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UEA Report on the 2013 Utah Legislature General Session

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WEEK SEVEN:

 

2013 LEGISLATURE WEEK SEVEN SUMMARY: March 11-14

The final week of the Utah legislature ended with the usual flurry of last-minute wrangling, but little of the major controversy surrounding recent years. The final budget was approved with a 2 percent WPU increase, thanks in large measure to the efforts of educators, parents, business leaders and others who contacted legislator and participated in the Utah Public Education Day on the Hill event March 11.

Public Education Budget: HB2: Public Education Budget Amendments passed both the House and the Senate unanimously. This bill appropriates $139.8 million in new, on-going funding, and $16.8 million one-time money from the Education Fund.

The on-going appropriations include:

  • $68.5 million to fund student enrollment growth;
  • $47.7 million for a 2 percent increase in the WPU;
  • Early intervention kindergarten funding;
  • Dual-immersion funding;
  • Fine Arts and Science Outreach; and
  • Financial management for the Utah State Office of Education.

The one-time appropriations include:

  • $5 million for teachers’ supply reimbursements (unchanged from the current year);
  • Beverly Taylor Sorenson Elementary Arts program;
  • Testing infrastructure grants;
  • Utah Core Academy teacher development; and
  • Special education add-ons.

(See more about the FY2014 public education budget)

Utah Public Education Day on the Hill: Hundreds of teachers, classified school employees, parents, students and others packed the Capitol Rotunda March 11 in a show of support for public education. UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh presented Lt. Governor Greg Bell, Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart and Senate Assistant Minority Whip Pat Jones with more than 6,000 petitions urging the legislature to support a public education funding increase (view the petition).

The legislative leaders each took a few minutes to thank educators for their service to the state. “There is nothing more important to our future as a state for economic development and for our growth and becoming what we can be in the state of Utah than our children and the great teachers who teach them every day in our schools,” said Sen. Okerlund. “We thank you for all you do and we encourage you to keep up the great work because we know how important it is to our state.”

(Read more about the March 11 event)

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


March 11

Monday was the final day for the House and Senate to hear bills originating within their own body. Any bills not heard by the final gavel were automatically returned to the Rules Committee, essentially “killing” them for this year. A bill of particular interest that met this fate was SB133: School Performance Report Amendments, which would have required the public reporting of student test scores by teacher. The UEA strongly opposed this bill (more about this topic).

Utah Public Education Day on the Hill (Reported by Mike Kelley): Hundreds of teachers, classified school employees, parents, students and others packed the Capitol Rotunda March 11 in a show of support for public education. UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh presented Lt. Governor Greg Bell, Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart and Senate Assistant Minority Whip Pat Jones with more than 6,000 petitions urging the legislature to support a public education funding increase (view the petition).

“If we were to put all of these petitions end to end, it would reach from the Capitol Building all the way down State Street to the City County Building,” said Gallagher-Fishbaugh. “This demonstrates the public support for additional public education funding.”

The legislative leaders each took a few minutes to thank educators for their service to the state. “There is nothing more important to our future as a state for economic development and for our growth and becoming what we can be in the state of Utah than our children and the great teachers who teach them every day in our schools,” said Sen. Okerlund. “We thank you for all you do and we encourage you to keep up the great work because we know how important it is to our state.”

Also addressing those gathered at the Capitol were speakers representing teachers, parents, classified employees and the business community, including Nolan Karras, co-chair of Education First and former Utah Speaker of the House; Gay Beck, teacher in Alpine School District and 2011 Utah Teacher of the Year; Jennifer Graviet, teacher in Weber School District; Kristi Swett, president of the Salt Lake City School District Board of Education; Heather Bennett, member of the Salt Lake City School District Board of Education; Deon Turley, parent and Utah PTA Education Commissioner; Vickie Caldwell, classified school employee in Alpine School District; and Mark Bouchard, chairman of Prosperity 2020more

House Floor (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): HB363: Public Education State Capitol Visit Funding would provide funds for school children to visit the State Capitol. Rep. Roger Barrus called the bill a “slippery slope” of spending money on good things similar to what “we complain about” coming from the federal government. The bill passed on a vote of 61-11.

