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UEA Report on the 2014 Utah Legislature General Session

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2014 LEGISLATURE WEEK FOUR SUMMARY: February 18-21 

Education bills continued to be introduced, with the UEA tracking more than 100 bills by the end of week four. The Executive Appropriations Committee heard recommendations from appropriations subcommittees.

Teachers attending Educator Day on the Hill heard from several legislators about important bills moving through the system, including a visit by Sen. Howard Stephenson. HB131: Public Education Modernization Act, which would provide upwards of $200 million for one-to-one technology for students, was discussed at length behind the scenes, but did not have a public hearing.

Public Education Budget: The Executive Appropriations Committee began its work in earnest this week as they considered individual and committee requests for appropriations for 2014-15. Representatives from the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee reiterated its priorities, including full funding of student enrollment growth and a 2.5 percent increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU). Because of their need for a USDB school facility in the Salt Lake area, the subcommittee also prioritized $1.5 million for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. The money, if approved, could be used for facility planning.

Educator Day on the Hill: On Feb. 21, more than 50 educators from Box Elder, Iron, Washington, Nebo, Alpine, Davis, Jordon, Granite, Cache, Weber, Tooele, Park City, Provo and Sevier School Districts gathered at the Utah State Capitol to be part of the legislative process during Educator Day on the Hill. Utah’s current Teacher of the Year, Allison Riddle, was introduced in both houses.

During lunch, four legislators also stopped to visit with the teachers, including Sen. Howard Stephenson. Sen. Stephenson talked at length about HB131: Public Education Modernization Act. He even admitted he was wrong on thinking what he called “macro choices” for parents, including charter schools, vouchers and online choice laws, were a “silver bullet” for improving student learning. He said the results have demonstrated otherwise. He also said he is committed to fully funding growth and funding the WPU at 2.5% as the Public Education Appropriations Committee recommended.

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

  • HB36: Charter School Enrollment Amendments amends the current charter school law to allow the grandchild of a founding member of a charter school to not have to go through the application process to enroll. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.
  • HB77: Tax Credit for Home-Schooling Parent provides a $500 nonrefundable tax credit to parents who home school their children. The House Revenue and Taxation Committee voted 7-4 to send the bill to the House floor for debate. The UEA opposes this bill.
  • HB109 (1st Sub.): Public Education Capital Funding Equalization would transfer unexpended funding from certain accounts to an Enrollment Growth Account. This account would be used to equalize capital funding. The bill passed the House Education Committee 7-6 and now goes to the full House.
  • HB111: Building Cost Reporting requires school districts and charter schools to submit school construction costs to the state transparency website. It passed the House Education Committee favorably.
  • HB116 (1st Sub.): School Construction Modifications would require the state school board to adopt school construction guidelines and consult with the Division of Facilities Construction and Management Administration on proposed guidelines before adoption. The bill passed the House Education Committee on a vote of 13-1.
  • HB249 (1st Sub.): Grants for Digital Textbooks was substituted to include professional development for teachers, which the bill’s sponsor said was in response to a UEA request. The UEA remains opposed due the bill’s cost. It passed the House 55-14 and now goes to the Senate, although the sponsor acknowledged it may not get funded in the final budget.
  • HB260: Local School Board Candidate Reporting Amendments will change the dates for school board races to align with local races and will require one less report during the election year and one less report during the off election year. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.
  • HB286 (1st Sub.): Child Sexual Abuse Prevention would provide for sexual abuse prevention training and instruction in schools. The bill would allow districts and charter schools to determine whether they wanted to offer such training and, if so, would require them to use materials approved by the State Board of Education. It would also allow parents to have their child excused from participation. The bill passed the House Health and Human Services Committee unanimously.
  • SB38 (1st Sub.): Snow College Concurrent Enrollment Program supports students in rural areas seeking an associate’s degree. The bill passed the House Education Committee favorably.
  • SB40 (1 Sub.): Financial and Economic Literacy Amendments modifies provisions relating to financial and economic literacy education for grades 9-12. It passed the Senate unanimously and now goes to the House.
  • SB101: Public Education Human Resource Management Amendments delays for one year implementation of the evaluation process put in place with 2012’s SB64. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously. The UEA supports this bill.
  • SB103 (1st Sub.): Local Control of Classroom Time Requirements would allow school districts or charter schools to trade hours of instructional time for teacher professional development or planning time. The bill was amended to change the number of days allowable from a maximum of 6 to 4. UEA Legislative Team member Sara Jones thanked Sen. Osmond for recognizing the need for professional development but noted that more and more instructional time is being devoted to testing which is being tied to compensation. The bill passed the House Education Committee 11-4.
  • SB148: Upstart Program Amendments establishes UPSTART as a permanent, non-pilot program. The bill passed the House Education Committee unanimously.

