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UEA Report on the 2014 Utah Legislature General Session

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WEEK ONE:

2014 LEGISLATURE WEEK ONE SUMMARY: January 27-31

Week One of the 2014 Utah General Legislative Session ended with the UEA tracking about 70 numbered education-related bills, up from the 40 being tracked at the same time last year. Additional bills are being added daily. The Legislature announced it would change the way it approached business this year. Budget subcommittees met the first week with other committees scheduled to begin work later.

Public Education Budget: The legislative change meant the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee met every day during the first week. Informational presentations were made by a variety of education groups. The Subcommittee recommended a base budget bill (HB1: Public Education Base Budget Amendments) that had no reductions from the previous year. HB1 is the “base” appropriation for the support and operation of public education for the fiscal year of 2014-15. (NOTE: This is just the “Base” budget. Near the end of the session, the Senate will introduce a supplemental appropriations bill that will contain the bulk of the additional education funding.)

Educator Day on the Hill: UEA held its first Educator Day on the Hill of the 2014 Session in the Cooper Room of the Senate Building on Jan. 31. Close to 40 educators attended, making it the largest first-day teacher group ever. There were teachers from Grand, Granite, Jordan, Salt Lake City, Park City, Weber, North Sanpete, Davis, Nebo, Murray City and Canyons School Districts.

Educational Excellence Press Conference: Thirteen members of the Educational Excellence Task Force presented their findings to the UEA. The report, Educators Taking the Lead: A Vision for Fostering Excellence in Teaching and Learning, represents the state’s first-ever teacher developed vision for public education. Task Force Chair Anna Williams said that educators are “committed to a bold new vision where teachers have the time, support and resources needed to meet the demand of a diverse learning population.” See more about the press conference.

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

  • SB10: 401k Appropriation Amendments corrects an oversight in last year’s budget, retroactively funding up to $26 in 401k payments to state employees per pay period. This impacts those employed by Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind. The bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously and now goes to the Governor for signature.
  • HB10: Injured Worker Reemployment Amendments passed the House unanimously as amended. The UEA supports this bill, which now goes to the Senate.
  • SB28: Utah Retirement Amendments passed the Senate unanimously and now goes to the House. It makes multiple clarifications to the Utah State Retirement and Insurance Benefit Act and the Utah State Personnel Management Act. The UEA supports this bill.

January 27, 2014 - Opening Day

Senate Floor (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): Opening day in the Senate featured the national anthem, songs by Calvary Baptist Church to honor minorities, an opening speech by Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser and an address from Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant.

The Senate passed SB10: 40 401k Appropriation Amendments. This bill corrects an oversight in last year’s budget, retroactively funding up to $26 in 401k payments to state employees per pay period. This impacts those employed by Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind. The bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously and now goes to the Governor for signature.

House Floor (Reported by Jay Blain): Along with the usual opening day ceremony, Speaker Becky Lockhart presented her opening remarks. Regarding education, the Speaker said Utah has the most dedicated parents and teachers in the nation. Education funding needs a higher purpose to go with it, she said, urging House members to “think big.” She said that we need an education renaissance in Utah and praised teachers as “the most important boys and girls in the classroom.” She urged legislators to reconnect with the state school board and to implement local solutions via local control. Lockhart also stressed the increased use of technology to connect with students.

The House also unanimously passed SB10: 401k Appropriation Amendments (see above).


January 28, 2014

Public Education Appropriations Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): This first Public Education Appropriations Committee was mostly review and outlining the committee process. A lot of time was spent explaining the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU), the basic unit for distributing education funding. Rep. Kraig Powell pointed out that the lion’s share of the public education budget is equalized through WPU distribution. Sen. Howard Stephenson said that unequal funding distribution occurs due to the ability of some school districts to raise more revenue through low rates and high property valuation.

At least $339 million of the Education Fund goes to Higher Education, which is about 12% of the total. There was also much discussion about Career and Technical Education (CTE) and the Utah College of Applied Technology


January 29, 2014

State of the State: “Of course, teachers have the critical role of educating our children in the classroom,” said Gov. Gary Herbert in his State of the State Address to the Utah Legislature. “While we cannot thank them enough, we can and should pay them more. Because of our success in growing the economy in challenging times, my budget contains an additional $61.6 million to increase teacher compensation, the largest increase since 2008.” See the Governor’s proposed budget and the UEA’s position.

Public Education Appropriations Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): USOE Associate Superintendent Bruce Williams explained the process for the expenditure of School Trust Land funds. The money is allocated to the schools and the decisions are made at the school level, but expenditures are made through the district accounting systems in order to not create more sets of books and audits, he said. Sen. Pat Jones asked about situations involving mismanagement of School Trust Land funds. Williams responded that these situations were not necessarily mismanagement but spending outside the parameters of the rules of Trust program. Rep. LaVar Christensen praised the SITLA management for building the trust to its current level.

A discussion about school buses revealed that about 400 out a fleet of 2,800 buses fail inspection each year. Some buses are 25-30 years old. Sen. Lyle Hillyard asked if there was a plan or schedule to replace buses. Murrell Martin, transportation specialist at the USOE, noted that $11 million was cut from the public education budget in 2011 that was specifically targeted for replacement of aging buses.

