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2011 Week Six: Feb. 28-March 4

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UEA Report on the 2011 Utah Legislature General Session

WEEK SIX:

 

LEGISLATURE WEEK SIX SUMMARY: February 28-March 4, 2011 

Public Education Budget: News in the halls of the Capitol related to the public education budget appears to be good. However, the Executive Appropriations Committee canceled its March 3 and 4 meetings, so the legislature has made no formal public education budget proposal beyond what was determined by the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee. The Executive Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m., March 7, to present its budget recommendations for the legislature.

UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway says he’s hearing that funding will be restored to the last year’s levels and new money will be allocated to deal with the expected new students entering schools next year. If student growth is funded, it will be the first time in the past three years. It remains unclear as to what levels new growth will be funded and if there will be any increase in the WPU (weighted pupil unit), one of the basic funding mechanisms used to fund public education.

It appears there is a very real desire by the legislature to reduce the number of specific line items in the budget and put that money into the WPU to be able to grant greater flexibility to the local school boards. This flexibility will result in an increase in the WPU, which generally helps the districts to support teachers in our desire to provide quality instruction in every classroom.

By legislative rule the overall budget will need to be completed by Tuesday morning and both the House and the Senate will need to vote to adopt or reject the budget recommended by Executive Appropriations.

Educator Day on the Hill: More than 40 educators and staff from Jordan, Cache, Davis, Iron, Weber, Ogden, Tooele, Sevier and South Sanpete became “citizen lobbyists” as a part of the UEA’s weekly Educator Day on the Hill activities. The educators met with their legislators and received updates from Representatives Ryan Wilcox, Becky Edwards, Jim Bird, Christine Watkins and Joel Briscoe who each stopped by to share their feelings about the legislative session in general and the education budget.

Congressman Jim Matheson also visited with the teachers and answered questions about national education issues, spending several minutes on the federal No Child Left Behind legislation. “There is widespread agreement (No Child Left Behind) is not working, but there is no agreement on how to fix it,” he said.

