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2012 Week Five: February 21-24

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UEA Report on the 2012 Utah Legislature General Session

WEEK FIVE:

2012 LEGISLATURE WEEK FIVE SUMMARY: February 21-24


- View a summary of key issues from the 2012 Legislative Session as of February 25.

 

Public Education Budget

Sen. Lyle Hillyard shared good news about the state’s revenue picture. “We do have more money. We did not drop,” Hillyard said, noting that one-time money is up $5 million and ongoing money is up $9 million. The 1-percent WPU increase proposed in Gov. Herbert’s budget would not be enough to cover increased costs in Social Security and retirement. It is anticipated it would take a 1.14 percent increase just to cover these costs. The Governor and legislators are aware of this and have indicated a willingness to find additional funding to provide enough for school districts to fund modest salary increases. Budget discussions are continuing. The difficult task of appropriating money based on the varied needs of the state now rests with the Executive Appropriations Committee.

Educator Day on the Hill

About 50 educators joined the UEA Legislative Team on Capitol Hill as they attended a committee meeting where two bills of interest to the UEA were presented. SB82 (Madsen), which sets fines for non-compliance to equal access for competing associations, was the first. Several local presidents, along with President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, spoke in opposition to the bill. The attendees also listened to the presentation of SB67, by Sen. Stuart Adams, which advocates performance pay for teachers. Again, several attendees, along with President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, spoke in opposition to the bill. Both passed the committee (see below).

The final 2012 Educator Day on the Hill activities will be held Friday, March 2 and Monday, March 5. Find out how to participate.

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


Day Twenty-One - February 21, 2012

Senate Floor (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): Sen. Lyle Hillyard opened the morning session of the Senate by sharing good news about the state’s revenue picture. “We do have more money. We did not drop,” Hillyard said, noting that one-time money is up $5 million and ongoing money is up $9 million. The difficult task of appropriating money based on the varied needs of the state now rests with the Executive Appropriations Committee.

Congressman Jim Matheson appeared before the Senate and told lawmakers that he voted to extend payroll tax cuts for one million working Utahns. “This tax cut is good for our country,” he said. Matheson also talked about the importance of enhancing our national energy policy. He said we need to lessen our dependence on oil provided by hostile countries, noting that the United States’ dependence on foreign oil has dropped from 57 to 45 percent.

Sen. Stuart Reid circled SJR22: Joint Resolution on State Spending Limitations and said he is preparing a substitute bill. The UEA opposes SJR22 because it is the type of legislation introduced in other parts of the country as a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. It would limit state spending to the prior year’s budget, adjusted by inflation and population change. It would require any future surplus revenues to be held in reserve or refunded to taxpayers unless specifically directed by a three-fifths majority of both houses. Because SJR22 is an amendment to Utah’s Constitution, it would require a two-thirds majority vote in both houses, plus a majority vote in a general election in order to take effect.

In Colorado, results of similar legislation were so devastating that voters passed a referendum to roll back its provisions. By arbitrarily linking future spending to the current budget, SJR22 would effectively guarantee the state’s current last-in-the-nation education spending and highest class-size status in perpetuity.

Sen. Aaron Osmond’s SB64: Public Education Employment Reform legislation was also circled during the Senate’s afternoon session. Sen. Osmond said he is working on some changes suggested by his colleagues.

By a vote of 21-1, SB196: Software for Special Needs Children passed on second reading in the Senate and is up for final passage. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, requires the Utah State Board of Education to contract with a provider to provide computer software and activity manuals to improve social skills and student achievement for students with autism and other special needs in pre-school through grade 2. The bill also directs the State Board of Education to distribute the computer software and activity manuals to those school districts and charter schools that demonstrate a commitment to implement programs as prescribed by the provider.

“This is a bill that deals with computer software for students with disabilities, especially those with autism,” Sen. Niederhauser said, noting that the program has been functioning well in nine districts. Enactment of this bill appropriates $3 million one-time money from the Education Fund to the Utah State Board of Education to contract with a technology provider as outlined in the bill. Asked about the costs involved, the senator said the successes of the program “have been profound.” Sen. Niederhauser said $3 million could provide software to almost all students in the state “that would benefit from the software.”