Anne Diekema from the Utah State University Department of Education gave testimony about the importance of library and books and the funding of that line item in the budget. School libraries support reading and critical thinking skills, she said. Dr. Sherryl Smith, retired state media specialist, claims that the state standards for school libraries are terribly out of date.

A discussion about funding for the Minimum School Program included incentive compensation programs. It was noted that many of these programs augment teacher salaries. Sen. Jones pointed out that test scores are not the only metric to use to measure the effectiveness of these programs. State Superintendent Martell Menlove was asked about capacity to handle Math and Science teacher salary adjustment money.

Rep. Christensen claimed that UEA blocked increased teacher pay several years ago. Sen. Howard Stephenson also briefly plugged his plan to pay teachers 50 percent more by requiring 50 percent more working hours.

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh was asked to share the UEA’s position on the extra compensation programs. She said that the UEA is not opposed to these programs. She reminded members of the committee that UEA worked together with Sen. Aaron Osmond to tie performance to advancement on the salary schedule. She also informed them about the UEA’s collaboration with the Salt Lake School District and the Salt Lake Teachers Association in developing more physics teachers. This was in response to a discussion about a shortage of math and science teachers.

The final meeting of the Committee is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 12.


January 30, 2014

Public Education Appropriations Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): There was a discussion about local replacement money to charter schools. There was a great emphasis on the role of property taxes. It was pointed out by Sen. Pat Jones that property taxes are not generated on a per-pupil basis.

The State Charter School Board was up next. Nationwide the charter staff-to-school ratio is .31. If that was true in Utah, they would have 26 FTE. They have 3. Sen. Howard Stephenson expressed disappointment that proportionately more charter schools received “F” grades than traditional neighborhood schools. Approximately one-third of charter schools use management organizations or companies.

Sen. Stephenson suggested that it would be great if we could increase the state guarantee on the voted and board local levy program to the $50 dollar levy. It is currently $27.92.

Proposed budgets would reduce Utah State Office of Education funding by $2.7 million. State Supt. Martell Menlove enumerated many programs that have been mandated by the legislature without any additional funding. He also commented about many cost-saving measures implemented at USOE.

House Floor (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): HB10: Injured Worker Reemployment Amendments amends the Workers' Compensation Act to address reemployment of injured workers. It passed unanimously as amended. Rep. Jim Dunnigan said an amendment was to streamline reporting and would have no effect on the sunset clause in the legislation. The UEA supports this bill, which now goes to the Senate.

Senate Floor (Reported by Mike Kelley): SB28: Utah Retirement Amendments passed the Senate unanimously and now goes to the House. It makes multiple clarifications to the Utah State Retirement and Insurance Benefit Act and the Utah State Personnel Management Act. The UEA supports this bill.


January 31, 2014

Educator Day on the Hill (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): There were close to 40 educators at this year’s first Educator Day on the Hill event. This was by far the largest first-day teacher group ever. We hope to build on this as we go through the session this year. There were teachers from Grand, Granite, Jordan, Salt Lake City, Park City, Weber, North Sanpete, Davis, Nebo, Murray City and Canyons School Districts.

UEA Executive Director Mark Mickelsen went over the schedule for the day. He explained that this legislative session, for the first week, appropriation subcommittees are meeting first, before the regular committees, so the legislative body can have an idea of the budget they have to work with.

UEA Research Director Jay Blain shared various budget bills the UEA is watching. He was followed by UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh and UEA Director of Education Excellence Sara Jones who talked about education policy bills. Mickelsen also noted that, so far this session, there have been no anti-association bills introduced. UEA Vice President Tom Nedreberg and the team then talked about the importance of making contributions to U-PAC and attending the upcoming caucus meetings in March. Finally, Jones told everyone about the Educational Excellence press conference to be held later in the afternoon (see below).

Teachers then attended the Public Education Appropriations Committee and heard how the education budget is built (see below). During Senate and House floor time, teachers talked with their representatives, expressed how their classes are affected by the funding and policies enacted by the legislature and delivered ‘thank-you’ cards expressing appreciation to legislators for their service.  Teachers met again and reported out during lunch any significant conversations they had with their legislators.

Educational Excellence Press Conference (Reported by Mike Kelley): Teachers attending Educator Day on the Hill were joined by legislators, administrators and the media as the 13 members of the Educational Excellence Task Force presented their findings to the UEA. The report, Educators Taking the Lead: A Vision for Fostering Excellence in Teaching and Learning, represents the state’s first-ever teacher developed vision for public education. Task Force Chair Anna Williams said that educators are “committed to a bold new vision where teachers have the time, support and resources needed to meet the demand of a diverse learning population.” See more about the press conference.

Public Education Appropriations Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): It was reported to the Public Education Appropriations Committee that economic indicators very unstable right now, but that base budgets will be completed by Feb. 3. The Committee reviewed the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind (USDB) base budget and the Informal Science Education Enhancement (ISEE) and Professional Outreach Programs in the Schools (POPS) programs.

Rep. Jim Nielson presented a substitute base budget bill (HB1: Public Education Base Budget Amendments) that would consolidate many items a give more control of budget items to the State Board of Education. This is as it should be under the Utah State Constitution, he said, noting that the legislature should “empower our state and local school boards to do their jobs.” His proposal failed. In lieu he asked that it be referred to the Education Interim Committee and the State School Board with a report to the Education Appropriations Committee. 

The Committee gave a favorable recommendation to the base budget with no reductions.