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UEA Report on the 2013 Utah Legislature General Session

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WEEK FOUR:

 

2013 LEGISLATURE WEEK FOUR SUMMARY: February 19-22

The pace of bills moving through the 2013 Legislature quickened during Week Four. Several education-related bills have now passed both houses and await the Governor’s signature. Discussions on education funding, however, remain slow, primarily in anticipation of federal funding decisions to be made by March 1.

Public Education Budget: During the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee on Feb. 19, UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway shared the budget discrepancy facing public education employees compared to other state employees. Most public employees have a separate line item health insurance, whereas public education employees have insurance lumped in with the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU), he said. In addition, because the Social Security and retirement line items were separated from the WPU, school districts have had to cover those increases through what they receive from the WPU. For these reasons, a 1-percent increase in the WPU does not translate to a 1-percent increase in salary, he said. The Governor’s proposed budget will barely cover increases in Social Security and retirement, with nothing left for any cost-of-living increase. “Teachers have gone 5 years without an increase…in fact, there’s been a decrease in take-home pay due to rising health care costs and lack of teacher development days,” said Holdaway. He encouraged the Committee to reevaluate the Social Security and retirement line item. “It’s not an equal playing field,” said Holdaway. “We’re not asking for anything more than what may be the opportunity for other public employees…what we are asking for is equal treatment.”

The Committee also heard funding requests from the Wasatch Transportation, an online CTE testing provider, the Charter School Finance Authority, and representatives presenting funding requests for a teacher mentoring pilot, the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program the State Capitol School Outreach, suicide prevention, and the UPSTART program. Legislators also presented funding requests, including $10 million for SB71: Results-based Financing for Early Childhood Education program and $3 million for digital handheld devices as part of SB209: Grants for Personal Mobile Learning Devices, both sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond.

(See more about the FY2014 public education budget)

Educator Day on the Hill: Even with a rush hour snow storm, more than 40 educators from 10 school districts as well as UEA Retired made the trek for Educator Day on the Hill Feb. 22. UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway talked to those attending about some of the more important bills the UEA is watching...out of the 84 bills currently on the UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet.

Holdaway pointed out that the number one issue facing educators so far this year is public education funding and trying to get the legislature to raise the WPU by at least 2 percent. After the initial meeting, teachers visited their legislators and talked about funding the WPU at 2 percent and other topics. Reconvening at lunch they heard from Sen. Aaron Osmond and Representatives Jim Bird and Joel Briscoe. They then debriefed with the legislative team what they heard from their representatives. Holdaway and UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh emphasized how important it was for our teachers to talk to their representatives about education issues and how important they were to advancing education in Utah.

Finally, they signed a petition about raising the WPU by 2 percent and then committed to attend a public education event on the Hill on March 11 in the Rotunda. It's important to have a massive showing that evening to show solidarity in how teachers feel about funding education and starting to rebuild some of the programs teachers have lost in the past few years, said Sharon.

National Board Certified Teacher Recognition: Teachers earning National Board Certified Teacher certification were honored on the floor of both the House and Senate. Rep. Bird introduced the teachers in the House and Sen. Pat Jones in the Senate. Jones thanked the teachers, noting that the certification does not replace regular state certification but is a standard that goes beyond regular certification requirements. Teachers received a standing ovation in both houses and were presented with a "Great Seal" from the Senate president.

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


February 19

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (Reported by Mikkela Blanton): UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway shared with the Committee the budget discrepancy facing public education employees compared to other state employees. Most public employees have a separate line item health insurance, whereas public education employees have insurance lumped in with the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU). In addition, because the Social Security and retirement line items were separated from the WPU, school districts have had to cover those increases through what they receive from the WPU. For these reasons, a 1-percent increase in the WPU does not translate to a 1-percent increase in salary, he said. The Governor’s proposed budget will barely cover increases in Social Security and retirement, with nothing left for any cost-of-living increase. “Teachers have gone 5 years without an increase…in fact, there’s been a decrease in take-home pay due to rising health care costs and lack of teacher development days,” said Holdaway.

