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UEA Report on the 2013 Utah Legislature General Session

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WEEK THREE:

 

2013 LEGISLATURE WEEK THREE SUMMARY: February 11-15

By the end of week three, the UEA was tracking more than 100 education-related bills on its 2013 UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet. The UEA Legislative team continued is efforts to educate legislators on the public education budget and other issues of concern. The largest contingent of teachers so far this year, more than 40, participated in Educator Day on the Hill.

Public Education Budget: During two meetings of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee this week, Committee members heard more reports and budget requests from various entities. State Auditor John Dougall and his audit team reported several budget reporting deficiencies, including a noncompliance of allocation to Charter Schools (including an estimated over-allocation to Charter Schools of nearly $5 million); budget projection not based on preceding year’s appropriation; inadequate guidance for allocation and unsupported amount for Special Education Self-Contained program; and inconsistency between data used and source documents.

The Committee heard a budget review of charter schools. Sen. Pat Jones requested more reporting on how charter schools are performing in comparison to traditional public schools. “I would really like to know…what we’re getting for our money,” she said. The Committee also heard presentations on statewide testing and from the University of Utah Reading Clinic, the IT Academy and ProStart, a culinary career program. (See more about the FY2014 public education budget)

Educator Day on the Hill: More than 40 educators representing Carbon, Alpine, Nebo, Jordan, Granite, Davis, Salt Lake City, Provo, Weber and Ogden School Districts participated in this week’s Educator Day on the Hill. Teachers also had an opportunity to share the conversations they had with legislators. Many were able to educate legislators about changes in the funding of Social Security and retirement and how that has left schools scrambling to fund those costs. The teachers were able to let legislators know that the 1.16-percent WPU increase proposed by the Governor may cover Social Security and retirement costs, but would not allow for any salary increases for school employees.

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

HB53 (1st Sub.): Election Law Amendments passed the Senate and will be sent to the Governor for signature. The bill clarifies voting dates to conform with the Western Presidential Primary, absentee ballots and mail-in voting.

HB86: Property Tax Rate Certification Date helps expedite the process of a school district receiving their certified tax rate every year. The bill passed the House unanimously.

HB278 (1st Sub.): Public School Seismic Studies sets aside money from bonds for new schools to do a rapid seismic screening of schools built before 1975. The bill initially failed, but following a vote to reconsider, it passed the House on a vote of 39-34.

HB285: Modification of Education-related Reporting Requirements relieves the State Office of Education from having to continue to provide some out dated reports to the legislature. The bill passed out of Senate Education Committee unanimously.

HB298: Parent Seminar on Youth Protection requires the Utah State Board of Education and school districts to implement a parent seminar on various issues, including substance abuse, bullying, mental health, and Internet safety. The bill passed the House on a vote of 61-11 and also passed the Senate Education Committee.

HB307: CPR Training in Schools would appropriate $200,000 in ongoing money to be disbursed to high schools and charter schools through grants to purchase equipment or conduct training on CPR. The bill passed the House Education Committee on a vote of 7-6.

HJR3: Property Tax Exemption for Public Schools would exempt all public schools, including charter schools, from property taxes. The bill passed the House Revenue and Taxation Committee favorably on a vote of 8-4.

SB39: Parental Responsibility for Sex Education Training requires the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) to develop and offer training to parents on health education and human sexuality. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee on a 4-2 vote. The UEA opposes the bill as a local issue.

SB43 (1st Sub.): Financial and Economic Literacy Education Amendments requires the State Board of Education to establish task force to study and make recommendations to the board on how to improve financial and economic literacy. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.

SB51 (1st Sub.): Higher Education Tuition Waivers passed the Senate unanimously. This bill removes the cap on the number of waivers allotted to colleges and universities for nonresident students who meet certain academic and admission requirements.

SB71: Results-based Financing for Early Childhood Education would establish a pre-kindergarten program funded primarily from private investors. The bill passed out of the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee on a vote of 6-1.

SB100: Higher Education Scholarship Amendments clarifies provisions around the New Century and Regents’ Scholarship and the International Baccalaureate program. The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 21-7.

SB110: School-Based Budgeting Amendments would change the current system for distributing public education funds by requiring a school district to distribute revenue to schools in accordance with a weighted student formula. This is often referred to as “backpack funding.” The bill passed the Senate Education Committee. The UEA strongly opposes the bill.

SB122: Student Leadership Skills and Development develops a pilot program to develop students’ behaviors and skills that enhance learning and are vital to success in a career. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.

