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2011 Week Two: Jan. 31-Feb. 4

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UEA Report on the 2011 Utah Legislature General Session

WEEK TWO:

LEGISLATURE WEEK TWO SUMMARY: January 31-February 4, 2011

This week included visits to the Legislature by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch and U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, approval of a public education base budget, a successful UEA Educator Day on the Hill, and movement on many education-related bills.

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee: The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee passed a base budget that not only included the 7 percent cuts requested by the Executive Appropriations Committee, but cut an additional $91 million. The largest cuts were from the line item to fund social security and retirement. Some subcommittee members said their base budget funded growth. While this is technically correct, districts will need to absorb the costs of funding the social security and retirement expenses for their employees. This amounts to a reduction in the WPU of roughly $296 dollars from last year, a cut of about 11.5 percent.

By going beyond the request of the Executive Appropriations Committee, the subcommittee put several additional programs at risk. Some programs that may be on the list to cut or reduce include transportation for students, the K-3 reading initiative, adult education, and funds for school nurses, to name a few.

Educator Day on the Hill: Twenty educators and staff from Logan to St. George joined the UEA Legislative Team Feb. 4 to interact with lawmakers regarding grading schools and the budget. Educators reported having very good conversations with their legislators regarding the education budget and grading schools.

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


January 31, 2011

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee: (Reported by Jay Blain and Kory Holdaway) The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee was tasked by the Executive Appropriations Committee with recommending ways to cut education by 7 percent, or about $166 million. Subcommittee co-chairs Rep. Merlynn Newbold and Sen. Chris Buttars presented a proposal they developed over the weekend to reach that reduction, though many of the cuts will very likely be added back as the legislative session progresses.

The subcommittee discussed the money currently going from the education fund to support higher education. Sen. Buttars and Rep. LaVar Christensen expressed their feeling that all education funds should go to K-12 education. There was also discussion about the possibility of moving many below-the-line items into the WPU.

The base budget was passed by the subcommittee as presented by the co-chairs. This base includes cuts of about $91 million beyond the requested 7 percent. Other items were cut and redistributed, the largest cuts coming from the line item to fund social security and retirement. Some subcommittee members said their base budget funded growth. While this is technically correct, districts will need to absorb the costs of funding the social security and retirement expenses for their employees. This amounts to a reduction in the WPU of roughly $296 dollars from last year, a cut of about 11.5 percent.

By going beyond the request of the Executive Appropriations Committee, the subcommittee put several additional programs at risk. Some programs that may be on the list to cut or reduce include transportation for students, the K-3 reading initiative, adult education, and funds for school nurses, to name just a few. Hopefully by the end of the session many of these line items will be returned, however, there is no guarantee.

House of Representatives: HB199: Advertisements on School Buses, failed on a vote by the full house of 27-44. This bill would have allowed school districts to sell advertising space on the exteriors of school buses. Rep. Jim Bird proposed the bill as a way to provide additional money for school districts. It was estimated the ads could raise as much as $3.3 million annually.


February 1, 2011

The democratic caucus held a press conference to discuss the budget process. Rep. David Litvack reported that the Democrats did not vote in favor of the higher/public education base budgets. They cannot support the goal of eliminating the structural deficit. He said this is bad policy. Sen. Karen Morgan expressed concern that the 7 percent base budget reduction is not necessary as new revenue projections are up and money will be available. This practice alarms the public, she said.

Democratic Caucus Meeting: State Superintendent Larry Shumway and State Board of Education member Leslie Castle presented an education update to the caucus. Castle reported that the State Board opposes the proposed constitutional amendments (Senate Joint Resolution 1 and Senate Joint Resolution 9). Governance issues that these amendments intend to solve would in fact not solve the problems at all, she said. When she discusses Utah’s education governance structure with school board members from other states with structures like those proposed, most agree Utah’s current structure is superior.

Sen. Morgan asked about the difference between the 7 percent cuts requested by the Executive Appropriations Committee and the additional $91 million in cuts recommended by the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee. Recommended cuts total about 11.2 percent. Supt. Shumway said the WPU numbers are misleading because the subcommittee eliminated the Social Security and retirement flexible line item, which will somehow need to be replaced. He explained that cuts over the past four years have resulted in a reduction in the WPU of about 18 percent.