Holdaway encouraged the Committee to reevaluate the Social Security and retirement line item. “It’s not an equal playing field,” said Holdaway. “We’re not asking for anything more than what may be the opportunity for other public employees…what we are asking for is equal treatment.”

Sen. Aaron Osmond next discussed a bill he is proposing that attempts to equalize school district funding. “After meeting with districts, we came away with some great ideas of how we could be more fair and balanced,” he said. His concept would freeze the basic property tax rate, which would create new money in public education that would then flow through the WPU. The offset is that the new dollars would be offset through a required reduction in a board levy. Schools districts whose tax value per student are less than the average in the state and are currently under the cap can move to the next cap and have that flexibility. Language on the bill should be out later today, he said.

The Committee also heard reports from the Wasatch Transportation, an online CTE testing provider, the Charter School Finance Authority, and representatives presenting funding requests for a teacher mentoring pilot, the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program the State Capitol School Outreach, suicide prevention, and the UPSTART program.

House Floor (Reported by Mikkela Blanton): HB246: Expanded Use of Property Tax, which allows school districts to use revenue collected from capital property tax levies for certain general fund purposes, passed the House. The bill largely benefits small school districts and doesn’t compromise any “rainy day” funds, according to the bill’s sponsor.

Senate Education Committee (Reported by Mikkela Blanton): HB255: Classified School Employee Amendments modifies the Utah State Retirement and Benefit Insurance Act. This bill does away with the special carve-out/provision for classified employees and allows them to work just like everybody else (up to 30 hrs per week). Sponsor Rep. Brad Last said school districts asked him to run this bill. “All we’re trying to do is allow classified employees to work an additional 10 hrs. per week without seeing an increase in retirement costs,” he said. Patty Harrington testified in support of the bill. Mary Van-Mindy, representing herself, urged the Committee to support the bill, providing personal anecdotes about the benefits to both the school district and the child in the educational setting. The bill passed out of Committee with only Sen. Pat Jones voting against it.

Sen. Stuart Adams introduced SB103: Carson Smith Scholarship Amendments. The legislation modifies the Carson Smith Scholarship for Students with Special Needs Act by establishing a formula for an annual increase in appropriations for scholarships. Adams explained that the program to date has been very successful. Testimony on the bill was thorough, with only one person in the audience testifying against the legislation, questioning the issue of separation of church and state as 60 percent of the money goes to religious schools. After the hearing of many opinions, the bill passed the Committee unanimously.

SB184: Youth Suicide Prevention Revisions requires the school to notify the parent if the student threatens suicide or if there is an incident of bullying. The parent would have to sign a statement acknowledging their awareness of the issue. “The bill is a bout shared responsibility,” said Sen. Luz Robles. The bill passed the Committee unanimously.

House Education Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): HB201: State Board of Education Leadership Amendments gives the State Board the option of having up to three vice chairs. It would provide for less concentration of power and more flexibility on the board. Bill was passed unanimously with a favorable recommendation.

HB206: Internet Safety for Public Schools addresses online safety concerns in public schools. New technologies are being added to schools and we need to be aware of how to protect them, said Rep. Eric Hutchings, the bill’s sponsor. “It needs to be clearly stated that any device with internet access needs to be protected,” he said. Bill was passed the Committee with a favorable recommendation.


February 20

House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): HB139: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Action Center was presented by Rep. Val Peterson in the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee. He started by saying that this bill addresses two areas of concern: 1) the State Office of Education indicates an overall decline in student math scores, and 2) higher education reports a need for math remediation in college and universities. The STEM Action Center, created by this bill, would be housed in Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The bill identifies metrics for success of the Action Center. Stan Lockhart, who is leading the STEM effort for the Governor, said “we want to bring in people to embed the best practices into classrooms.”

The fiscal note on HB139 is $15 million, all from the General Fund.

Several people representing the business community spoke, primarily in favor of the bill. UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway pointed out that while the STEM Action Center was endorsed by the Governor’s Commission on Education, so was a 2 percent increase on the WPU. “We are not opposed to this concept, but let’s focus on basic funding before we start to add new programs,” he said.

Rep. Jim Bird also pointed out the need to fund basic education on the WPU before funding worthy programs such as HB139. He then made a motion to hold the bill in Committee because of some unanswered questions to consider. Rep. Bird’s motion passed and the bill was held in Committee.