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

  • HB51 (1st sub.): School and Institutional Trust Lands is a non-controversial bill that clarifies some School and Institutional Trust Lands Management Act provisions. It passed both the House and the Senate without opposition.
  • HB75 (1st sub.): Dangerous Weapons Amendments would eliminate the 1,000-foot restricted perimeter around a school zone for carrying a weapon. An amendment to reinstate a perimeter of 50 feet failed and the substitute bill passed the Senate 19-8. It now goes to the House.
  • HB87: School Finance Amendments would each year add to a local district’s voted leeway state guarantee cap. This will help some school districts that can’t raise money on their own. The bill passed the House 50-25.
  • HB123: K-12 Education Amendments dramatically modifies how money appropriated for the basic state-supported school program is distributed to school districts and charter schools. An amendment removed a provision that would also have reduced the term of local school board members from four to two years. Because of its complexity, the House Education Committee voted to hold the bill. It will likely become an interim study item.
  • HB134 (1st sub.): Collection of Front Line Teachers Data (formerly titled HB134: Focus on Primary Classroom Teachers Program, which would have given additional WPU funding to school districts that spend a higher percentage of funding on primary classroom teachers) would provide incentives for school districts to spend more of their budget on classrooms. The first year of the program would be for statewide data collection. The House passed the bill 62-11.
  • HB145: Public School Privacy Amendments requires the State Board of Education to establish public school student confidentiality standards. The bill passed the House Education Committee.
  • HB152 (1st sub.) School Community Council Amendments modifies provisions pertaining to the membership, selection, and operation of school community councils. The UEA is concerned about a provision in the bill that forbids school employees from serving as parent representatives on a school community council. It passed both the House and the Senate.
  • HB183 School District Leave Policies limits the association leave a local school board may grant for certain employee association or union duties. The original bill allows district employees up to 10 days for association leave. The Senate amended the bill to strike the 10 days and passed it on a vote of 16-8. (NOTE: On March 7, the House refused to concur with the amendment.)
  • HB191 (1st sub.): Nonresident Tuition Waiver Amendments originally would have eliminated in-state tuition for all nonimmigrant alien students, regardless of how long they lived in Utah. 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. The bill passed the House 44-28.
  • HB195: Debt Service Obligations of a Divided School District allows divided school districts to collect a tax to cover outstanding bond debt. It passed both the House and the Senate unanimously.
  • HB262: Divided School District Assets and Liabilities passed the Senate unanimously and was moved to the third reading calendar. The bills basically codify the decisions made by the arbiter in the Jordan School District split regarding taxes and divisions of property. The bills are not controversial.
  • HB262: Divided School District Assets and Liabilities clarifies how a divided district’s assets are to be allocated. It passed both the House and the Senate unanimously.
  • HB269 (1st sub.): Commission on Civic and Character Education would require school districts and charter schools to submit an annual report regarding their activities on civic and character education. It passed the House 53-19.
  • HB275: School District Division Amendments clarifies how certain property tax levies are to be imposed in a divided school district. It passed both the House and the Senate unanimously.
  • HB288: Concurrent Enrollment Transcripts asks the higher education Board of Regents and Utah State Board of Education to coordinate concurrent enrollment courses. It passed the House unanimously and now goes to the Senate.
  • HB290: Public School Transportation Amendments would reduce from 1.5 miles to one mile the distance required for a student to receive state-sponsored busing. It then prioritizes who is bused—elementary students first, then high school—until available funds are exhausted. The bill passed the House Education Committee.
  • HB301: School District Property Tax Revisions would combine nine property tax levies currently authorized for public school funding into two levies. School superintendents and the school boards association, as well as the UEA, opposed this bill for decreasing the flexibility of the districts in raising property taxes, decreasing transparency in taxes and the potential long-term consequences if other charter school legislation is passed. It narrowly passed the House 39-31.
  • HB302: Reading Program Amendments imposes requirements for reading instruction in kindergarten through grade three. It passed the House Education Committee.
  • HB313: Charter School Funding Amendments would take money from the current revenue stream of property tax and redistribute it to charter schools. The House Education Committee voted 8-5 to forward it to the House floor for debate. The UEA and many other education organizations oppose this bill.
  • HB339: Charter School Enrollment Amendments gives flexibility to manage enrollment growth in charter schools back to the State Board of Education. It also gives preference for growth to high-performing charters. The bill passed House Education Committee.
  • HB388: Operation and Management of Charter Schools clarifies what financial reports the State Charter School Board can request from a charter school. It also gives the state indemnification for debts left behind if a charter school closes. The bill passed the House Education Committee.
  • HB447: Kindergarten Literacy Improvement Program would create a computer-based kindergarten literacy software program for all Kindergarten Students. The cost of the program is $3 million for hardware and software and will be an option for school districts to choose using early intervention money. The bill passed the House Education Committee.
  • SB59 (1st sub.): School Grading System replaced the original grading schools bill and was passed on second reading to be considered one more time in the Senate. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Wayne Neiderhauser, has worked with the UEA, the State Office of Education and other public education groups to improve the initial bill that was passed in committee. The latest version of the bill is much more in line with U-PASS data that is currently part the reporting done by individual schools. Some challenges with the legislation remain, mainly dealing with the resource needs of a school found performing at an unacceptable level based its letter grade.
  • SB65: Statewide Online Education Program would fund expanded opportunities for online learning through paid, private, online providers with money from local school districts. The bill initially failed on second reading, but a motion to reconsider passed. Despite a fiscal note of $974,000 and after an extensive debate, the bill passed the Senate 17-12 and moves to the House. The UEA is concerned this bill will divert public education funds to private providers with little accountability, just as school vouchers would have done.
  • SB73 (1st sub.): Public School Teacher Tenure Modifications would prohibit last-hired, first-fired as a reduction-in-force policy in school districts. Sen. Karen Morgan proposed an amendment stating districts could not “primarily” use seniority. The amendment failed and the bill passed the Senate 19-8. It now moves to the House.
  • SB127: Post Retirement Employment Amendments passed the House Retirement and Independent Entities Committee unanimously. It allows for part-time employment after retirement. Under provisions of the bill, a school district employee can go back to work part time if they earn less than $15,000/yr. and are in a non-benefited position.
  • SB217: Education Policy Amendments requires schools that receive grants from the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Elementary Arts Learning Program to provide certain matching funds and requires the State Board of Education to make additional funds available for schools to participate in the program. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee on a unanimous vote.
  • SB224: Partisan School Board Elections modifies the state’s election code by requiring that Utah State Board of Education members are elected in a partisan election. It also repeals the current USBE nominating and recruiting committee, and the governor’s involvement in the process. The Senate Education Committee passed the bill. The UEA strongly opposes partisan school board elections.
  • SB256: Teacher Effectiveness Evaluation Process provides that annual evaluations for all teachers may be a component of a career ladder and requires a school’s joint committee to develop an evaluation program. The impact on local school districts would be $219 million, according to a fiscal note prepared by the Utah State Office of Education. The bill passed out of the Senate Education Committee on a 2-1 vote.
  • SB263: State Board of Education Powers Amendments provides that the State Board of Education may investigate a school district or public school to determine whether the school district or public school is in compliance with state law and provides that the State Board of Education may reverse a decision of a local school board or charter school governing board if the decision of the local school board or charter school governing board violates state law. It passed the Senate Education Committee on a unanimous vote.
  • SB305: Economic Development Through Education Career Alignment is designed to inform secondary students about their higher education options. Although it competes with an existing program (Utah Futures), the bill passed the Senate Education Committee.
  • SB308 (1st sub.): Amendments to Public Employee's Benefit and Insurance Program contains provisions to allow changes to the Tier II retirement system if dire circumstances develop in reference to the Utah Retirement System. It also allows new employees one year to make their choice between the defined contribution option and the defined benefit hybrid option. It passed the Senate unanimously. 
  • SJR27: Bullying and Cyber Bullying Standards for School Districts Joint Resolution expresses support for Utah school districts and charter schools to implement protections against bullying, cyber bullying, and other physical or emotional harm. It passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.

February 28, 2011

Senate Floor: (Reported by Jay Blain) SB78: Public School Early Graduation Counseling 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. The bill was amended to add the ninth grade to the counseling offered. Sponsor Sen. Chris Buttars said he believes this is a tremendous information bill. It passed on second reading 25-0 and was placed at bottom of third-reading calendar.