SB128: Financial Transparency in Education imposes requirements regarding the submission of public financial information by a school district or charter school. The bill, which has already passed the Senate, was held by the House Education Committee for further study.

SB141: Education Contribution on Tax Returns passed the House unanimously. The legislation allows people to “check” a box and contribute directly to the Education Fund on their tax returns.

SB162: Concurrent Enrollment Amendments modifies a provision allowing for a partial waiver of tuition when a student elects not to receive higher education credit. The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 26-2.

SB169: Education Task Force creates a taskforce comprised of legislators to make recommendations on priorities for public and higher education. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously. The UEA recommends adding taskforce members from the education community.

SB175: Assessment of College Readiness was presented to the Senate Education Committee. This is the final stage in replacing the old Basic Skills Competency Test and putting in its place an assessment dealing with college readiness, such as the ACT. The bill passed unanimously.


 


February 11

 

Senate Education Committee (Reported by Sara Jones): SB39: Parental Responsibility for Sex Education Training requires the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) to develop and offer training to parents on health education and human sexuality. Sen. Pat Jones asked whether grandparents as well as parents will have access to materials. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Stuart Reid, stated that the bill requires that parents are notified twice a year so any other family member must receive notification through the parents, but there is no security limiting access to view the materials online.

Sen. Howard Stephenson said he is interested in a potential amendment that would create a “scaled digital format” with more components that can be accessed over time. Sen. Reid responded that the bill is modest in its approach and that is on purpose…he doesn’t want to incur additional costs and the legislation requires reporting on access and use to determine, over time, if the program needs to be expanded.

State Supt. Martell Menlove spoke about a number of concerns from the USBE. The Board is concerned that this bill now makes the Board responsible for educating parents. The Board strongly supports the role of parents in educating their children, but there are concerns that “a [single] program or a curriculum” as required by the bill could not be created that would be appropriate for all ages, all children or all families. Further, a program should have some type of restricted access so that it is only accessible for those of an appropriate age but the bill does not discuss costs associated with restricting access. Finally, mailing a notice to 600,000 students twice a year does have a significant cost that is passed along to school districts. For these reasons the USBE opposes the bill.

The bill passed the Committee on a 4-2 vote. The UEA opposes the bill as a local issue.

SB169: Education Task Force creates a legislative taskforce to make recommendations on priorities for public and higher education. Sen. Reid said he is carrying this legislation for the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House.

Sen. Jones stated that in her experience the value of a taskforce comes from the outside, from hearing from stakeholders. She asked what added value there is to only have legislators on the taskforce and not include people who are education experts.

Sen. Reid replied that that his “intent is exactly the opposite of what you are suggesting” because the legislature determines policy and budget priorities. Stakeholders will testify before the taskforce, but not serve as members, because the goal is that legislators take responsibility for their role rather than reacting to what others suggest should be done. He also said that the Legislature spent more time last year on redistricting than they ever have on education and that this is an opportunity to devote a full year to review education issues to determine the best course of action and align with economic development goals.

Supt. Menlove stated that the USBE recognizes the legislature and Board have a constitutional partnership in providing K-12 education and made the request that the Board have a voice on the taskforce. UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway asked that the Committee consider adding the state superintendent and the commissioner of higher education as non-voting members because there is “legitimacy to having those two voices on the taskforce just to provide context to the broader discussion” on a regular basis.

Sen. Reid responded to these comments by asking that the Committee pass the bill as is and he would commit to talk with the President and Speaker about adding representatives from public education, higher education and UCAT.

The bill passed the Committee unanimously.

House Floor (Reported by Jay Blain): HB278 (1st Sub.): Public School Seismic Studies sets aside money from bonds for new schools to do a rapid seismic screening of schools built before 1975. Rep. Dan McCay asked what is the next inspection to be required, electrical, HVAC or what? The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gage Froerer, responded that those inspections are already required in the state building code. The bill failed to pass the House on a vote of 37-35.

HB298: Parent Seminar on Youth Protection requires school districts to offer an annual seminar to parents with information on substance abuse, bullying, mental health and Internet safety. School districts can opt out if they desire. Rep. Ed Redd spoke in favor of the bill, citing his role as the medical examiner in Cache County. The bill passed the House on a vote of 61-11.

House Revenue and Taxation Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): Rep. Derek Brown presented HJR3: Property Tax Exemption for Public Schools, which would exempt all public schools, including charter schools, from property taxes. He explained that many charter school buildings are leased and pay property tax as a part of the lease.