By a vote of 21-5, the Senate passed on second reading SB59 (1st sub.): Income Tax Contribution for Elementary Schools, sponsored by Sen. Ross Romero. The bill allows individuals on their income tax to do a check off and designate an elementary or charter school where they want to make a voluntary contribution. The check-off applies to grades K-6 and is meant to provide additional money for public schools, according to Romero.


Day Twenty-Two - February 22, 2012

House Business and Labor Committee (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): HB350: Payroll Deduction Amendments was debated in the House Business and Labor Committee. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bradley Daw, modifies provisions related to employer deductions from employee wages.

Rep. Daw introduced, and the Committee accepted, a substitute bill (HB350 2nd sub.), which does not threaten to prohibit union or association dues deductions. The revised legislation defines membership dues for professional and trade organizations; allows for the deduction of membership dues to be paid to professional or trade organizations; states that upon receiving a written communication from the employee, the employer shall commence or cease making deductions from the wages of an employee for the benefit of a labor organization, professional or trade organization.

In his testimony to the committee, Daw said “we don’t want any discrimination,” and noted that under his bill professional and trade organizations would have the same payroll deduction benefits as unions and labor organizations. Daw gave a specific example of an organization that will benefit, saying “this allows AAE to have their dues collected through payroll deduction.” He said unions can do it (deduct union dues), but no one else can.

Asked about possible amendments, Daw said, “This is the bill. This is what will pass through.” If there is any attempt to amend it, Daw said he will oppose it. Rep. Derek Brown argued, “this should be an all or nothing proposition.” He said we are giving some groups the right and denying it to others. Kory Holdaway, UEA director of government relations, thanked Rep. Daw for bringing the substitute forward. “We are grateful for the changes,” Holdaway said.

While one Committee member made a motion to pass the bill out favorably, Rep. Don Ipson made a motion to amend the bill to prohibit payroll deduction for public employees. Asked how he felt about the proposed change, Rep. Daw said the amendments would likely force him to kill his own bill. Ipson's motion failed on a 5-9 vote. Another motion to adjourn failed. On the motion to pass the bill out favorably, the Committee voted 7-5 in favor. The bill moves to the full House for debate.

Senate Education Committee (Reported by Sara Jones): Sen. Karen Mayne presented SB81: Paraeducator Funding. This bill would provide an additional $500,000 to Title I school improvement schools to hire paraeducators. She stated that the schools in her senate district have indicated that the loss of paraeducators was their number one concern. Having a paraeducator in a school allows for a skilled professional, working under the direction of classroom teacher, to work one on one with students in math and language arts. Sen. Mayne said that this resource was “highly needed”. The bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Aaron Osmond presented SB223: Pledge of Allegiance Amendments. The bill modifies provisions regarding reciting the pledge of allegiance. Sen. Osmond testified that his goal is to “create an environment in which the pledge is more meaningful”. The bill requires that the pledge be recited daily in K-12 schools and that the pledge be recited in a classroom by a student rather than over the loudspeaker. The bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Howard Stephenson presented SB178: Statewide Online Education Program Amendments. The bill modifies provisions to the Statewide Online Education Program created in 2011 by SB65. Sen. Stephenson said this bill modifies the fee of $726 per course required in the original bill to a tiered fee structured. He also stated that he expected this year to have language in a bill to allow for out of state, for-profit providers to provide online courses but this bill does not do that because districts are already either creating consortiums or contracting with providers like Florida Virtual or K-12 Online. He said that “we don’t have to change the bill to let these providers compete in Utah because we leave it up to the districts”.

Sen. Osmond asked a number of questions related to the fee structure which he said seemed to be priced very high and he wondered why it wasn’t left to districts to negotiate prices directly with providers. There was extensive comment from the public which raised questions related to the proposed funding model, the requirement mandating advertising, the timing of paying providers, the quality of content and instruction by online providers, the bonus paid to providers but not LEAs and other questions.

Kory Holdaway testified that while the bill is “an improvement from last year” UEA had serious concerns because it creates “a funding structure that is artificially inflated”. After hearing public comment for about an hour and discussing the problems identified a motion was made to hold the bill to allow time for revisions. That motion failed and the bill passed the Committee 4-2.