House Floor: (Reported by Sara Jones) HB87: School Finance Amendments would each year add to a local district’s voted leeway state guarantee cap. This will help some school districts that can’t raise money on their own. Sponsor Rep. Merlynn Newbold stated that there have been concerns about where the money to fund this program comes from. She stated that the funding is not automatic but is only funded if the legislature chooses to do so. Several questions from the floor asked whether the bill was a tax increase and Rep Newbold said that local taxes would not increase but this would take money from the state income tax revenues. Rep. Ronda Menlove questioned the fiscal note of $14 million and stated that the bill is an equalization bill and there would be a fiscal impact in the future. The bill passed the House 50-25.

HB269 (1st sub.): Commission on Civic and Character Education would require school districts and charter schools to submit an annual report regarding their activities on civic and character education. Rep. Christensen proposed two amendments to clarify the bill. First, language was added to include charter schools and the state charter school board in the reporting requirements. Second, language was added to include a focus on "constitutional republic". Both amendments passed. Rep. Nielson questioned why schools will have to report on civic and character education but not every other curriculum area that is mandated and wondered why "we are singling out one small piece of statute for special reporting.” The bill passed the House 53-19.

HB191 (1st sub.): Nonresident Tuition Waiver Amendments originally would have eliminated in-state tuition for all nonimmigrant alien students, regardless of how long they lived in Utah. 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. Two amendments were proposed on the House floor with extensive debate on both. First, Rep. Kiser proposed increasing the requirement to provide Utah state tax returns from one to three years in order to be eligible for in state tuition. Rep. McIff argued that there is a need to increase, not decrease, the number of Latinos living in Utah who attend college and that "if we narrow the school house door in any way we go against our duty". The amendment passed 38-30. The second amendment, proposed by Rep. Wimmer, adds a provision that HB191 would supersede the in-state tuition section in the omnibus immigration bill, SB288, which would allow the children of immigrants holding guest worker permits to be eligible for in-state tuition. The amendment failed. The bill passed the House 44-28.

Senate Education Committee: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) SJR27: Bullying and Cyber Bullying Standards for School Districts Joint Resolution –which expresses support for Utah school districts and charter schools to implement protections against bullying, cyber bullying, and other physical or emotional harm – was heard and passed in the Senate Education Committee today.

The bill sponsor, Sen. Ralph Okerlund, said he received information during the summer involving a student that was harassed and bullied. The father asked him how Utah can improve what is going on in our schools related to bullying. With technological capabilities, the Senator said there is often more opportunity for people to do bad things. “This is happening across our state and across our country,” he said, noting that bullying has been a problem for a long time. With the ability to text, there is more of an opportunity for students to be humiliated, Sen. Okerlund testified.

SB217: Education Policy Amendments, by Sen. Curtis Bramble, requires schools that receive grants from the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Elementary Arts Learning Program to provide certain matching funds; requires the State Board of Education to make additional funds available for schools to participate in the program, based on the matching funds coming from grant recipients; and removes the repeal date for the program.

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, a teacher who worked in a Beverly Taylor Sorenson school, spoke in favor of the bill. “It is an amazing program,” she told committee members, thanking the Sorenson’s for their generosity. The bill passed out of Committee on a unanimous vote.

Sen. Howard Stephenson’s SB224: Partisan School Board Elections drew comments from a wide range of supporters and opponents. This bill modifies the state’s election code by requiring that Utah State Board of Education members are elected in a partisan election. It also repeals the current USBE nominating and recruiting committee, and the governor’s involvement in the process.

Stephenson said for years it was noted that people who served on the USBE had in their last name the first few letters of the alphabet, the point being people who did not know candidates voted for the first name on the ballot. He noted that caucuses serve as a jury, or “gauntlet and that delegates to the conventions hold candidates accountable. “If we had this [legislation] in place, we would have a better quality of candidate,” Stephenson said. 

Patti Harrington, associate executive director of the USBA/USSA, disagreed with Stephenson and gave multiple reasons why partisan elections are a bad idea. She said America and Utah don’t have “an appetite for more politics.” Harrington, former state superintendent of Utah public schools, said the whims of politics do not belong on school boards – state or local.

Kory Holdaway, UEA director of government relations, spoke in opposition to the bill. He said the public is opposed and recognize the value of a non-partisan school board. USBE member Michael Jensen said he and his colleagues on the board work for their number one constituency, the students of Utah. “We do what we feel is best for them,” he said.

“We should be above party politics and partisanship,” said Sen. Karen Morgan, the only member of the committee to vote against passing the bill on to the Senate floor.

SB263: State Board of Education Powers Amendments, by Sen. Chris Buttars, provides that the State Board of Education may investigate a school district or public school to determine whether the school district or public school is in compliance with state law; provides that the State Board of Education may reverse a decision of a local school board or charter school governing board if the decision of the local school board or charter school governing board violates state law. Sen. Buttars categorized the bill as a way to guarantee transparency and accountability.

Kory Holdaway, UEA director of government relations, spoke in opposition to the bill. “We see this as unnecessary,” he said, noting the bill puts an additional burden on the USOE, an agency that has already been cut down “to bone and muscle.”

Former State Superintendent Patti Harrington said when she was superintendent, “I found districts and charter schools responded quickly” when information was needed. In the one case when this did not occur, Harrington said funds were withheld. The bill passed out of committee on a unanimous vote.