House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): HB268 (1st Sub.): Disorderly Conduct Amendments passed out of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, provides that displaying a dangerous weapon in public under certain circumstances may be disorderly conduct. In addition, the legislation confirms that merely displaying a dangerous weapon in public without other behavior is not disorderly conduct. A key provision in the bill says “the mere carrying or possession of a holstered or encased firearm, whether visible or concealed, without additional behavior or circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe the holstered or encased firearm was carried or possessed unlawfully or with criminal intent, does not constitute a violation of this section. For purposes of this subsection, a reasonable belief may not be based on a mistake of law.”

Rep. Ray said the bill has been in the works for two years. The bill originated because people have been arrested for legally carrying a weapon. He cited a case where an employee was arrested for transferring guns from one car to another. “We are trying to protect the person who is legally carrying a gun,” Rep. Ray said. The bill cleared the Committee on a 7-3 vote.


February 21

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (Reported by Jay Blain): Rep. Jim Nielson presented a proposal to move some “below-the-line” items into targeted above-the-line items with relatively equal WPU distributions. He said, “I would never scrutinize a budget in my own business in the detail that we do here.” Rep. Nielson suggested that lobbying for specific items should happen at the Utah State Board of Education rather than at the legislature.

The Legislative Fiscal Analyst recommended reducing the fees for educator licensing in the state because of a surplus in that fund. The State Office responded that they are recommending a $5 reduction in all fees except for ARL fees.

Many bills were presented for funding requests. Here are some highlights:

Sen. Aaron Osmond said he is proposing $10 million to invest in his SB71: Results-based Financing for Early Childhood Education program if it goes forward.

Rep. Steve Eliason is proposing a State Capitol Educational Outreach to help fund student field trips to the State Capitol.

Sen. Osmond is requesting $3 million for digital handheld devices that would distributed to districts on a matching grant basis as part of SB209: Grants for Personal Mobile Learning Devices.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard admonished Committee members that those that are seeking funding from the General Fund instead of the Education Fund may find it difficult to compete for money in that arena. In response to a question about what is been done in planning for the sequestration at the federal level, Sen. Hillyard, who is the co-chair of the Executive Appropriations Committee, responded that they are proceeding as if sequestration will occur but they won’t do anything about it.

House Education Committee (reported by Mikkela Blanton): HB306: School Land Trust Program Amendments was introduced to the Committee, sponsored by Rep. Lee Perry. The bill provides for elections for School Community Councils and removes term limits—a parent can serve as long as they have a student in the school. Additionally, the School Community Council would be able to decide the size of the Council. Rep. Perry stated that parents should be able to be involved and have input as long as they still have children in school. The bill also removes provisions for the Auditor General to audit elections. “The reason behind school trust lands is for the student,” said Rep. Perry. “Children deserve that money to go towards them.” The bill would also require charter schools to have a two-person majority parent on committees for direct input on how to spend money.

In response to a question from Rep. Carol Moss about parent and teacher involvement, Rep. Perry assured the committee that there is nothing that prevents other parents/members of the community to attend the council, and doesn’t limit the input ability of others at all, including teachers.

Representatives from the State Office of Education, the PTA and the UEA spoke in favor of the bill. It passed the Committee unanimously with a favorable recommendation.

Next on the agenda, the Committee heard HB134: Parent Notification Related to Student Safety, sponsored by Rep. Gage Froerer. The bill addresses the rampant teen suicide and bullying rates in Utah. The bill requires a school to notify the parents of a student involved in a suicide threat, bullying, cyber bullying or harassment/hazing. The bill does not require that school district to provide any additional information, such as counseling or recommendations, unless requested by the parent. At the end of the day, “this isn’t just a school or a parent problem, but an issue we all must face,” said Froerer.

Rep. Patrice Arent asked if schools were already doing this. Froerer replied that perhaps some are, and followed up by saying that there would be no penalty for schools who do not comply with this legislation.

Committee members expressed concern with the parent-signature requirement of the legislation. By a vote of 7-6, the bill was held in Committee.