Salt Lake County Assessor Lee Gardner spoke against the resolution. The Utah Association of Counties cautioned against this resolution because of the possible tax break for for-profit companies providing educational organizations. Rep. Brian King commented that charter schools are a melding of private and public entities that have made a lot of people rich and we should look at a solution that is short of amending the Utah constitution. The bill passed the Committee favorably on a vote of 8-4.


February 12

 

Public Education Appropriations (Reported by UEA Legislative Intern Mikkela Blanton): State Auditor John Dougall and his audit team reviewed the Utah State Office of Education Minimum School Program FY2012 final report statutory distribution formulas for a number of programs and the budget projections. Audit findings were reported as follows:

  1. Noncompliance of allocation to Charter Schools (including an estimated over-allocation to Charter Schools of nearly $5 million);
  2. Budget projection not based on preceding year’s appropriation;
  3. Inadequate guidance for allocation and unsupported amount for Special Education Self-Contained program; and
  4. Inconsistency between data used and source documents.

Based on the findings, the Auditor made the following recommendation to the Utah State Office of Education:

  • Allocate funding to charter schools in accordance with the law;
  • Make recommendations to change the law, if they determine that an alternative funding formula is necessary or desired;
  • Prepare the budget request for the Career and Technical Education add-on program;
  • Write and adopt a rule to govern how to allocate funds for the special education self-contained program;
  • Include instructions on how to handle charter schools with no established history;
  • Ensure they understand the date being used in their calculation; and
  • Document their data source so it can be re-referenced and updated as necessary.

The Committee then heard a budget review of charter schools. Sen. Pat Jones asked what happens to the funding when a child decides to leave the charter school. The reporting analyst replied, “it depends. If a charter school student were to enroll in a charter school and then transfer back to the district school before the Oct. 1 count, the student would be counted in the district school. If they transfer after that date, their count would still be within the charter school. The district schools are funded on their prior year Average Daily Membership, and then there is an adjustment for growth. There is a scenario that someone transfers after that date, they’re funding for someone they don’t really have.”

Sen. Jones also asked about performance measures for students at charter schools. As a public school, charter schools are required to take the same assessments, responded the analyst. But the State Office of Education has done no comparison of performance between charter schools and to traditional public schools. Sen. Jones responded, “I would really like to know that. I’m wondering what we’re getting for our money.”

Senate Education Committee (Reported by Kory Holdaway): SB175: Assessment of College Readiness, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, was presented to the Senate Education Committee. This is the final stage in replacing the old Basic Skills Competency Test and putting in its place an assessment dealing with college readiness, such as the ACT. The bill was discussed by the Committee and was passed unanimously to go to the floor of the Senate. There was a short discussion about holding the bill for some minor amendments, but it was determined the amendments could be made on the Senate floor.

HB285: Modification of Education-related Reporting Requirements, sponsored by Rep. Francis Gibson, is a bill relieving the State Office of Education from having to continue to provide some out dated reports to the legislature. The bill was passed out of Committee unanimously and will be heard on the Senate floor.

House Floor (Reported by Jay Blain): Rep. Merrill Nelson reported that his HB86: Property Tax Rate Certification Date helps expedite the process of a school district receiving their certified tax rate every year. The bill passed the House unanimously.

Senate Floor (Reported by Mikkela Blanton): SB43 (1st Sub.): Financial and Economic Literacy Education Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Jones, requires the State Board of Education to establish task force to study and make recommendations to the board on how to improve financial and economic literacy. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and will be sent to the House.

SB51 (1st Sub.): Higher Education Tuition Waivers, sponsored by Sen. Steve Urquhart, passed the Senate unanimously and was sent to the House. This bill removes the cap on the number of waivers allotted to colleges and universities for nonresident students who meet certain academic and admission requirements.

SB122: Student Leadership Skills and Development, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, develops a pilot program to develop students’ behaviors and skills that enhance learning and are vital to success in a career. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and was sent to the House.

SB162: Concurrent Enrollment Amendments modifies a provision allowing for a partial waiver of tuition when a student elects not to receive higher education credit. The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 26-2 and was sent to the House.

HB53 (1st Sub.): Election Law Amendments, passed the Senate and will be sent to the Governor for signature. The bill clarifies voting dates to conform with the Western Presidential Primary, absentee ballots and mail-in voting.