Bills on the move today (see the UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet for the status of all bills being tracked by UEA):


February 2, 2011

Members of the UEA Legislative Team met with Sen. Wayne Niederhauser about his Senate Bill 59: School Grading System. The bill would assign a single letter grade (A-F) to a school based on a complex formula combining achievement, growth, and graduation rates. The UEA has serious concerns about this legislation including:

  • We believe the concept of one single grade for a school simplifies the complex nature of schools and contributes to a lack of transparency for parents.
  • The U-PASS reporting mechanisms are currently in place identifying a percentage score on multiple indicators for achievement as well as progress. We support using the existing U-PASS reporting mechanisms to assign multiple letter grades to a particular school.
  • Public schools do a great deal with the U-PASS information. It is extremely detailed and reporting of the scores is both accessible and comprehensive. Teachers report this information to parents, and School Community Councils use the data to collaboratively develop each School Improvement Plan.
  • U-PASS is a reporting process with which parents, teachers, and School Community Councils are familiar. In addition, U-PASS also reports for demographic subgroups including English Language Learners, Special Education and economically disadvantaged, which may affect the single grade of a school.
  • This proposal is similar to the Florida model of grading schools. However, in Florida, there is a monetary reward for improvement, caps on class size (18 for K-3), and supports in place for schools that do not score well. However, the current SB59 language has no resources designated for improvement. We support the allocation of resources designed to improve student learning.

These concerns were shared with the Senator. The bill will be discussed in the Senate Education Standing Committee tomorrow (Feb. 3). We encourage anyone with concerns about SB59 to contact your state senator, especially if your senator is a member of the Senate Education Committee. If you’re not sure who your senator is, you can find out by visiting the UEA Take Action! Center. You can also e-mail directly from the Center. For more information about this issue, click here.

Senate Education Standing Committee: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) The Senate Education Committee today passed SB140: State Charter School Board Amendments, which modifies procedures for the selection of members of the State Charter School Board.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, provides that of the seven members appointed by the governor to the State Charter School Board, three members shall be nominated by an organization that represents Utah's charter schools; and have expertise or experience in developing or administering a charter school. In addition, this legislation allows the governor to seek nominations from more than one organization that represents Utah's charter schools, and allows the governor to remove a member of the State Charter School Board at any time for official misconduct, habitual or willful neglect of duty, or for other good and sufficient cause.

In his testimony about the bill, Sen. Stephenson likened establishing a charter school to “swimming up a waterfall” and said he wants to ensure that the makeup of the Charter School Board provides experience for those involved in organizing charter schools. He said charter school organizers need counseling and mentoring from the Charter School Board.

Kory Holdaway, UEA director of government relations, reminded the senators that expertise can also come from K-12 teachers and administrators who serve in traditional schools. “There are experts in the field leading education,” Holdaway testified. “They do have merit and a valuable voice.”

Senate Floor: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) The Senate today passed two bills of interest to educators – one dealing with school performance reporting and another addressing the qualifications of superintendents.

SB115: School Performance Reporting requires the State Board of Education to develop school performance reports in collaboration with school districts and charter schools; collect and electronically report certain data in collaboration with school districts and charter schools; and issue a report to include certain data on the performance of school district schools. According to bill sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, the legislation would restore the requirement for public disclosure of test results school by school and district by district. Saying his bill “provides transparency and accountability,” Stephenson explained that schools are now reporting their test results to the state, but the state is not required to publish the results. The bill passed on a 25-0 vote. The UEA supports this bill.

SB119 (1st Sub) School District Superintendents Amendments provides that a district superintendent of schools is not required to hold an administrative/supervisory license issued by the State Board of Education. Sen. Howard Stephenson, the bill sponsor, said he substituted his original bill at the request of school boards and superintendents. Currently, school boards can hire whomever they want, including someone without an education-related license. However, the State Board of Education can veto that choice. Stephenson said his bill removes the USBE “veto authority.” The amended legislation ensures that the hiring process will be done in an orderly fashion and that background checks are included. The bill passed 25-0.

