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UEA Report on the 2015 Utah Legislature General Session

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WEEK FOUR: 

2015 LEGISLATURE WEEK FOUR SUMMARY: February 17-20

Of the more than 100 education-related bills being tracked by UEA, about a dozen progressed through the lawmaking process this week. Friday’s UEA Educator Day on the Hill saw record participation with more than 100 attending.

Public Education Budget: The House and Senate have given final approval to a base budget, SB1 (1st sub.): Public Education Base Budget, that cuts 2% from what was allocated last year. The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee concluded its scheduled meetings on Feb. 12 without making specific budget priorities, but by simply recommending that the maximum amount possible be placed on the WPU. The final budget is now in the hands of the Executive Appropriations Committee. (See more about the budget.)

 

 

Educator Day on the Hill: More than 110 attended UEA Educator Day on the Hill…a new record! Educators were joined by education support professional members of Utah School Employees Association and teachers being recognized for National Board Certification. Participants represented 15 school districts – Davis, Iron, Weber, Jordan, Washington, Park City, Tooele, Nebo, Granite, Weber, Canyons, Alpine, Ogden, Provo, Salt Lake City, Cache and Logan.

Governor Herbert’s education advisor Tami Pyfer spent nearly an hour with the group. She expressed the Governor’s continued support for a 6.25% increase on the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) despite the feelings expressed by some in the legislature that it cannot be done. “The money is there if the legislature has the will,” she said. In addition, Reps Ray Ward, Stephen Handy, Craig Hall and Rebecca Edwards stopped by to share insights with participants.

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

HB128: Maintenance of Student Records amends provisions related to a record a school maintains to verify that a parent was notified of certain incidents or threats. The bill has passed both the House and the Senate and now goes to the Governor for signature.

HB197: Education Licensing Amendments would remove the requirement that administrators have a teaching certificate. The bill passed the House on a vote of 43-30 and now goes to the Senate for consideration. The UEA opposes this bill.

HB264: Competency Licensing for Educators would add a fourth route to teacher licensure to the three existing ways teachers can become certified in Utah. The bill provides that the state shall bestow a license to anyone who passes a test of competency offered by any agency that has licensed at least 5,000 educators and is recognized in at least 10 states. UEA Legislative Team member Sara Jones noted that the bill appears to favor a single vendor and that a competency-based route to licensure already exists. She said that the state should focus on what will lead to a quality educator in every classroom and that lowering licensure requirements may not be the right path. The committee passed a motion to hold the bill in the House Education Committee for further study.

HB282 (1st sub.): Online Education Amendments allows a program of a higher education institution that offers secondary school level courses or concurrent enrollment courses online to offer those courses through the Statewide Online Education Program. It also authorizes an institution within the state system of higher education, including a college campus of the Utah College of Applied Technology, to offer secondary school level courses or concurrent enrollment courses through the Statewide Online Education Program. The bill passed the House Education Committee.

HB293: STEM Education Program Amendments clarifies provisions related to the STEM Action Center. There was no debate on the bill and no public comment in the House Education Committee. It passed unanimously.

HCR7: Concurrent Resolution Urging Development of Methods to Minimize Excessive Testing and its Negative Impacts on the Schoolchildren of Utah is supported by the UEA. Presenting to the House Education Committee, UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh said that teachers are not opposed to assessing students rather they are opposed to the misuse of tests. Tests have become high stakes and tied to grading schools, evaluating teachers and even tied to teacher pay, she said. She asked that we return to what assessments are designed for…informing instruction. The bill passed the Committee on a vote of 9-1.

SB11 Utah Retirement Systems Revisions modifies the Utah State Retirement and Insurance Benefit Act by amending provisions relating to the Utah Retirement Systems. It passed both the House and the Senate unanimously and now goes to the Governor.

SB38: Behavioral Testing and Tracking Restrictions removes language from code that allows the Department of Workforce Services to collect student behavior indicators as part of career assessment. The bill passed the House Education Committee unanimously.

SB60: American Civics Education Initiative would require all students to pass a civics test in order to receive a high school diploma. The House Education Committee passed a motion to hold the bill with intent to place back on the agenda at a later date.

SB116 (1st sub.) Public School Dropout Recovery requires school districts and charter schools to set aside 30% of a WPU when a student drops out of school, either intentionally or due to an absence of 10 or more days. The LEAs would be required to put that money in a restricted account to use for dropout recovery services. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.