HB197: Earned Income Tax Credit and Related Funding allows a tax credit for contributions to public education. Money for the credit would transfer from the General Fund to the Education Fund. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Eric Hutchings, said this bill is for citizens who are working but still do not make enough money and qualify for Federal Earned Income Credit. Rep. Douglas Sagers asked where the $21.5 million coming out of the Education Fund would be replaced. Rep. Hutchings said the fiscal note is large, but the issue is so important it needs to come out in this 11th hour even though it is not part of the budget. The bill passed on a vote of 41-30.

Senate Floor (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): The Senate debated SB272 (1st Sub.): Public School Funding Amendments. The bill provides that the number of Weighted Pupil Units (WPUs) assigned to a charter school for the kindergarten and grades one through 12 programs of the Basic School Program shall be based on the greater of the school’s October 1 enrollment in the current school year; or average daily membership in the prior school year plus growth. The bill passed 26-2 and is headed to the House for further consideration.

By a vote of 22-4, the Senate also passed SB209: Grants for Personal Mobile Learning Devices. This bill provides for grants to school districts and charter schools for personal mobile learning devices. It comes at the request of the Utah State Office of Education, which lists it as a budget priority. The legislation would provide $3 million for personal learning devices. In order to qualify, school districts must prove that they have used technology as part of the learning process.

The Senate also debated SB279: Math Literacy Stem Initiative, which requires the Utah State Board of Education to select one or more technology providers to provide an interactive web-based program for math literacy and assessment for students in kindergarten through grade 6 programs. Programs may be distributed among school districts and charter schools. The bill passed 26-0.

SB271: School Grading Amendments passed by a vote of 16-10. The bill modifies the School Grading Act passed two years ago. The bill modifies the criteria and procedures for determining school grades, including the calculation of learning growth; the calculation of a high school’s graduation rate; and the measurement of high school students’ college and career readiness. The bill also requires the Utah State Board of Education to annually develop a personal student achievement report for each public school student to be delivered to the student’s parent or guardian.

Sponsor Sen. Stuart Adams said this school grading bill focuses on growth and projected outcomes. He amended the bill, noting the change allows flexibility for the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) to determine what is growth, and removes the writing assessment. In response to a question from Sen. Jones regarding Utah’s requirement that every school receive a grade, Sen. Adams said placing of the grades has been delayed. Sen. Jones said she has heard grave concerns from the education community about the bill and said its implementation “could have a big effect on economic development, especially if they see none of the schools are getting an A or B.”

Sen. Karen Mayne said she has many Title I schools in her district. She asked how a school with at-risk students and language issues can ever attain good grades. Sen. Adams said schools that aren’t performing will have a good chance at getting aid. He said his bill measures the growth. Sen. Lyle Hillyard said he is receiving a lot of emails from those in the education community who are concerned about the bill. He, too, questioned whether the grading system will be fair to everyone.

“I am anxious about the bill,” said Sen. Aaron Osmond. “I am not sure what the impact is.” Sen. Jones suggested having the Education Task Force – likely to pass during this session – study the issue.

SB284 (1st Sub.): Educational Technology Amendments passed the Senate by a vote of 27-0. The bill modifies provisions relating to deployment of educational technology in public schools.

Senate Bill 110 was deleted and substituted with SB110 (1 Sub.): School-Based Budgeting Amendments. The bill would allow local school boards to approve school-based budgeting. Sen. Osmond said we need to allow local school boards to decide whether or not they want to do it. The goal is “to enable more leadership by the principal” if they so choose, he told colleagues.

Sen. Curtis Bramble asked if school districts could already do what is proposed in the bill. Sen. Osmond said, “yes, it is true that a local school board could do this on their own” without direct intervention from the state. Sen. Howard Stephenson said the bill brings attention to the fact that we can now enable principals to approach their school boards and present a budget. Sen. Hillyard said he has heard a lot of concern from school principals who say they do not want this bill. “For us to do this is wasting our time,” Sen. Hillyard said. The bill failed on a vote of 12-16.


March 12

Bills of Concern (Reported by Kory Holdaway): During the final two days of the 2013 Utah General Legislative Session, the UEA Legislative Team will continue its focus on the public education budget. We’re hopeful the final budget will include the 2 percent WPU increase and full funding of student enrollment growth proposed by the Executive Appropriations Committee last Friday.