SB256: Teacher Effectiveness Evaluation Process threatens steps and lanes that, for years, have been used to reward teachers for additional education and years of experience. The bill, sponsored by Sen. J. Stuart Adams, provides that annual evaluations for all teachers may be a component of a career ladder and requires a school’s joint committee to develop an evaluation program.

Sen. Adams said the state’s current step and lane process has “outworn its effectiveness.” He wants to compensate teachers based on evaluation. The impact on local school districts would be $219 million, according to a fiscal note prepared by the Utah State Office of Education.

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh said educators are demoralized and devastated by the lack of commitment to them as public school teachers. “The message you are sending is that teachers are not valued,” she told committee members.

Martell Menlove, Utah State Office of Education, said the bill would require 1,000+ schools to develop their own evaluation program and instruments, evaluations that must be valid and reliable. “Developing over 1,000 evaluation systems does not move us toward valid and reliable systems,” he said. “This bill moves us in the wrong direction.”

Sen. Adams said he is not trying to punish teachers, but hopes to develop “a master teacher situation.”

Former high school principal Fred Ash testified that steps and lanes have not outgrown usefulness – experience is necessary and being paid for education is also important. The bill, he said, gives payment based on a limited number of people making the decision.

The bill passed out of committee on a 2-1 vote. Sen. Thatcher voted no.


March 1, 2011

Senate Floor: (Reported by Jay Blain) SB65: Statewide Online Education Program, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, would fund expanded opportunities for online learning through paid, private, online providers with money from local school districts. In his remarks, Sen. Stephenson said his bill would put Utah ahead of all other states in online education and would give Utah high school students a choice of programs accredited by the Utah State Office of Education. There was no further debate. Sen. Karen Morgan explained her “nay” vote saying she supports online education and we have many free classes online already. She said she is very concerned about high cost of this bill and we simply can’t afford it at this time. With a final count of 13-10-6, the bill failed to win the 15 votes required to pass. The UEA is concerned this bill will divert public education funds to private providers with little accountability, just as school vouchers would have done.

A trio of house bills pertaining to school district divisions, HB195: Debt Service Obligations of a Divided School District, HB275: School District Division Amendments, and HB262: Divided School District Assets and Liabilities, all sponsored by Rep. Kenneth Sumsion, were heard in the Senate this afternoon. The first two were on the consent calendar and were passed unanimously by a voice vote and are now complete. The third bill passed unanimously and was moved to the third reading calendar. The bills basically codify the decisions made by the arbiter in the Jordan School District split regarding taxes and divisions of property. The bills are not controversial.

House Floor: (Reported by Sara Jones) The bill formerly titled HB134: Focus on Primary Classroom Teachers Program, which would have given additional WPU funding to school districts that spend a higher percentage of funding on primary classroom teachers, was substituted to become HB134 (1st sub.): Collection of Front Line Teachers Data. Sponsor, Rep. Jim Nielson, stated that the goal of the program is to encourage districts to focus on the classroom. The first year of the program would be for statewide data collection along two metrics: 1) how many district employees are "front-line" teachers and 2) how much of the district budget is spent on teachers. In the second year, if the data warrants, the sponsor will look to have the program funded up to $5 million to encourage districts to focus on the classroom. The bill will not mandate how districts use the money so long as it impacts the classroom.The House passed the bill 62-11.

House Education Committee: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) Rep. Kenneth Sumsion argues that his HB123: K-12 Education Amendments would give local school districts the opportunity to manage the kind of education they want to provide to their students. The legislation modifies how money appropriated for the basic state-supported school program is distributed to school districts and charter schools. In today’s House Education Committee, Sumsion amended his bill to eliminate language that would have reduced the term of local school board members from four to two years.

Martell Menlove, Utah State Office of Education, said while the Utah State Board of Education has taken no formal position on the bill, they do have concerns. He said the Minimum School Program is complicated and most line items were put in place by legislators who had concerns about the children of the state. He said the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) is a model funding program across the United States and Utah is one of only five states that has not been sued due to funding distribution issues. He cautioned committee members that, among other things, Sumsion’s bill would disqualify Utah from receiving some special education dollars. Menlove said the current line item process allows for changes when school districts experience demographic shifts. “Although we talk about local control, the distribution of funds does not allow those decisions to be made at the local level,” he said.

“We need to sit down with staff and work through this,” said Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss. She told Sumsion the idea he was advancing – letting local school districts make decisions – has been argued before. “There’s no more money. We ought to be looking for new revenue sources,” she said. “Put the brakes on. Keep the idea alive, but let us go forward in interim study with fresh eyes,” she said.

The Committee voted to hold the bill. The legislation is likely to be an interim study item.

HB313: Charter School Funding Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Merlynn Newbold, would take money from the current revenue stream of property tax and redistribute it to charter schools. Despite the huge financial consequences associated with this legislation, public comment was limited to six minutes at the end of the meeting. And that didn’t sit well with UEA Director of Government Relations Kory Holdaway and several others prepared to testify.

“We are talking about a significant piece of legislation with 30 minutes of discussion,” Holdaway said. In looking at the impact, he reminded Committee members that 92 percent of the students in the state attend neighborhood public schools. He said if we spent as much effort on the 92 percent as we do on charter schools, the state’s public education system would be in much better shape.