February 18, 2014

 

House Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee: The House Revenue and Taxation Committee voted 7-4 to send HB77: Tax Credit for Home-Schooling Parent to the House floor for further debate. The bill provides a $500 nonrefundable tax credit to parents who home school their children.

Bill sponsor Rep. David Lifferth said his legislation gives home-schooling parents a way to improve the education they are providing for their children. Approximately 4,000 families and 9,000 home-schooled students will be impacted by the bill. Enactment of the legislation could reduce the state’s Education Fund by $3 million annually, according to a fiscal note by the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst.

Mark Mickelsen, UEA executive director, testified against the bill. “UEA opposes House Bill 77 as this bill would remove at a minimum an estimated $3 million from the Education Fund. This is an amount we can hardly afford to lose at a time when we are struggling to restore funding lost during the great recession,” Mickelsen told committee members. “It is also our position this tax credit is a voucher, which is a concept that has previously been rejected by Utah voters.” Rep. Jim Nielson called Lifferth’s proposal a “regressive tax policy.”

Executive Appropriations Committee (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): The Executive Appropriations Committee (EAC) considered individual and committee requests for appropriations for 2014-15.

Representatives from the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee reiterated their priorities, including full funding of student enrollment growth and a 2.5 percent increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU).

Because of their need for a USDB school facility in the Salt Lake area, the subcommittee also prioritized $1.5 million for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. The money, if approved, could be used for facility planning.

The EAC heard a request from Sen. Stuart Reid to provide $64,000 to fund the reauthorization of the Education Task Force. Reid said the money would be split to provide $32,000 for each house. He said the Task Force would look at a long-term plan for public education during 2014-15.


February 19, 2014

 

House Education Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): HB111: Building Cost Reporting requires school districts and charter schools to submit school construction costs to the state transparency website. This bill came about as a result of the Jordan School District bond failure. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Knotwell, said he and others in the district found it difficult to determine if the costs of buildings in the district were lavish or not. Brenda Lee from the state finance department, which runs the website, says that there is a cost to implement this requirement but it isn’t reflected on the bill. The bill passed out favorably.

HB116: School Construction Modifications requires the Division of Facilities Construction and Management to adopt school construction standards and requires a public school to review and take into consideration those standards when planning public school construction. Rep. Steve Eliason questioned the one-time $350,000 fiscal note. Rep. Rich Cunningham responded that it has to do with the research involved. Rep. Jim Nielson talked about the durability and lower maintenance cost of state buildings from his experience with them. Patti Harrington spoke in opposition to the bill saying that district personnel have the expertise in constructing school buildings and that their per square foot cost is much lower than DFCM. The bill was held in the committee for further work.

SB38 (1st Sub.): Snow College Concurrent Enrollment Program supports students in rural areas seeking associate’s degree. The bill passed out favorably.

House Health and Human Services Committee (Reported by Sara Jones): HB286 (1st Sub.): Child Sexual Abuse Prevention was heard for the second time in committee. Rep. Angela Romero’s bill would provide for sexual abuse prevention training and instruction in schools. The bill would allow districts and charter schools to determine whether they wanted to offer such training and, if so, would require them to use materials approved by the State Board of Education. It would also allow parents to have their child excused from participation. Both Elizabeth Smart and Ed Smart testified in favor of the bill. Ed Smart said that this kind of training would provide “life-saving skills that we should be teaching our children” and that it “empowers them rather than scaring them.” The bill passed the committee unanimously.


February 20, 2014

 

Senate Education Committee: (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): HB36: Charter School Enrollment Amendments amends the current charter school law to allow the grandchild of a founding member of a charter school to not have to go through the application process to enroll. It also defines what a disadvantaged student is to allow charter schools whose charter allows it to include in their application process for parents. Once a quorum was present, the bill passed the committee unanimously.

HB260: Local School Board Candidate Reporting Amendments was a result of a suggestion from the Lt. Governor to study and align reporting requirements for school board members at the local level with local city and county offices. The bill will change the dates for school board races to align with local races and will require one less report during the election year and one less report during the off election year. The bill passed the committee unanimously.

SB101: Public Education Human Resource Management Amendments delays the implementation for one year the evaluation process put in place with SB64 from 2012. One reason, according to Sen. Aaron Osmond, is lack of funding for teacher training, which is prioritized this year. There has been some ad hoc funding and training provided by USOE and UEA, he said. All school districts have parts of the evaluation process in place, but the delay will allow for systematic training and proper implementation. Sid Dixon from the USOE said that the USOE has been working hard to put this program in place. She also mentioned there is a new testing program being implemented and the evaluation relies on that testing for data. She felt there needed to be time to implement the testing fully to make the evaluation system reliable. The bill passed unanimously. The UEA supports this bill.

Senate Floor (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): SB40 (1 Sub.): Financial and Economic Literacy Amendments modifies provisions relating to financial and economic literacy education for grades 9-12. It passed unanimously.