House Education Committee (Reported by Sara Jones): Rep. Jim Nielson presented HB135 (1st sub.): Focus on Front-Line Teachers Program. He said that the concept behind the bill is that with limited funds “the first mission of a school has to do with the teacher in the classroom.” The bill appropriates money as an incentive to reward districts by focusing on budgeting more money to classrooms. The fiscal note for the bill is $5 million and many on the Committee expressed concern that the money has not been prioritized in the appropriations process so the bill was unlikely to be funded. The bill failed on a 2-9 vote.

Rep. Steve Eliason presented HB149: Online Education Survey. He said that this was a priority bill for him this year. The bill creates a pilot program for schools to implement online surveys in which parents, students and employees evaluate their schools. He shared examples of questions that have been used by schools for similar surveys and the type of information that could be gathered to target improvement efforts. Rep. Eliason amended the bill to ensure that surveys use valid and reliable measurements and that privacy of individuals be protected in survey results. UEA Director Sara Jones testified in support of the bill. She said that the UEA supported the bill because it would allow “teachers to have input on the important issues that affect their students, their classrooms and their working conditions.” The bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Pat Jones presented SB48: Mission of Public Education and SCR5: Encouraging Parental Engagement in the Education of Children. Both passed unanimously.

Senate Floor (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): SB196: Software for Special Needs Children passed the Senate on a 24-3 vote. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, requires the Utah State Board of Education to contract with a provider to provide computer software and activity manuals for students with autism and other special needs in pre-school through grade 2. The bill also directs the Board to distribute the computer software and activity manuals to those school districts and charter schools that demonstrate a commitment to implement programs as prescribed by the provider.

Enactment of this bill appropriates $3 million one-time money from the Education Fund to the Board to contract with a technology provider as outlined in the bill. Sen. Niederhauser amended his bill to allow the software to be used broadly, as opposed to only in self-contained classrooms. The amendment passed.

“This is the bill that creates the availability of software for those with disabilities, specifically autism,” Sen. Niederhauser said. “It helps not only with achievement, but social issues.” He said the program has been used in several districts and has been effective.

House Floor (Reported by Jay Blain): HB363: Health Education Amendments, also known as the sex education bill, was debated on the House floor. There were several attempts to amend the bill. One significant amendment that was adopted was made by Rep. Ronda Menlove, which added a piece about parental involvement in developing the abstinence only curriculum. There was a lot of debate about the bill and the merits about an abstinence only curriculum. In the end, the bill passed the House 45-28.

 


Day Twenty-Three - February 23, 2012

House Retirement and Independent Entities Committee (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): By a vote of 4-3, the House Retirement and Independent Entities Committee today forwarded to the House floor Rep. Brad Last’s HB430: Classified School Employee Amendments.

State law currently provides that any regular full-time employee is eligible for state retirement benefits through the Utah Retirement Systems (URS). In general, the law defines a regular full-time employee as any employee who works at least 20 hours a week and who receives benefits normally provided by the participating employer. Current statute includes as a regular full-time employee any classified school employee who normally works at least 20 hours per week regardless of benefits provided. HB 430 will remove the qualification, “regardless of benefits provided,” requiring that all classified employees must receive benefits provided by their employer in order to also be eligible for retirement benefits.

Some school districts support this change because they want to work their 19-hour non-benefited part-time employees more hours without having to pay the retirement contribution for those employees. Currently, school districts choose to not accommodate these employees when they ask for more hours because they do not want to assume the additional retirement costs.

Martin Bates, Granite School District superintendent, said there are hundreds of employees who would like to work more than 19 hours per week, but can’t because there is no money in the district to cover the increased costs.

Attorney Geoff Leonard, Utah School Employees Association, said, “we are talking about professionals who have made it their career to work in school districts.” He said by the nature of their job, many classified employees do not work a 40-hour week and, as a result, don’t receive other benefits. “The only benefit they get is the opportunity to participate in state retirement.” Leonard said the benefit is an important tool to attract long-term employees.

Kory Holdaway, UEA director of government relations, said “this is a darned if you do and darned if you don’t bill as I see it.” He talked about paraprofessionals and their benefit in helping to reduce class size. He cautioned against making decisions that might reduce the districts’ ability to attract and retain paraprofessionals and classified employees. “As teachers, we want the best people available and there is value to having a good benefits package for them to look at,” Holdaway said.

The bill sponsor, Rep. Bradley Last, said he appreciates the classified employees and said they “make a huge difference in schools.”