In addition, there are potentially two bills still in play that the UEA is concerned about. The first is SB271: School Grading Amendments. This bill is problematic as it sets aside work done by the State Office of Education on a school grading bill passed by the legislature in 2011. It creates a second grading system (in addition to the UCAS system already being developed) that results in significantly lower scores based on the formula being proposed.

Additionally, SB271 does not allow for growth considerations as far as improvement goes. It increases cost by duplicating an existing accountability system and would do nothing to enhance the current system, which already requires that every school and charter school receive a letter grade reflecting student performance.

The other bill of concern is SB81: School Property Tax Funding, a property tax equalization bill that collects a certain portion of revenue from school districts that generate higher-levels of property tax funding and redistributes it by formula to districts with lower funding. It allows the “donor” school districts to recapture lost funding through a tax increase, but requires those districts to go through the difficult “truth-in-taxation” process just to maintain current funding levels.

Both these bills have passed the Senate and may be considered by the House before the 2013 General Legislative Session ends at midnight Thursday.

House Floor (Reported by Jay Blain): SB7 (2nd Sub.): State Agency and Higher Education Compensation Appropriations passed the House and now goes to the Governor for consideration. It passed the Senate earlier in the day. This bill funds steps and lanes for the Utah Schools for the Deaf & the Blind.

SB151: Authorization of Charter Schools by Higher Education Institutions allows the Utah College of Applied Technology Board to authorize charter schools. The bill also allows institutions of higher education to initiate the charter schools. Rep. Joel Briscoe asked which elected body has oversight over charter schools created by this process. Rep. Greg Hughes said the Board of Directors of the ACT would be the governing body. He did not know if this board was appointed or not. The bill passed on a vote of 64-3.

SB4: Current School Year Supplemental Public Education Budget Amendments, which provides funding for educator salary adjustments, passed both the Senate and the House unanimously and now goes to the Governor.

Senate Floor (Reported by Mark Mickelsen and Mikkela Blanton): HB318 (1st Sub.): Classroom Size Revisions intends to provide data and planning on the part of local school districts and charter schools for classroom size. An amendment requires the collection of data on how much is being spent on reducing class sizes. “This (amendment) will let us know how many (entering the classroom under this bill) are non-licensed and how many are paraprofessionals...so that we can see the effect that this is having on class size, especially in those early grades,” said Sen. Howard Stephenson. The bill passed the second reading and was moved to the third reading calendar.

By a vote of 22-2, the Senate passed HB154: Suicide Prevention Programs, which requires the Utah State Board of Education to designate a Utah State Office of Education suicide prevention coordinator to oversee school district and charter school youth suicide prevention programs. The bill also requires school districts and charter schools to implement a youth suicide prevention program for students in secondary grades. An amendment was adopted that reduces the fiscal note from $150,000 to $100,000 for the Utah State Office of Education. Sen. Stuart Reid said there are 4,100 attempted suicides in Utah annually, 650 among youth. The bill now goes to the Governor for consideration.

The Senate also passed HB49 (1st Sub.): Voted and Board Levy Programs Amendments, which requires the Utah State Board of Education to use a voted and board local levy funding balance in the prior fiscal year to increase the value of the state guarantee per weighted pupil unit in the current fiscal year; and distribute the state contribution to the voted and board local levy programs to school districts based on the increased guarantee per weighted pupil unit. The bill passed 26-0 and now goes to the Governor.

HB96 (2nd Sub.): Cleaner Burning Fuels Tax Credits Amendments passed by a vote of 18-11. The bill amends corporate and individual income tax credits for cleaner burning fuels. Enactment of this bill could decrease revenue to the Education Fund by $2,850,000 beginning in FY 2015. A transfer from the General Fund will offset the Education Fund decrease for all but $500,000 of the total.


March 13

2013 Base Budget for Education (Reported by Mikkela Blanton and Mike Kelley): HB2: Public Education Budget Amendments adds to the FY2013-14 base budget set by SB1: Public Education Base Budget, which passed in the early days of the session. HB2 passed both the House and the Senate unanimously. The bill appropriates $139.8 million in on-going funding, and $16.8 million one-time money from the Education Fund.