There was considerable discussion about SB54: Elections Amendments. Sen. Curt Bramble said the bill would address many of the issues expressed by the Count My Vote initiative, but does it through legislation rather than a citizens’ initiative. He stated it is the constitutional duty of the legislature to address the issue of citizen participation that the initiative brings to light. Debate on the bill lasted quite some time. The bill passed to the third-reading calendar on a vote of 26-2. The discussion was happening while representative from Count My Vote held a rally in the Capitol rotunda making noise that could be heard in the Senate Chambers.


February 21, 2014

 

House Education Committee (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): HB116 (1st Sub.): School Construction Modifications would require the state school board to adopt school construction guidelines and consult with the Division of Facilities Construction and Management Administration on proposed guidelines before adoption. The substitute bill allows flexibility for districts to still build the schools they have based on existing plans. Speaking to the bill, Rep. Rich Cunningham said there are many differences between state code for state buildings and for schools.

Supt. Martel Menlove expressed concern that $350,000 included in the original bill is no longer included. Rep. Cunningham said it’s being addressed with the fiscal note. Patti Harrington said the Utah School Boards Association appreciates changes to the bill and supports the substitute. The bill passed the committee on a vote of 13-1.

HB109 (1st Sub.): Public Education Capital Funding Equalization would transfer unexpended funding from certain accounts to an Enrollment Growth Account. This account would be used to equalize capital funding. Patti Harrington said the local school boards and superintends support the concept of the bill. The bill passed 7-6 and now goes to the full House.

SB103 (1st Sub.): Local Control of Classroom Time Requirements would allow school districts or charter schools to trade hours of instructional time for teacher professional development or planning time. The bill was amended to change the number of hours allowable from a maximum of 60 to 40.

Patti Harrington said the school boards and superintendents are opposed the bill but applaud Sen. Aaron Osmond for bringing the issue to the table. Jeff Leonard, representing the Utah School Employee Association, said classified employees would be directly affected because they would lose a day’s pay when students don’t come to school. UEA Legislative Team member Sara Jones thanked Sen. Osmond for recognizing the need for professional development but noted that more and more instructional time is being devoted to testing which is being tied to compensation. She said the legislature needs to invest in additional professional development. The bill passed the committee by a vote of 11-4.

SB148: Upstart Program Amendments establishes UPSTART as a permanent, non-pilot program. Supt. Menlove this program has been shown to show learning gains but is concerned it may not be targeting the students that need to be targeted. He hopes poverty will be redefined in the bill in order to put our resources to our greatest need. The bill passed unanimously.

House Floor (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): HB249 (1st Sub.): Grants for Digital Textbooks was substituted to include professional development for teachers, which the bill’s sponsor said was in response to a UEA request. The UEA remains opposed due the bill’s cost. It passed 55-14 and now goes to the Senate, although the sponsor acknowledged it may not get funded in the final budget.

Educator Day on the Hill: (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): More than 50 educators from Box Elder, Iron, Washington, Nebo, Alpine, Davis, Jordon, Granite, Cache, Weber, Tooele, Park City, Provo and Sevier School Districts met at 7 a.m. at the Utah State Capitol to be part of the legislative process. The teachers met the UEA Legislative Team and then heard about the bills to be heard in the House Education Committee (see above) and other bills of concern to teachers. After the discussion, teachers attended the committee meeting then talked with their representatives in both the House and the Senate. Some also spent some time observing in the gallery.

Allison Riddle, the Utah Teacher of the Year, was introduced in both houses. The teachers then met for lunch back in the Copper Room and began a debrief on what they had heard from their representatives and how they were developing relationships.

During lunch, four legislators also stopped to visit. Sen. Aaron Osmond visited for a few minutes and expressed his appreciation for teachers and their devotion to students and education. Sen. Howard Stephenson talked at length about HB131: Public Education Modernization Act. He even admitted he was wrong on thinking what he called “macro choices” for parents, including charter schools, vouchers and online choice laws, were a “silver bullet” for improving student learning. He said the results have demonstrated otherwise. He said he now believes “micro choices” available to students, like technology, will make the difference. He then said that he is committed to fully funding growth and funding the WPU at 2.5% as the Public Education Appropriations Committee recommended.

Sen. Jim Dabakis also stopped by and said he’s learned by visiting Rose Park Elementary that he does not know much about education compared to the teachers he works with there at that school who conduct their classes like a symphony. He also expressed his concern with how much money has been taken out of education because of tax breaks given over the years.

Rep. Brian King told the teachers that from day one of his first of six terms public education and higher education has always been at the top of his agenda. He said he’d love to hear what teachers have to say about HB131. He questions the process and how many people have not been involved in the development of the bill including the UEA.

Finally teachers heard from UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh about the importance of contributing to U-PAC to help UEA build relationships with legislators of both parties. There was also some discussion about the importance of attending caucus meetings and either becoming or helping to select education-friendly delegates and candidates.