House Education Standing Committee: (Reported by Jay Blain) Three bills were heard in the House Education Committee today. Each passed the Committee on a unanimous vote.

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. Ron Wolf, president of the Utah State Superintendents Association and superintendent of Box Elder School District, said USSA supports the bill. A representative from State Risk Management also testified in favor. Since this bill clarifies existing practice, the UEA supports the concept.

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.

HB83: Charter School Revolving Account creates a loan fund to assist charter schools with start-up costs and other uses.


February 3, 2011

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) Senators and representatives on the Public Education Appropriations Committee began deliberating what should be added back into the base budget for public education. On today’s agenda – discussions about a weighted student formula, transportation and school nurses.

Rep. Kenneth Sumsion kicked off the meeting with a “conceptual” proposal that would create a “weighted student formula” driven by specific student needs (special education, for example) and the location of the student (charter, urban, rural). Sumsion said he was addressing a concern from his constituents who want charter and regular school students to be treated equally in terms of the distribution of money. A similar formula has been used in Seattle. Subcommittee co-chair Sen. Chris Buttars described Sumsion’s plan as a “great concept,” but said it will probably need to go to interim study committee.

There was a lengthy discussion about pupil transportation, including information from the Utah State Office of Education regarding the cost of busing at the local school level versus having the Utah Transit Authority provide transportation (an option previously suggested by Sen. Buttars). USOE Associate Superintendent Todd Hauber said while a Salt Lake area school uses UTA for student transportation, it is costing them more for busing than other districts, and the costs are increasing. The committee was told that without action this year to restore funds, there will be a $6.3 million reduction in transportation funds.

When the discussion moved to library funding, several members of the public spoke passionately about the importance of paying for library media specialists and materials. One member of the committee tried to make a motion to increase the resources, but was told by Sen. Buttars, “we are not taking motions at this point.” Sen. Stephenson said the reason there isn’t more funding for libraries and materials is because local school boards “don’t have the courage” to keep the money off the negotiating table. “I don’t trust the local school boards,” Stephenson said.

Funding for school nurses has decreased from $1 million to $882,000 over the past couple of years, according to those who testified in favor of this appropriation. While the money (the state provides funding and the school districts match it by 50 percent) has allowed some districts to hire nurses previously unavailable, the Utah student-to-nurse ratio is still 1:3,000 or 1:4,000 – depending on the school district.

The Committee adjourned before any motions could be made to provide funding in any of these areas.

Senate Education Standing Committee: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) Following a unanimous vote in the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Wayne Niederhauser’s “grading schools” bill will now be debated by the full Senate.

SB59: School Grading System requires the State Board of Education to establish a school grading system in which a school receives a single grade of A, B, C, D, or F based on the performance of the school’s students. “When performance is measured, performance improves,” Niederhauser testified. He said the state needs to focus on student outcomes.

Sen. Karen Morgan attempted to amend the bill from a letter grade to a five-star system, which she said would be more positive and not stigmatize schools and students. After some discussion, the amendment failed.

Niederhauser repeatedly talked about the Florida model of grading schools, but Sue Carey – a parent who was living in Florida when the program began – said parents in her close-knit community were outraged when their school received a “C.” “It was overly divisive,” Carey told the committee, noting that Niederhauser’s bill provides only the “punitive” measures outlined in the Florida plan, and without the monetary reward (provided in the Florida plan).

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh testified that the state’s current reporting system, U-PASS (which identifies a percentage score on multiple indicators for achievement), is already used to improve student learning. She said “as a teacher, it is about results, but it is also about inputs. We have a system in place. Let’s look at what we have and work together.” The UEA leader cautioned against additional reporting requirements for educators. She also expressed concern about the bill passing out of committee without a fiscal note.

Martell Menlove, Utah State Office of Education, said the Utah State Board of Education has not taken a position on the bill, but feels the focus should be on the status and progress of students. He said they also expressed concern over a single letter grade.

(More about grading schools)

House Education Standing Committee: (Reported by Jay Blain) The House Education Committee heard four bills, three supported by the UEA and one (HB220) opposed on the basis it should be an issue for the state and local school boards, not the legislature.