The on-going appropriations include:

  • $68.5 million to fund student enrollment growth;
  • $47.7 million for a 2 percent increase in the WPU;
  • Early intervention kindergarten funding;
  • Dual-immersion funding;
  • Fine Arts and Science Outreach; and
  • Financial management for the Utah State Office of Education.

The one-time appropriations include:

  • $5 million for teachers’ supply reimbursements (unchanged from the current year);
  • Beverly Taylor Sorenson Elementary Arts program;
  • Testing infrastructure grants;
  • Utah Core Academy teacher development;
  • Special education add-ons.

House Floor (Reported by Mikkela Blanton): SB79: Student-centered Learning Pilot Program, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, was heard on the House floor. Representatives expressed opinions that while the bill had some value, it wasn’t where it needed to be. The bill failed on a vote of 19-52.

SB82 (1st Sub.): Student Achievement Backpack narrowly passed the House floor today with a vote of 38-35. The bill allows parents to access student data through an online system and opens up student data to “cloud technology,” making information portable. “This isn’t overload,” said Rep. Rich Cunningham in response to concerns raised about the amount of information that will become available to teachers. Additionally, the bill requires a $250,000 appropriation, which was the cause of some opposition on the floor. In summation, Rep. Gregory Hughes stated that the bill “is a good move forward…and one that is inevitable.”

SB103: Carson Smith Scholarship Amendments passed the House floor unanimously. The bill increases the money available for this program.

The House also heard SB169: Education Task Force, which create a taskforce comprised of elected legislators, and SB175: Assessment of College Readiness, which provides for every high school student in Utah to take an ACT-type test. Both passed unanimously.

Failing to pass the House floor was SB122: Student Leadership Skills Development. The controversial bill was one vote short of passing, ending in a vote of 37-37. The bill would have funded grants for student leadership programs.

Senate Floor (Reported by Jay Blain and Mikkela Blanton): HB318 (1st Sub.): Classroom Size Revisions was amended and passed the Senate unanimously. The House concurred with the Senate amendment with little debate and only four dissenting votes. The revised bill does not limit class sizes, but provides for class size reporting. It now goes to the Governor.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart, the Senate sponsor of HB139 (5th Sub.): Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Action Center stressed that this is not a vendor bill. It works on finding which programs can move the needle in terms of best practices with math education. It will provide a lot of professional development for teachers in grades 6-8, he said. The bill passed the Senate and will be sent to the Governor for consideration.

The Senate concurred with House action on SB103, SB169, and SB175, sending them to the Governor for consideration.


March 14

House Floor (Reported by Mikkela Blanton): SB271 (3rd Sub.): School Grading Amendments was adopted in a close vote of 38-36 on the House floor. This bill modifies the School Grading Act, passed in the 2011 Legislative Session. The substitute bill was described by Rep. Greg Hughes as “a consensus bill with input from stake-holders.” (For more about what the bill does, see “Senate Floor” below.)

Rep. Kraig Powell pointed out a concern in the original bill – one of the components in the grading system was based on a formula that didn’t correctly measure proficiency in regards to growth over time. The substitute bill has addressed and fixed this, he said. “I’ve done a lot of soul searching about this process,” said Powell, “and the realities that [teachers] may face everyday that may be much different than what we face in the corporate world….as I say, I am very grateful for the compromise and efforts of this substitute.”

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss said she wasn’t “okay with this. I’m here to represent teachers and students…it doesn’t matter whether we’re going to work together or not. It’s just one more grading system. To what end?” She then read a letter from a teacher that illustrated the lack of value of standardized testing in comparison to the “moral and ethical development” of a student. “Educating children is an art and science…we ought to be passing bills that promote that,” she said.

Rep. Marie Poulson, as a former educator, said she spoke as a voice for teachers. “You can imagine the different kinds of obstacles we were working with this class,” she said, referring to a classroom of 44 Title I students. “We made wonderful progress, but how would it be measured?”

“I also rise as a voice for teachers, and also as a voice for parents and for children,” said Rep. Steve Eliason. “I believe you get what you measure, you fix what you measure, you are what you measure…quality schools matter,” he said, in support of the bill.

