1.4 million
  • Civil and Character Education - $200,000 (up $120,000 from the original funding request)

Of great concern to the UEA is the loss of $217.5 million in the Flexible Allocation line item, which funds Social Security and Retirement costs in the school districts. "There is no way our districts can absorb these kinds of costs on their own," said UEA Executive Director Mark Mickelsen. "We must work to fund this line item."

Equally concerning is the fact that four of Gov. Gary Herbert's initiatives - including optional extended-day kindergarten and 3rd grade Reading and 6th grade Math assessment - were not funded in the reallocation proposal.

At one point in the committee debate, an effort was made to decrease the class size reduction line item by $2 million to fund the Public Education Job Enhancement line item (which provides signing bonuses for math and science teachers). The motion failed.

A proposal by Rep. Kenneth Sumsion to create a new per pupil funding formula will go to interim study. The committee determined that the change was drastic enough to warrant additional consideration and even proposed asking Executive Appropriations for two additional meetings to study it. That motion passed.

The committee adjourned without a formal motion on the $91 million reallocation.

Senate Education Standing Committee: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) A bill aimed at adding an additional year of vision screening for elementary students, passed the Senate Education Committee today on a unanimous vote.

SB67 (1st sub.): Annual Eye Examination for Children in Grades Kindergarten through Three, sponsored by Sen. Luz Robles, allows vision screening to continue through age 8. Sen. Robles said the process is necessary to diagnose conditions in children that distort vision and lead to inadequate classroom performance, even blindness. She said many children do not get the care they need due to a lack of insurance coverage. Currently, vision screening is done in grades K-2.

A representative from the Utah Optometric Association, which supports the bill, confirmed that screenings catch a lot of problems early on.

The fiscal impact of the bill is reported to be $1.4 million, but Sen. Robles said she disagrees with the note because so many of the screening services are volunteered.

House Education Standing Committee: SB123: Restrictions on Lobbying Expenditures - Public Education passed the House Education Committee on a unanimous vote. The bill prohibits school districts from hiring contract lobbyists.


February 16, 2011

House Floor: The House rejected HB264: State Board of Education Election Process Amendments on a vote of 28-45. The bill, supported by the UEA, would have provided for the direct, nonpartisan election of state school board members. Sponsor Rep. Carol Moss stated that this bill would increase accountability and better involve the community in the election of school board members, free from party platforms. Considerable debate focused on the "nonpartisan" aspect of the bill, with many legislators expressing a desire for partisan school board elections. This despite a recent Dan Jones poll indicating 72 percent of Utahns strongly oppose requiring school board members to go through a political party.

House Education Standing Committee: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) “The Davis [School District] superintendent feels comfortable about the job I am doing. The school board feels comfortable about the job I am doing. This is a local control issue,” Davis Education Association President Susan Firmage told members of the House Education Committee today as they debated HB183: School District Leave Policies.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Keith Grover, prohibits a local school board from granting paid association leave for certain employee association or union duties. “The issue is transparency. The issue is ethics,” Grover argued, noting that his actions have nothing to do with the activities of teachers’ unions.

Firmage, who ultimately represents 3,500 educators, testified that she is “the voice of teachers” at numerous meetings, and frequently deals with human resource and retirement questions. Firmage said when two Davis students were murdered by their mother, she was able to work with teachers impacted by the tragedy and ensure their needs were met.

Kory Holdaway, UEA director of government relations, said a local president’s ability to represent teachers on district committees, etc., actually saves tax dollars for the public.

Rep. Patrice Arent, speaking in opposition to the bill, said it is a local control issue. “I trust them [school boards] to make this decision,” she said.

Rep. Marie Poulson said everyone in the Davis School District appears happy with the current arrangement. She said if taxpayers in the Davis School District are angry, the issue should be dealt with at the local level. “Why should we tie their hands?” she said.

The Committee passed the bill on a 10-3 vote. Representatives Arent, Poulson, and Moss voted against the bill. It now goes to the full House of Representatives for debate.


February 17, 2011

House Floor: (Reported by Sara Jones) The House passed HB92 (1st sub.): Public Education Regional Service Centers. This bill allows local school boards to create regional service centers to provide education-related services. Rep. Brad Last stated that when funding changes were made 10 years ago, references to these regional services centers were inadvertently removed from code. This bill puts back in to code references to the centers, clarifies the requirements by which centers are created and encourages districts to collaborate through the creation of these centers. Rep. Last also stated that the bill is not an attempt to address funding issues regarding the centers but to legitimize their operation. The UEA supported this bill.

The Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee considered SB172: Political Subdivisions Administration Amendments sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson. Sen. Stephenson stated that last fall the outgoing Jordan Board of Education was preparing to hire a new superintendent before the newly elected board was seated. Under public pressure the board held its decision until the new board was seated. This led Sen. Stephenson to examine existing statute for how other governing boards make appointments.

The bill would prohibit a local school board from making an long-term appointment during an interim vacancy period and also would prohibit the board from creating a contract with a new superintendent that contains an automatic renewal provision. It passed the committee unanimously.

Senate Floor: (Reported by Kory Holdaway) Sen. Howard Stephenson’s SB65: Statewide Online Education Program passed the Second Reading in the Senate and is now on the final reading calendar. The bill would fund expanded opportunities for online learning through paid, private, online providers and charter schools funded through money from local school districts. The UEA opposes this bill because it duplicates the Electronic High School (EHS) already in existence, takes money away from local schools by requiring school districts to use WPU money to pay for a student’s online course(s), and would give education money to private interests with little accountability.