February 13

 

House Education Committee (Reported by Sara Jones): Rep. Carol Moss presented HB307: CPR Training in Schools. CPR training is already required in the curriculum but she said that it is not fully funded. The bill would appropriate $200,000 in ongoing money to be disbursed to high schools and charter schools through grants to purchase equipment or conduct training on CPR. Rep. Moss said that the House Education Committee often discusses the importance of college and career readiness preparation for kids, but that this bill is important because CPR is “a skill that could prepare them for life.”

Rep. Jim Nielson said he would vote against the bill because, while there are many good programs that could be funded, it is the responsibility of the State Board of Education to prioritize funding from the money that is allocated to them. Rep. Steve Eliason asked “does it make sense to fund this out of the education budget” since this is a larger public health issue? He suggested that the sponsor consider an amendment on the House Floor that some money come from the General Fund. The bill passed the Committee on a vote of 7-6.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher presented SB128: Financial Transparency in Education. He said the premise of the bill is that the more data we have available about public schools, the better decisions we can make. However, he said that in collecting and publishing this data it is not appropriate to place additional burdens on schools. Sen. Thatcher said that if we looked at the 25 most successful schools in the state, he was willing to bet that they will have similarities in expenditures that other schools can learn from.

The Committee asked questions and discussed the bill for nearly an hour. A number of concerns were raised including whether reporting raw data identifies the different needs and different priorities in districts; whether this legislation could have the effect of imposing new regulations on districts and charter schools in order to standardize data reporting to make data comparable; whether there would be a cost to local districts to comply; and whether this legislation will make any data public that is not already available currently on the USOE website. The bill was held by the Committee for further study.


February 14

 

Senate Education Committee (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): After some Committee debate on what to do with the proposed legislation – including send it back to Rules or Interim Study, or move the agenda – SB110: School-Based Budgeting Amendments, passed out of the Senate Education Committee and is headed to the full Senate for debate.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, would change the current system for distributing public education funds by requiring a school district to distribute revenue to schools in accordance with a weighted student formula. This is often referred to as “backpack funding.”

The UEA is opposed to the bill because, among other deficiencies, the proposed funding formula does not take into account, or provide accommodation for, the cost differences between schools with a large percentage of more experienced veteran employees compared to schools with a large percentage of novice employees. In addition, the budgetary knowledge and expertise expected in the legislation, would require extensive training for principals and school community council members, or necessitate hiring additional staff or contracting out services, in order to develop, evaluate and implement a comprehensive budget at the school level. (See more about UEA’s position on the bill.)

Supporters of the bill said similar formulas were working in other states, but State Supt. Martell Menlove, who told the Committee the Utah State Board of Education opposes SB110, said currently 91 percent of funding is already being spent at the school level. He also said the appropriate role of principals is to be instructional leaders, not CFOs. Menlove reminded committee members that their support of SB64, passed last session, will result in additional work for building administrators and we should see how that works before adding another level of responsibility.

State Board of Education Member Tami Pyfer said principals already have control over their budgets, despite a faulty assumption by supporters of the bill who argued just the opposite during testimony. She said the proponent’s second faulty argument is that there are funding inequities. She noted that 45 out of 50 states are being sued because of inequities in funding. Utah is one of five not facing challenges. She asked why Utah would be asked to copy states’ programs when they do not have the same record of equity that Utah has.

Supporters of the bill said:

  • Those at the school district level cannot make decisions as well as those at the school level.
  • It is a way to empower schools to deal with demographics.
  • Local control.

Senator Pat Jones argued that 85 percent of funding would go directly to the school. She said rather than empowering principals, “it overloads principals.” Jones said the high quality principals she knows are already working overtime and don’t have the expertise or time to take over these financial responsibilities.

In other business, the Committee passed HB298: Parent Seminar on Youth Protection, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason. This bill had its origin in his local school district, where a constituent’s son had taken his life.

The bill requires the Utah State Board of Education and school districts to implement a parent seminar on various issues, including substance abuse, bullying, mental health, and Internet safety. However, the bill was amended to allow local school districts to opt out of providing the seminar if the local school board determines the seminar is not needed. Under the proposed legislation, Eliason said the District provides the auditorium and parents attend at their choice. The Utah State Board of Education has endorsed the bill.

Eliason said 500 took their life last year in Utah, many of them students. Every day, students are admitted to emergency rooms as a result of suicide attempts. He said Utah ranks 10th in the nation for youth suicides.