West Lake Junior High School, which has 31 different primary languages, was used as an example of frustrations with the grading system. “Of course they’re going to not do well on the test, because they don’t know how to read the test,” said Rep. Craig Hall, using the school as an example from his own district. “These schools will be graded worse. This matters to communities…we need to keep the incentive for teachers to stay in these schools.”

Rep. Johnny Anderson acknowledged his belief that the sponsor of this legislation is well intentioned. However, he also must acknowledge the contention that is being brought among teachers rather than rallying efforts. He voiced his belief in the strengths of parent support in education issues and schools, which this bill doesn’t appear to address.

“This bill saddens me,” were the words that began Rep. Joel Briscoe’s comments to the body. He pointed out the challenges for teachers and then read an email from Patty Harrington expressing the School Boards Association’s opposition to the new bill.

SB272 (1st Sub.): Public School Funding Amendments deals with the way the state funds charter schools. This bill locks in the funding method for 2 more years giving “the charter school funding some consistency,” said Rep. Brad Last.

“I find it interesting that we want to fund this for two years before we have the task force in place,” said Rep. Jim Bird, opposing the bill. “Should we not fund this until after we have the task force in place? It seems like we’re putting the cart before the horse, here.” The bill passed the House on a vote of 54-21.

SB122 (1st Sub.): Student Leadership Skills Development, which had originally failed on the House floor, was reconsidered and passed the House on a vote of 60-8 after substitution. The bill develops a pilot program to develop students’ behaviors and skills that enhance learning and contribute to success in a career.

Senate Floor (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): The Senate concurred with changes to SB271 (3rd Sub.): School Grading Amendments on an 18-8 vote. The bill modifies the criteria and procedures for determining school grades, including:

  • The calculation of learning growth;
  • The measurement of high school students’ college and career readiness; and
  • Requires the Utah State Board of Education to annually develop a personal student achievement report for each public school student to be delivered to the student’s parent or guardian.

Under the amended bill, a school receives a letter grade based on the percentage of the maximum number of points the school may earn as follows:

  • A grade = 100%-80%
  • B grade = 79%-70%
  • C grade = 69%-60%
  • D grade = 59%-50%; and
  • F grade = 49% or less.

The Senate accepted a House amendment on SB260 (3rd Sub.): Early Childhood Education Programs Amendments. The bill amends provisions related to public school early education programs, including a requirement that the Utah State Board of Education develop uniform standards for acceptable growth goals that a school district or charter school adopts in its K-3 Reading Improvement Program plan. The House was concerned that some language in the bill restricted programs after school and in the summer. The amendment corrected this.

By a vote of 22-1, the Senate passed HB393: Competency-Based Education Amendments, which calls on the Utah State Board of Education to make recommendations on a possible funding formula for competency-based courses; and allows a school district or charter school to establish competency-based curriculum standards and assessments that would result in course credit if the student demonstrates competency in the subject.

SB3: Appropriations Adjustments, known as the “bill of bills,” passed both the Senate and House unanimously. This bill supplements or reduces appropriations previously provided for the use and support of state government for the fiscal years beginning July 1, 2012 and ending June 30, 2013, and beginning July 1, 2013 and ending June 30, 2014.

HJR20: Master Study Resolution passed the Senate and House unanimously. This joint resolution gives the Legislative Management Committee items of study it may assign to the appropriate interim committees. More than 200 items were submitted for study. Education-related study items include, but are not limited to, after school programs, student assessment, school district consolidation, bullying and hazing, charter schools, online education, public education funding, school board and state board elections, dropout reduction strategies, elementary education coaching and studying the financial impact of Redevelopment Agencies and Community Development Areas on education funding in Utah.

HB344: Establishment of Charter Schools Amendments passed on a 25-3 vote. The bill requires the State Charter School Board to request applications to establish a military charter school, a charter school whose mission is to enhance learning opportunities at risk of academic failure; and charter schools whose focus is career and technical education. There are currently 88 charter schools in Utah, representing 50,000 students.

The Senate also passed HB363: Public Education State Capitol Visit Funding. This bill allows the State Board of Education to award grants to school districts and charter schools to take students on field trips to the state capitol. The fiscal note on the bill is $9,800.