Executive Appropriations Committee: (Reported by Kory Holdaway) Co-chairs from the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee provided reports to the Executive Appropriations Committee. They reported that the Subcommittee made cuts of 11 percent (as detailed in the Feb. 14 post) from the public education budget, but included funding for new-student growth. That was challenged by Rep. Brian King who asked how districts were going to be expected to pay Social Security and retirement when that line item was removed to fund part of the growth.


February 18, 2011

Friday was a very busy day for the UEA Legislative Team and the nearly 40 Educator Day on the Hill participants. 

Senate Education Committee: (Reported by Sara Jones) SB53: Eligibility for Interscholastic Activities in Secondary Schools would amend provisions related to the eligibility of secondary students to participate in certain school activities. Sen. Mark Madsen stated that this would allow high school students to move, through open enrollment, to another public school or to a charter school, or to return to the school of residency and retain eligibility. He acknowledged that there have been concerns about how this would affect recruiting for sports, but stated that was not the intent. In response to questions about the possibility of multiple transfers in one year, Sen. Madsen stated that any move would be for a full academic year. After extensive comment by the Committee and the public, the bill was held over until the next committee meeting.

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. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Howard Stephenson, stated that the purpose of the bill was to respond to concerns he had received from some teachers who had been recruited to join the teacher's association, but when they later decided to drop their membership they were not allowed by the district to drop mid-year. Because the impact of this bill is in keeping with current practice, the UEA believes this bill in unnecessary. The Committee passed the bill with only Sen. Morgan opposing.

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. A number of public comments questioned purchasing materials before the math common core standards have been fully implemented in three years. Singapore math has not yet fully aligned its program with the secondary math common core standards. The State Board of Education took a position that this bill is unnecessary and that it imposes upon their constitutional authority. The board supports funding basic programs and growth and not putting other programs in competition with those funds. Jordan UniServ Director Laura Black expressed her concerns about a $1.8 million fiscal note at a time when the legislature is currently considering an 11 percent budget cut to public education. The bill passed with Sens. J Stevenson and Morgan opposed.

SB73: Public School Teacher Tenure Modifications amends the Utah Orderly School Termination Procedures Act to require certain results on performance evaluations for certain employees to obtain, retain or regain career employee status. The bill would classify educators as either “proficient” or “low performing” based on student scores on a statewide assessment. It restricts the factors a school district may consider when terminating a school district employee. Sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson stated that this bill is a response to how to get rid of the "small percentage" of poor teachers. He said the bill would not automatically fire a poor teacher but would make it easier to do so by removing career status for the bottom 5 percent as measured by a statewide test. Sen. Stephenson also stated that this bill is "intended to correlate to the grading bill" but didn't provide specifics for how those two bills would work together. Sen. Morgan raised the concern that this bill could cause an "exodus out of our Title I schools."

There were extensive comments from the public. UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh stated that the UEA is opposed to the bill. She said all children deserve a quality teacher in their classroom and that she is "advocating for all children [and] this is about those children who are in Title I schools" because this legislation is poor policy and not supported by research. Granite UniServe Director Star Orullian said she believes "that the law that is presently in place is sufficient and does provide what is needed to rid the system of underperforming teachers." She also said Granite School District has a "model" teacher evaluation system (see UEA editorial). Numerous teachers attending UEA's Educator Day on the Hill (see below) also spoke against the bill. A second-year teacher stated that not only could this legislation create a mass exodus from Title I schools, but possibly a mass exodus from the profession. Another teacher said that these policy decisions should be data-driven and that if you link test scores to evaluations you must be able to show that it will make a positive difference. Another teacher pointed out that she teaches a non-tested subject and wondered how such teachers would be evaluated. She also stated that in her middle school it currently takes six weeks to complete testing for math, language arts and science, and wondered about the cost and time it would take to add more tested subjects.

Because of the concerns raised in testimony and the possible unintended consequence of the current bill, Sen. Stephenson decided to hold the bill until some changes could be made

House Education Standing Committee: HB152 (1st sub.): School Community Council Amendments passed favorably from the House Education Committee. The bill forbids school employees from serving as parent representatives on a school community council and outlines procedures for electing representatives.

House Revenue and Taxation Committee: HB191: Nonresident Tuition Waiver Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Carl Wimmer, was heard in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. This bill would repeal the exemption allowing nonimmigrant alien students who attend Utah high schools for three years or more to qualify for resident tuition. Many organizations testified in opposition to this bill including The United Way, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Voices for Utah Children and many students who this bill will directly impact. Despite the opposition, the bill passed the Committee on a 10-5 vote.

Educator Day on the Hill: (Reported by Tom Nedreberg) Nearly 40 educators from Cache, Uintah, Jordan, Granite, Davis, Box Elder and Weber participated in Educator Day on the Hill. They meet at 7 a.m. for a quick overview before attending the 7:30 a.m. Senate Education Committee meeting (see above). There many of them spoke against SB73, which impacted the outcome of the bill in Committee. The teachers then met again at 10 a.m. and talked about the issues facing the House and Senate. They also wrote notes to their legislators about why they are teachers. They then went and met their legislators, gave them notes, watched some of the session.

At lunchtime, participants reported their individual meetings with legislators. Everyone had a chance to talk about what their legislator said to them and gave information back to the UEA Legislative Team about their positions on individual issues. Heidi Jensen, an elementary teacher from Roosevelt El in Granite District had the quote of the day when she told Senator Van Tassell, "I have non-standard students that I have to force through a standardized system in order to take a standardized test." UEA Director of Government Relations Kory Holdaway then encouraged the educators to follow up their contact with emails.

After lunch, several educators attended the House Education committee, they were concerned that after HB152 (see above) was substituted and passed out favorably, they were the only individuals disenfranchised as parents not being able to serve on the school community councils at their children's schools.