Senate Floor (Reported by Mike Kelley): Sen. Stuart Reid substituted SJR22 with SJR22 (1st sub.): State Spending Limitations. This bill would limit state spending to the prior year’s budget, adjusted by inflation and population change. It would require any future surplus revenues to be held in reserve or refunded to taxpayers unless specifically directed by a three-fifths majority of both houses.

Speaking against SJR22 were:

  • Sen. Peter Knudson said current laws are sufficient. This is legislation “…looking for a problem where there is no problem,” he said.
  • Sen. Lyle Hillyard said this language should not be in the Utah Constitution. “The people of Utah would throw us out if we didn’t” do a good job fiscally, he said.
  • Sen. Allen Christensen said that because of perceptions “I may be compelled to vote for (this legislation) though I disagree with it.”
  • Sen. Daniel Thatcher said the legislation “is absolutely about perception, and not about reality. The reality is (this legislation) is completely unnecessary…(The bill sets) a very concerning precedent.”
  • Sen. Mark Madsen said he was speaking “for and against” the bill. “I don’t believe that through a Constitutional mandate we should tell future legislatures” how to prioritize funding.
  • Sen. Pat Jones shared concerns from Colorado where a similar provision was implemented. “It has very much harmed their economy, it has harmed their education system.” Said there are many in Colorado who would like to get rid of the provisions there but the cannot because it is in the state Constitution.

The only senator speaking in favor of SJR22 was Sen. Howard Stephenson, saying the legislation is an “important tool to hold (legislators) accountable…when the economy returns that we don’t overspend.” Sen. Reid said the bill "prepares the state for when we don't have champions for fiscal responsibility in our legislature."

Despite the overwhelmingly unfavorable comments, the bill passed to the third reading calendar on a vote of 16-13.


Day Twenty-Four - February 24, 2012

Senate Education Committee (Reported by Sara Jones): Sen. Mark Madsen presented SB82: Equal Access for Education Employee Association Amendments. He stated that he believes an “inequity exists” in the treatment of some education associations because of the “cozy and convenient” relationship between districts and what he continually referred to as “the local NEA affiliate.” He said his goal is to level the playing field because the bill he passed in 2007 to do so has not been followed. A president of the American Association of Educators testified that it is important to let teachers know about the choices they have and cited several examples where she felt districts limited their access.

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh testified in opposition to the bill saying it is “overreaching and interferes with the collaborative nature of schools.” UEA local presidents Mike Gowans, Kathleen Wagner, Don Paver and Jennifer Boehme all spoke against the bill sharing examples of how equal access works in their districts and noted the inaccuracies presented earlier in the AAE testimony. The bill passed 5-1.

Sen. Stuart Adams presented SB67 (1st sub.): Teacher Effectiveness and Outcomes Based Compensation, which contained significant changes from the original bill. He said that Utah has “some of the finest educators in the nation” and his bill is an attempt to reward them. He acknowledged that experience and education are important “but they aren’t the sole determining factors” of teacher effectiveness. His proposal is to gradually phase out the salary schedule so that by 2019 teachers are paid solely on performance pay linked to an evaluation. The evaluation would be based 60 percent on student learning growth and 40 percent on teacher effectiveness.

Public comment was limited because of lack of time, but Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, June Miller, Connie Sorenson and Don Paver all spoke against the bill. Committee Chair Sen. Aaron Osmond thanked Sen. Adams for his willingness to talk about how they could work together on their bills but also spoke about the process of collaboration that he followed and what a difference it made in the quality of his bill as well as the broad-based support it has received. Sen. Osmond said, “I don’t believe that significant collaboration has been made” in Sen. Adams’ bill but that the ideas in it are “worth more effort and study”. Sen. Daniel Thatcher made a motion to send the bill to interim study but after Sen. Lyle Hillyard stated that he felt both Sen. Osmond and Sen. Adams should have their bills heard and debated on the floor of the Senate, Thatcher withdrew his motion. The bill passed 4-3 with Sens. Morgan, Osmond and Thatcher opposing.

House Education Committee (Reported by Sara Jones): Rep. Steve Eliason presented HB420: Parental Education Initiative, which would require districts to offer a seminar to parents once a year on issues such as mental health, bullying, substance abuse, etc. He said that he was bringing this issue to legislature after two teen suicides in his district and speaking with a father of one of the children who felt that this type of parent seminar could have save his child. The seminar would not be mandatory for parents and districts could use existing resources that many community groups already provide.