Newbold talked about the growth of local replacement funding for charter schools, now at approximately $67 million. Currently, the state covers 75 percent of the cost, school districts the other 25 percent. Under Newbold’s bill, school districts will eventually pay 100 percent of these costs via property tax. For Fiscal Year 2012, the bill has a $984,000 fiscal note which, Newbold said, may not be funded during this legislative session. “The formula is not a scheme to increase property taxes,” Newbold said. But others disagreed.

Rep. Kraig Powell argued that charter school parents have made a choice to opt out of the traditional public education system. “Why don’t we put this on the county’s property tax bill, rather than the school district’s?” he asked. Rep. Marie Poulson noted that traditional schools are carrying a high number of students who need special education services, and help due to limited English proficiency, to name just a few.  Rep. Rebecca Edwards said funding charters this way “penalizes school districts like Davis” and said she is concerned about the burden the legislation will place on districts. Rep. Kay McKiff noted that in rural Utah, if 20 students leave, it causes a revenue loss. Newbold responded by saying while revenue is lost, there are 20 less students.

Patti Harrington, Utah School Boards Association, said Newbold’s solution “requires taxation without accountability.” She said the loss of money to school districts could trigger a local property tax increase. She agreed with Rep. Powell that charter schools should be on the county tax notice, not the district tax notice. A better solution, she said, would be to use income taxes to solve the charter school program.

The Committee voted 8-5 to forward the bill to the House floor for debate.


March 2, 2011

Senate Floor: (Reported by Sara Jones and Jay Blain) Yesterday, SB65: Statewide Online Education Programwas defeated on 2nd reading. This morning, a successful motion was made to reconsider the bill and have it moved to the third reading calendar. This afternoon Sen. Howard Stephenson spoke to the bill saying there was a need for this new online program because he views the Electronic High School as a "monopoly" and believes that districts oppose this legislation because they want to maintain their "market share" of online education. In response to a question from Sen. Pat Jones he acknowledged there is currently a fiscal note of $974,000 to set up the program. Sen. Stuart Reid spoke in favor of the bill because it provides "another way to educate our children through the private sector." After an extensive debate, the bill passed the Senate 17-12 and moves to the House.

Sen. Stephenson uncircled SB73 (1st sub.): School Teacher Tenure Modifications, which would prohibit a school district from using a "last-hired, first-fired" seniority policy. Sen. Jones proposed an amendment. The bill was circled for amendment.

HB262: Divided School District Assets and Liabilities, sponsored by Rep. Kenneth Sumsion, presented the third in his series of divided school district bills. This one deals with assets. It passed the Senate unanimously.

HB220: Civics Education Amendments requires that schools provide instruction in forms of government, including the United States' form of government as a republic. Sponsor Sen. Mark Madsen says he asks school kids what kind of government we have and he says they give the wrong answer (although he didn’t say what the wrong answer they give). Sen. Ben McAdams says that it is not good public policy for the legislature to dictate the curricula. Sen. Valentine indicated he is supporting the bill because words really do matter. He expressed his concerns about the U.S. allowing “an element of socialism to creep into our republic.” Sen. Pat Jones said, although she believes the correct information is already being taught, she would vote for the bill because being informed is not a bad thing. Sen. Karen Mayne said she will also vote for the bill because it will give comfort to many, but she is already assured that teachers are doing a fine job in teaching these concepts without prejudice and in a scholarly fashion. The bill pass on to the Senate third reading calendar on a unanimous vote.

House Education Committee: (Reported by Tom Nedreberg and Jay Blain) HB447: Kindergarten Literacy Improvement Program would create a computer-based kindergarten literacy software program for all Kindergarten Students. The cost of the program is $3 million for hardware and software and will be an option for school districts to choose using early intervention money. Rep. Carol Moss asked where the money to operate would come from. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Johnny Anderson, said it would come from existing extended-day kindergarten funds and from existing WPU money.

Commenting on the bill, State Office of Education Deputy Superintendent Martell Menlove said the State Board of Education’s highest priority was optional extended day kindergarten and if this program took money way from that, USOE would be opposed. The bill passed the Committee.

HB145: Public School Privacy Amendments requires the State Board of Education to establish public school student confidentiality standards. It will be a voluntary program. UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway said, as a former special education teacher, this would be a good idea because there are many things that need to be held in confidence. The bill passed the Committee and was put on Consent Calendar.

HB388: Operation and Management of Charter Schools clarifies what the financial reports the State Charter School Board can request from a charter school. The bill also gives the state indemnification for debts left behind if a charter school closes.

State Office of Education Deputy Superintendent Martell Menlove spoke against the bill. He shared the example of an incident where the State Charter School Board tried to take action against a school, but since there were no standards set the board wasn’t able to proceed. He then talked about how charter schools only have to meet the parts of the code that apply to them with special education and he was concerned there might be unintended consequences where they wouldn’t serve some students. He was concerned we would be denying them certain tools to allow them to fully meet the needs of students. Special education is not in the code but in USOE rules, he said. He hoped we wouldn’t be eliminating charters from serving certain students because of the legislative performance standards that are being required.

Rep. Kay McKiff proposed a minor amendment. Both the amendment and the bill passed the Committee.

HB290: Public School Transportation Amendments would reduce from 1.5 miles to one mile the distance required for a student to receive state-sponsored busing. It then prioritizes who is bused, said bill sponsor Rep. Carl Wimmer—elementary students first, then high school, until available funds are exhausted.