HB220: Civics Education Amendments was presented by sponsor Rep. Michael Morley. This bill requires that school provide instruction in forms of government, including the United States' form of government as a republic. It also requires school curricula to include a thorough study of American historical documents. UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway spoke against the bill, noting that UEA is not opposed to the concept, but the reasons behind it. He quoted from the Utah State Constitution, Article X, Section 3, which says “general control and supervision of the public education system shall be vested in a State Board of Education.” He asked that the legislature allow the State Board to do its job.

Gayle Ruzicka from the Utah Eagle Forum and Matthew Piccolo from the Sutherland Institute testified in support of the bill. Peggy Jo Kennett, member of the Jordan Board of Education expressed the feeling of the Utah School Boards Association that the bill was unnecessary since the provisions in the bill are already being thoroughly taught and are already part of the curriculum.

Rep. Patrice Arent spoke against bill, saying that the legislature does not need to direct local boards and teachers from the legislative level. Rep. Carol Moss added that if the legislature addressed every complaint of every student at they would be here year round. Rep. Marie Poulson said the legislature is not tasked with writing curriculum for local schools. The bill passed from the Committee with a favorable recommendation on a 7-4 vote.

SB107: Higher Education Success Stipend Program unanimously passed the Committee with a favorable recommendation. This bill replaces the Utah Centennial Opportunity Program for Education with the Success Stipend Program within the State System of Higher Education.

SB46: Higher Education Residency Requirements gives in-state tuition to military dependents who are Utah residents but deployed and have Utah as their home of record. The bill passed the Committee unanimously.

SB38: K-3 Reading Amendments revises the language of a bill passed last year to assess the reading level of first-, second-, or third-grade students and notify parents by Feb. 15 of each school year if a student is below grade level. The bill was passed out favorably on a unanimous vote.

Senate Floor: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) In an appearance before the Utah State Senate, Second District Congressman Jim Matheson started by sharing some good news about the economy. "There are at least some signs of improvement," Matheson said, noting that bi-partisan tax cuts approved by Congress will help Utahns. Still, the congressman warned, unemployment is high and home foreclosures are high. Matheson emphasized that policy efforts should focus on helping the private sector grow and balancing the federal budget. He said for the first time in many years a constitutional amendment to balance the budget may be voted on by Congress.

Matheson said Utahns are tired of bickering among politicians and expect elected officials to work for the common good of citizens. “Thank you for a balanced approach. You represent mainstream Utahns,” said Sen. Pat Jones.

Asked about the national health care situation, Matheson said there are huge variables regarding health care, and all deserve consideration and discussion. "This is the most complicated issue I will ever deal with in my career."


February 4, 2011

Full Senate: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) The Senate today passed HB25: Mineral and Petroleum Literacy, which allows the use of funds from the Oil and Gas Conservation Account to be used for educational programs about mineral and petroleum resources and industries. Sen. Margaret Dayton said Utah school children are being taught about renewable energy and recycling, but not enough information is provided regarding natural resources.

Educator Day on the Hill: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) Twenty educators and staff from Logan to St. George joined the UEA Legislative Team today to interact with lawmakers regarding grading schools and the budget. The Legislature “is an interesting animal,” said Kory Holdaway, UEA director of government relations. “It is an exercise in making sausage. It is sometimes ugly, nasty, and difficult.” He also talked about bills being tracked by the Association.

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh talked about the grading schools bill, now in the Senate. She said among the public and some legislators, there is an extreme lack of knowledge about public education assessments already taking place.

One of the educators attending today’s Educator Day on the Hill session, Kris Perkes, brought letters from her seventh-grade students (Lava Ridge Intermediate School, Washington County) that were delivered to legislators. “I am writing because I had to,” wrote one student. “I am hitting three birds with one stone,” wrote another. “I am finishing a merit badge,” one student told his representative. Perkes said she personally typed a letter for one of her students who had been ill and was worried that his letter wouldn’t get to the Capitol.

Educators reported having very good conversations with their legislators regarding the education budget and grading schools.