House Floor (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): SB43 (1st Sub.): Financial and Economic Literacy Education Amendments was introduced by Rep. Arent. Rep. Eric Hutchings talked about the problems of not having financial literacy. Since we teach many things in school, we need to teach financial literacy, he said, because it has profound effect throughout the rest of a student’s life. Rep. Nielson spoke in opposition to the bill, not because he was opposed to financial literacy, but because he wondered if we are asking too much of our schools.

Several representatives spoke in favor of the bill. After a fair amount of discussion, it passed on a vote of 54-16.

Rep. Don Ipson talked about the clarifications to receiving college credit provided by SB162: Concurrent Enrollment Amendments. Rep. Francis Gibson spoke in support of the bill, saying the $15 per credit hour proposed in the bill is “a steal for students” when compared to the $120 per credit hour charged at the college level. The bill passed unanimously.


February 22

Educator Day on the Hill (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): Even with a rush hour snow storm, more than 40 educators from Alpine, Nebo, Tooele, Davis, Granite, Jordan, Provo, Salt Lake, Weber, and Washington School Districts as well as UEA Retired made the trek for Educator Day on the Hill. UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway talked to those attending about some of the more important bills the UEA is watching...out of the 84 bills currently on the UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet.

Holdaway pointed out that the number one issue facing educators so far this year is public education funding and trying to get the legislature to raise the WPU by at least 2 percent. He discussed HB55: Amendments Related to Education Funding, HB98: Severance Tax Revisions, and HB271: Funding for Public Education, which would each raise additional funds for schools. He also shared information about the differences between SB69: Assessment and Reporting of Student Performance, which the UEA supports, and SB133: School Performance Report Amendments, which the UEA opposes. These bills address whether or not an individual teacher’s test scores should be publically reported (see more on public reporting of classroom-level test data). Finally there was some discussion about SB110: School-based Budgeting Amendments, a backpack funding bill that would hinder the allocation of funds within a district (see more).

After the initial meeting, teachers visited their legislators and talked about funding the WPU at 2 percent and other topics. Reconvening at lunch they heard from Sen. Aaron Osmond and Representatives Jim Bird and Joel Briscoe. They then debriefed with the legislative team what they heard from their representatives. Holdaway and UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh emphasized how important it was for our teachers to talk to their representatives about education issues and how important they were to advancing education in Utah. The UEA Legislative Team is much more successful when teachers have close relationships with their legislators, they said. Teachers then signed a pledge on things they could do to continue to keep in contact with legislators. Finally, they signed a petition about raising the WPU by 2 percent and then committed to attend a public education event on the Hill on March 11 in the Rotunda. It's important to have a massive showing that evening to show solidarity in how teachers feel about funding education and starting to rebuild some of the programs teachers have lost in the past few years, said Sharon.

National Board Certified Teacher Recognition (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): Teachers earning National Board Certified Teacher certification were honored on the floor of both the House and Senate. Rep. Bird introduced the teachers in the House and Sen. Pat Jones in the Senate. Jones thanked the teachers, noting that the certification does not replace regular state certification but is a standard that goes beyond regular certification requirements. Teachers received a standing ovation in both houses and were presented with a "Great Seal" from Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser.

Senate Floor (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): SB162: Concurrent Enrollment Amendments had previously passed the Senate, but was amended when passed in the House. The Senate concurred with House amendments and the bill was sent to the Governor for signature.

HB58 (1st Sub.): Protection of Athletes with Head Injuries Act passed unanimously and will be sent to the Governor.

HB24 (1st Sub.): Utah Retirement System Amendments corrects some technical issues and cross references in the retirement code. It passed unanimously and will be sent to the Governor.

HB269: Training of School Nurses also passed unanimously. This bill allows for nurses to treat children who sustain a concussion or traumatic head injury during school hours or on school property.

HB298: Parent Seminar on Youth Protection requires school districts to provide an annual seminar for parents to tell parents about suicide prevention. The bill passed and will be sent to the Governor for signature.

House Floor (Reported by Mikkela Blanton): HB201: State Board of Education Leadership Amendments passed the House and will be sent to the Senate. This bill gives the State Board the option of having up to three vice chairs, providing for less concentration of power and more flexibility on the board.