Rep. Jim Neilson talked about logistics and times of busing, how it works and how it would be reprioritized. Rep. Wimmer said his bill leaves that discretion to the districts. Rep. Poulson asked about the fiscal note and the challenge Jordan district will have and if we are interfering with their ability to make decisions. Rep. McKiff said it was presumptuous of the legislature to make a decision when those closer to problem should make it. The bill passed the Committee.

HB339: Charter School Enrollment Amendments gives flexibility to manage enrollment growth in charter schools back to the State Board of Education. It also gives preference for growth to high-performing charters. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Hutchings, responded to a question about students who will never perform well on standardized tests. He agreed that this is a concern and is not quite sure how to handle that issue if they are the doing the best job they can for that demographic. He admitted he needs to explore that area more.

USOE Deputy Superintendent Martell Menlove spoke in favor of the bill, although he is also concerned about the performance of specialty charter schools. UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway reiterated the concern about the performance issue and asked about a fiscal note for the bill.

In summation, Rep. Hutchings said he realizes that the issue of performance needs to be addressed and he will do so before the bill goes through the legislative process. If he doesn’t get the wording right, he said he will pull the bill off the third-reading calendar himself. The bill passed favorably.

HB302: Reading Program Amendments imposes requirements for reading instruction in kindergarten through grade three. According to bill sponsor, Rep. Merlynn Newbold, the bill provides additional strength to the goal of having students reading by the end of third grade. She states that $30 million is appropriated annually. Tools proposed in the bill would provide immediate data to the teacher, give suggested interventions, and a letter home for the teacher.

A reading specialist from Cache County School District expressed concerned about the per-pupil cost for the technology. She is also concerned about the teacher doing all of the testing when they currently use an outside team to do the testing. Newbold responded that this program would provide additional bells and whistles, like reports for teachers, suggested activities for use at home, and others. She reassured the teachers that this is not a high-stakes test.

The bill passed the Commitee.

Senate Education Committee: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) Today, in the final meeting of the Senate Education Committee, lawmakers heard bills related to school community councils, Association leave, online education and career counseling.

Rep. Bill Wright’s HB152 (1st sub.): School Community Councils Amendment, which modifies provisions pertaining to the membership, selection, and operation of community school councils, drew criticism from Kory Holdaway, UEA director of government relations. The bill says a "parent or guardian member" of a community council may not include an educator who is employed by the school district in which the school is located, unless the educator's employment does not exceed an average of six hours per week. Holdaway said the bill discriminates against educators who may have a child attending school in the district. He asked why educators can’t serve as a parent representative at a district school other than the one where they are employed. The bill passed out of Committee.

Rep. Keith Grover’s HB183: School District Leave Policies also passed out of committee, but not before arguments were made by UEA representatives regarding the benefit association leaders provide to school districts. Grover told committee members, “This is not an anti-union bill. We value their contribution.” He added in testimony, “I have no qualms about services provided by the teachers union. But it needs to be on their own dime,” he said.

Kory Holdaway, UEA director of government relations, said when Association presidents provide a service for the district, “that should be paid for by the government.” He said the Association is concerned about the lack of awareness that there is some benefit the districts realize when Association presidents are on Association leave.

“It is very difficult to serve two masters,” said Sen. Jerry Stevenson. “It is a fine line to walk to make this work.” Stevenson moved to pass HB183 out of Committee, which it did.

SB305: Economic Development Through Education Career Alignment, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, is designed to inform secondary students about their higher education options. Stephenson, who has been criticized in the media for talking about “degrees to nowhere,” said some students enroll in majors that don’t allow them substantial employment options. “They should go into it with their eyes wide open and right now they don’t have the information to make those choices,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson’s legislation calls on the Utah Education Network (UEN) to contract for an online education and career counseling program. [During his opening statement, Stephenson said he has no interest, financially, in any technology company, and receives nothing from them.] But many of these same services already exist through the Utah Futures program, according to testimony from public and higher education officials.

Judy Park, Utah State Office of Education, said she applauds Sen. Stephenson’s thinking. “But Utah Futures [UtahFutures.org] is already in place. This program is more than adequate,” she said. The existing program connects students in grades 7-12, Park told committee members, and is available for mobile devices. She said the senator’s proposal is duplicative. “Let’s put the money where money has already been spent,” she said.

Kory Holdaway, UEA, also complimented the senator, but said when the state is struggling to find money to fund student enrollment growth, nurses, and teacher professional development, it would be unwise to add new programs.

A graduate studies student spoke against the bill, having used Utah Futures to find information about salaries in his chosen profession.

Bill Sederburg, commissioner of higher education, said public and higher education groups are already working collaboratively to provide services to students through Utah Futures. “Let’s make Utah Futures all it can be, but let’s not have all these alternative proposals,” he said.

Sen. Stephenson asked Committee members to send the bill to the Senate floor and agreed to work with the Utah Futures group to retool the legislation. The Senate Education Committee passed the bill out with a favorable recommendation.

House Retirement Committee: (Reported by Jay Blain) SB127: Post Retirement Employment Amendments passed the House Retirement and Independent Entities Committee unanimously. Described as a “clean-up bill” to take care of problems associated with last year’s SB43, it allows for part-time employment after retirement. Under provisions of the bill, a school district employee can go back to work part time if they earn less than $15,000/yr. and are in a non-benefited position. The requirement for a one year hard separation is still in effect if you want to go back to a full-time position.