Public Education Appropriations Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): Brenda Hales, Asst. State Superintendent, presented on the K-3 reading improvement program. Schools are moving from DIBELS to DIBELS Next this year. Funding has remained constant since 2004 while the number of students has increased, including the number of students with needs such as poverty, ELL, etc. The challenge, she said, is to balance how much money to spend on technology and software versus reading specialists. Sen. Stephenson brought up the discrepancy between NAEP and CRT scores. Hales explained how NAEP has a much higher set point for proficiency. She compared it to judging your fitness level by using the Navy Seal fitness test as opposed to a lesser standard. You might be quite fit but not Navy Seal fit.

Kathleen Brown from the University of Utah Reading Clinic presented about their program. They use a clinical model to pursue teacher effectiveness. They train current teachers as well as pre-service teachers.

An explanation of the fine arts outreach program was given. It is ongoing money of a just over $3 million. There is matching money that comes from private foundations as well that more than doubles the appropriation. They are requesting $500,000 in new, ongoing funding to improve their service to underserved populations.

The IT Academy presented about their program. This is a program that was funded last year at a level of $200,000 for K-12 and $50,000 for higher education. It is a Microsoft program to train in technology skills.

ProStart, a culinary career program, then presented information. They are in 54 high schools in the state and have two years of curriculum. There are currently six high schools on their waiting list. They are asking for $25,000 in new money to add these schools.


February 15

 

Educator Day on the Hill (Reported by Tom Nedreberg and Mikkela Blanton): More than 40 educators representing Carbon, Alpine, Nebo, Jordan, Granite, Davis, Salt Lake City, Provo, Weber and Ogden School Districts participated in this week’s Educator Day on the Hill. The teachers came to learn about education legislation and to talk to their individual legislators about issues that affect their own classrooms. They wrote notes to their senators and representatives telling them about why they became teachers and expressing their concern for students. They also talked to them outside House and Senate chambers about how to improve funding for our schools. In addition, many participants watched the House or the Senate in session

During lunch, Sen. Pat Jones, Rep. Jim Bird, Rep. Joel Briscoe, Sen. Jim Dabakis and State Supt. Martell Menlove stopped by to thank the teachers and share their thoughts on the legislative session. Sen. Dabakis said he loves to talk to teachers and that he is here to help education with increased funding. He said teachers shouldn't be singled out for getting less, but should be getting more. Rep. Briscoe thanked the UEA Legislative Team and acknowledged them for their hard work. Sen. Jones said she is working on a bill to put more funding into public education.

Teachers also had an opportunity to share the conversations they had with legislators. Many were able to educate legislators about changes in the funding of Social Security and retirement and how that has left schools scrambling to fund those costs. The teachers were able to let legislators know that the 1.16-percent WPU increase proposed by the Governor may cover Social Security and retirement costs, but would not allow for any salary increases for school employees. There was concern expressed that some legislators do not understand this.

UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway reminded teachers how important it was to follow up on the conversations they had with representatives and to follow up with either an email or phone call.

Senate Floor (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): Sen. Jerry Stevenson’s SB100: Higher Education Scholarship Amendments was ostensibly a ‘clean-up’ bill, clarifying provisions around the New Century and Regents’ Scholarship programs. Inclusion of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, however, caused lengthy discussion on the Senate Floor. IB is an internationally recognized program geared toward teaching global skills. Sen. John Valentine proposed an amendment that would strip IB from the bill. He said that the introduction of the IB program constituted at major policy change. “If we put (the IB program) in this bill we will give to people who have the means a higher weighting in the Regency Scholarship,” he said. Sen. Valentine’s motion failed and the bill passed the Senate with 21 yeas and 7 nays.

House Floor (Reported by Mikkela Blanton): SB141: Education Contribution on Tax Returns passed the House unanimously. The legislation allows people to “check” a box and contribute directly to the Education Fund on their tax returns.

Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee (Reported by Mikkela Blanton): SB71: Results-based Financing for Early Childhood Education would establish a pre-kindergarten program funded primarily from private investors. Sen. Aaron Osmond, the bill’s sponsor, said the program will be funded out of the General Fund, not the Education Fund. He explained that the bill is not a proposal for universal preschool, but requires parent engagement and limits the amount of time a child can be in a pre-k classroom. The state’s growing population of at-risk students…29 percent of total enrollment is low income/ELL…is a significant financial burden to the state, Sen. Osmond said. And pre-k interventions are shown to improve student outcomes. The bill passed out of Committee on a vote of 6-1.