Committee questions revolved around the requirement that districts offer the seminar and that USOE develop a curriculum that could be used by districts. Rep. John Mathis made a motion to amend the bill to eliminate the requirement that districts provide the seminar and instead leave it as an option for districts. Rep. Eliason said that such a change would “gut the bill” and the motion failed. The bill passed 10-2.

Rep. John Dougall presented HB123 (1st sub.): Education Savings Accounts. The substitute bill would limits access to an educational savings account pilot program serving 11th and 12th grade students only. The pilot would be for two years and allow up to 2,500 students to opt-in to the program. If more than 2,500 students are interested, admission would be based on a lottery system.

Kory Holdway testified that this bill “is getting the cart before the horse” with regard to a more comprehensive discussion of the Minimum School Program. He asked that the Committee consider creating a taskforce to study funding issues in-depth because the many funding mechanism bills being proposed this session “don’t get the vetting that is necessary over a 45-day legislative session” but a taskforce would allow the time for thorough study.

Rep. Merlynn Newbold made a motion to amend the bill to reduce the number of students served from 2,500 to 500 and increase the number of years for the pilot from 2 years to 6 years. The motion passed and the bill passed on an 8-6 vote.

Senate Floor (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): By a vote of 28-0, the Senate passed SB175: School Grading Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser. The bill delays by one year the implementation of the school grading program enacted in 2011.

The Senate debated SB81: Paraeducator Funding, which is designed to provide funding for eligible schools to hire paraeducators to provide additional instructional aid in the classroom, assist students in achieving academic success, and assist the school in exiting Title 1 school improvement status. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Karen Mayne, carries a $500,000 price tag.

Sen. Mayne said many schools have lost paraeducators, skilled professionals who, under the direction of a teacher, work one-on-one with students in schools. Mayne said they must have a two-year degree and/or be certified in the programs utilized in the school. She said schools facing reading challenges in Utah need paraeducators.

Sen. Karen Morgan said, under her class size bill (which passed the Senate), districts can use class size reduction line item money to hire paraeducators, but there would be a phase-in for hiring in grades K-3. Mayne said under her bill, paraeducators would be hired in specific at-risk schools to give them the extra help they need.

The bill passed 24-5 on the second reading calendar and will see one final debate in the Senate prior to passage.

Educator Day on the Hill (Reported by Jenny Okerlund): About 50 educators joined the UEA Legislative Team on Capitol Hill. They started their day at 7 a.m. being given a quick briefing of the education bills that were being discussed in committee today. They were than whisked off to the Senate Education Committee meeting that started at 7:30 a.m. The attendees filled the majority of the seats at the Committee.

SB82 (Madsen), which sets fines for non-compliance to equal access for competing associations, was the first bill in the agenda. Several local presidents attending Educator Day on the Hill, along with President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, spoke in opposition to the bill. The attendees also listened to the presentation of SB67, by Sen. Stuart Adams, which advocates performance pay for teachers. Again, several attendees, along with President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, spoke in opposition to the bill. After shortened public input to the bill, the bill passed the committee. (See Senate Education Committee below.)

After the Senate Education Committee meeting, Educator Day on the Hill attendees met to write notes to their Senators and Representatives. They were then encouraged to go to the House and Senate while they were on the floor to talk to their legislators as well as send them their thank you cards.

After the House and Senate Floor Time, the attendees got their lunches and met to eat and debrief the morning events. Many of the attendees talked about the fact that, with so many in opposition to the bills, many of the senators seemed to ignore the feelings of their constituents and voted for the bill. The attendees then reported on legislators they visited with and a summary of their conversations. They also mentioned that it was an exhausting day and thanked the UEA Legislative Team for the work they do every day.

Attendees were then encouraged to stay for the afternoon House and Senate floor time and continue to have conversations with their legislators and attend the House Education Committee meeting scheduled at 4 p.m. Many EDOH attendees stayed for the entire long, exhausting day, 11-12 hours, on the hill.

The final 2012 Educator Day on the Hill activities will be held Friday, March 2 and Monday, March 5. Find out how to participate.