SB308 (1st sub.): Amendments to Public Employee's Benefit and Insurance Program is another bill to fix technical problems with a retirement bill from last year. It contains provisions to allow changes to the Tier II system if dire circumstances develop in reference to the Utah Retirement System. It also allows new employees one year to make their choice between the defined contribution option and the defined benefit hybrid option. It passed the Committee unanimously. 


March 3, 2011

House Floor: (Reported by Sara Jones) Rep. Merlynn Newbold presented HB301: School District Property Tax Revisions. This bill would combine nine property tax levies currently authorized for public school funding into two levies. School superintendents and the school boards association, as well as the UEA, opposed this bill for decreasing the flexibility of the districts in raising property taxes, decreasing transparency in taxes and the potential long-term consequences if other charter school legislation is passed. In response to questions about the purpose of the bill and how it would affect funding of charter schools Rep. Newbold said this bill "does not affect charter schools." Rep. Carol Moss criticized the bill for "fixing something that doesn't need to be fixed.” Rep. Joel Briscoe spoke against the bill stating that it would "dramatically reduce accountability," and Rep. Christine Watkins said she had "a great deal of concern because if the people that need [the bill] don't want it, I think we need to listen to them." The bill narrowly passed the House 39-31.

Senate Floor: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) By a vote of 22-0, the Senate moved HB51 (1st sub.): School and Institutional Trust Lands to the top of the third reading calendar. The bill, supported by many education groups, including the UEA, modifies provisions of the School and Institutional Trust Lands Management Act.

HB152 (1st sub.) School Community Council Amendments modifies provisions pertaining to the membership, selection, and operation of school community councils. The UEA is concerned about language in the bill that says a "parent or guardian member" may not include an educator who is employed by the school district in which the school is located unless the educator's employment does not exceed an average of six hours per week.

Sen. Margaret Dayton said the bill strengthens the parent’s voice. She said the bill ensures that elections must happen as planned, the council has responsibility beyond determining how to spend Trust Lands money, and spot audits are conducted to ensure elections occur as planned. She said the bill comes as a result of input from community councils around the state.

Sen. Pat Jones said she supports the bill, noting that if Trust Lands money is in jeopardy, community councils get involved. Sen. Mark Madsen said he believes in community councils and wishes the councils could veto the decisions of the school board, instead of the reverse (current policy).

The bill was placed at the bottom of the third reading calendar.

Sens. Dayton and Howard Stephenson continued their attacks on the UEA today as they attempted to make a bad bill even worse for association leaders. HB183: School District Leave Policies was placed on the third reading calendar and will likely be heard during Senate floor time on Friday.

[NOTE: In each of the past two legislative sessions, bills have been proposed to eliminate the practice of paid association leave. HB183 is the latest incarnation. Currently three school districts allow paid association leave - Davis, Granite and Salt Lake. In those districts, one-third to one-half of an employee’s salary is paid by the district as they take full-time leave from teaching to serve as an association president. These teachers work full-time on behalf of their district’s teachers, with a portion of their salary paid by the association. Districts elect to operate this way because of the valuable service association presidents provide on behalf of the district—services that would otherwise need to be performed by other district employees.]

Sen. Stephenson proposed amending the existing bill (which passed the House) to remove the language allowing “10 business days” for association leave. [Current language says “A local school board policy that governs association leave shall require reimbursement to the school district of the costs for an employee, including benefits, for the time that exceeds 10 business days during a fiscal year that the employee is on unpaid association leave; or participating in a paid association leave activity described in Subsection (3)(g) that does not provide a direct benefit to the school district.”]

The Senator withdrew his motion to amend and instead agreed to work with Dayton on new language. The vote to hear the bill for a third time passed on a 15-4 vote.


March 4, 2011

Public Education Budget: (Reported by Kory Holdaway) News in the halls of the Capitol related to the education budget appears to be good. We are expecting the cuts that were being proposed by the Public Education Appropriations Committee to be restored to the last years funding levels. In addition, it appears the legislature also is recognizing the need to put new money into the budget to deal with the expected new students that will be entering our educational systems. This new money will be the first time in the past three years that new student growth will be funded. The questions that remain related to funding are at what levels will the new growth be funded and will there be an increase in the WPU (weighted pupil unit), one of the basic funding mechanisms used to fund public education. It appears there is a very real desire by the legislature to reduce the number of specific line items in the budget and put that money into the WPU to be able to grant greater flexibility to the local school boards. This flexibility will result in an increase in the WPU, which generally helps the districts to support teachers in our desire to provide quality instruction in every classroom.

The Executive Appropriations Committee will be meeting on Monday to make their recommendations for the legislature to adopt. There have been some disagreements between the Senate and the House with the Governor weighing in on how he would like to see the budget completed. Those disagreements in large part surround early education intervention and also the K-3 reading initiative money. Some in the legislature would like to redirect the current funding for those programs to technology in the early grades and provide additional computerized instruction. It appears the flexibility for that money will remain in place for the school districts, however there will be some expectation of increased technology in the early grades. How that will translate to our classrooms will be one of the challenges for the districts to face.

By legislative rule the overall budget will need to be completed by Tuesday morning and both the House and the Senate will need to vote to adopt or reject the budget recommended by Executive Appropriations.

During the final week of the legislature it will be important for us to continue to make contact with our individual legislators to recognize the funding for K-12 education and to block any attempts to redirect funding for K-12. We should also continue to express our appreciation to the Governor’s Office for their strong position of support for funding education.

House Floor: (Reported by Jay Blain) HB288: Concurrent Enrollment Transcripts is a very simple bill asking the higher education Board of Regents and Utah State Board of Education to coordinate concurrent enrollment courses. It would allow a university advisor to provide appropriate direction to students. The bill provides a mechanism to provide student access to advisers. The bill passed the House unanimously and now goes to the Senate.

Senate Floor: (Reported by Sara Jones) HB75 (1st sub.): Dangerous Weapons Amendments would eliminate the 1,000-foot restricted perimeter around a school zone for carrying a weapon. Sen. Lyle Hillyard proposed an amendment that would reinstate a perimeter of either 50 feet or the distance across the road from the edge of school property, whichever is less, to create a buffer zone. He stated that the Governor supports the amendment and if the amendment doesn’t pass, there is a likelihood of a veto, which would mean no change in legislation. The amendment failed and the original substitute bill passed the Senate 19-8. It now goes to the House.

HB51 (1st sub.): School and Institutional Trust Lands is a non-controversial bill that clarifies some SITLA provisions. There was no discussion or debate on the floor. The bill passed 25-0 and will and will return to House for action on an amendment.

SB73 (1st sub.): Public School Teacher Tenure Modifications would prohibit last-hired, first-fired as a policy for reduction-in-force in schools. Sen. Karen Morgan proposed an amendment because she argued that there is confusion about whether this would completely prohibit school districts from using seniority. The amendment proposed inserting the word “primarily” so that after considering other things a district could use seniority to provide some flexibility. Sen. Howard Stephenson opposed the amendment saying it “would basically gut the bill and make it useless.” The amendment failed and the bill passed 19-8. It now moves to the House.

HB152 (1st sub.): School Community Council Amendments forbids school employees from serving as parent representatives on a school community council and outlines procedures for electing representatives It was confirmed by the Senate bill sponsor, Sen. Margaret Dayton, that a person who is a teacher in the district but does not teach in that school could not serve on the school community council in their child’s school. The purpose is to “empower the parents” because teachers are already well-represented on school community councils, she said. The bill passed unanimously.

HB183 School District Leave Policies limits the association leave a local school board may grant for certain employee association or union duties. Sens. Dayton and Stephenson proposed an amendment to strike the words “that exceeds 10 business days” from the bill. Sen. Dayton said that the 10 days were put in as compromise language during negotiation and this would reinstate the original intent. Sen. Stephenson said that if the House does not concur with this change it will give him time to gather data on how much leave is being used and paid for before the next session. A call of the Senate was issued to return members to the floor before the vote was taken, which gave the amendment to required votes to pass. The bill passed 16-8.

SB59 (1st sub.): School Grading System (Reported by Kory Holdaway) The Senate voted to replace the first version of SB59, the grading schools bill, with a substitute bill. The second version passed second reading to be considered one more time in the Senate. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Wayne Neiderhauser, has worked with the UEA, the State Office of Education and other public education groups to improve the initial bill that was passed in committee. The latest version of the bill is much more in line with U-PASS data that is currently part the reporting done by individual schools. Some challenges with the legislation remain, mainly dealing with the resource needs of a school found performing at an unacceptable level based its letter grade. The actual date this bill will be in effect for schools would not be until after next school year. This will give the state office time to put in place the necessary adjustments to U-PASS to accomplish the purpose of the bill.

During debate on the bill, it was brought up by Sen. Pat Jones that the complexity of judging schools is much more difficult than simply assigning a letter grade. Some of those challenges dealing with the socioeconomic factors of a school or the demographics of a school. Judging the success of a school based upon limited data related to testing creates challenges as well. This bill will continue to be debated in the waning days of the legislature, and the UEA team will continue to try and help the members of the legislature see the challenges it presents.  

Educator Day on the Hill: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen and Mike Kelley) More than 40 educators and staff from Jordan, Cache, Davis, Iron, Weber, Ogden, Tooele, Sevier and South Sanpete became “citizen lobbyists” today as a part of the UEA’s weekly Educator Day on the Hill activities.

“The bills that you will be hearing are those that have made it past the first hurdle – the committee process,” said UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway. For today, Holdaway asked the group to work on budget and key education issues dealing with such items as educator "career status" and charter schools.

“The good news is the budget is coming in the way the governor proposed it,” Holdaway said. He asked them to stress the budget in discussions with legislators. “Tell them you are appreciative of the funding that is coming to education.” In addition, Holdaway encouraged participants to talk about how they feel about the session and the attacks on the profession.

The educators adjourned to visit with legislators then reconvened mid-morning to meet with Congressman Jim Matheson. Congressman Matheson answered questions about national education issues, spending several minutes on the federal No Child Left Behind legislation. “There is widespread agreement (No Child Left Behind) is not working, but there is no agreement on how to fix it,” he said.

At lunchtime, educators shared their experiences visiting with legislators. Representatives Ryan Wilcox, Becky Edwards, Jim Bird, Christine Watkins and Joel Briscoe each stopped by to share their feelings about the legislative session in general and the education budget.