February 17, 2015

Senate Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): SB175: School Safety and Crisis Line was presented by Sen. Daniel Thatcher. This bill creates a crisis line to receive anonymous reports of bullying and harassment and also provide crisis intervention, including suicide prevention resources, by connecting students to a licensed clinical social worker at the University of Utah 24 hours a day. The bill would appropriate $150,000 ongoing to provide additional staff as well as $150,000 one-time money. Sen. Jim Dabakis posed several questions related to the approach of the bill. He said that “each school has a safety plan” so why not use this money to train those on the front-lines in schools. Sen. Thatcher stated that the benefit of this approach was that clinical support would be available to students 24 hours a day. The bill passed unanimously.

 

SB116 (1st sub.) Public School Dropout Recovery was presented by Sen. Aaron Osmond. The bill requires LEAs to set aside 30% of WPU when a student drops out of school, either intentionally or due to an absence of 10 or more days. The LEAs would be required to put that money in a restricted account to use for dropout recovery services. If students are once again partially re-enrolled and progressing toward graduation, LEAs would be able to count the student in the next year ADM to receive 50% of funding. If a student returns full-time the LEA would receive the regular funding. Sen. Osmond said the idea of the bill is create both a carrot and a stick for districts to focus on dropout recovery. The bill passed unanimously.

House Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): HB293: STEM Education Program Amendments was presented by Rep. Val Peterson. This bill clarifies provisions related to the STEM Action Center. There was no debate on the bill and no public comment. The bill passed unanimously.

HCR7: Concurrent Resolution Urging Development of Methods to Minimize Excessive Testing and its Negative Impacts on the Schoolchildren of Utah was presented by Rep. Marie Poulson. She stated that this resolution is constituent driven because the most common concern she hears from constituents is related to over-testing in our schools. She highlighted key concepts in the resolution including that there are appropriate uses for testing to inform instruction but that current high stakes testing has shifted the focus from teaching to testing. She said that the result is “rote memorization” and less emphasis on a “broad, rich curriculum”. The Governor’s Office, PTA, UEA and several teachers spoke in support of the resolution. UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh said that teachers are not opposed to assessing students rather they are opposed to the misuse of tests. Tests have become high stakes and tied to grading schools, evaluating teachers and even tied to teacher pay. She asked that we return to what assessments are designed for…informing instruction. The bill passed on a vote of 9-1.


February 18, 2015

House Floor (reported by Jay Blain): Rep. Kim Coleman presented HB197: Education Licensing Amendments. This bill would remove the requirement that administrators have a teaching certificate. Rep. Coleman said that there is a shortage of administrators in Utah and this bill will help with that. It allows for an alternative path for people with diverse backgrounds to enter school administration. She specifically mentioned a program at Rice University whose graduates couldn’t be hired in Utah.

Rep. Marie Poulson appreciated her good intentions but expressed her concerns about these individuals not having a background in school law or finance and this background makes a difference. It is her experience that the more background a principal has the better administrator they have. Having classroom experience is a key to evaluating a teacher as well.

Rep. Joel Briscoe addressed concerns about having someone who does not have teaching experience evaluate the performance of teachers. Rep. Carol Moss said, “I am now the third former teacher you are hearing from on this bill.” There are very few other professions where other people think that anybody can do it, she said. This feels like an attempt to de-professionalize education, even though that is not the sponsor’s intent.

Rep. Norman Thurston said his wife has been a school secretary for 20 years and has a law degree and to say that she couldn’t be a school principal is just “mean spirited.” Some of the best and worst principals have had classroom experience, he said. Rep. Mike Noel said he strongly supports the bill because it will advance our schools. He talked about teaching biology for a year. He believes that teaching comes from the heart and he’s not sure that you can teach someone else how to teach. Rep. LaVar Christensen said we should never apologize for flexibility. There are enough safety checks in this bill, he said.

The bill passed on a vote of 43-30 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.


February 19, 2015

House Education Committee (reported by Tom Nedreberg): HB282 (1st sub.): Online Education Amendments allows a program of a higher education institution that offers secondary school level courses or concurrent enrollment courses online to offer those courses through the Statewide Online Education Program. It also authorizes an institution within the state system of higher education, including a college campus of the Utah College of Applied Technology, to offer secondary school level courses or concurrent enrollment courses through the Statewide Online Education Program.

State Office of Education Asst. Supt. Sid Dixon expressed concerns about the bill. Other members of the public spoke in favor, including Laura Belnap, an administrator of an online school. UEA Legislative Team member Sara Jones stated that UEA has not taken a position on this bill but listed concerns in hopes of narrowing scope of program to computer science and STEM and that UEA was supportive of starting this as a pilot program.

Rep. Brad Daw stated this is an important issue because of the demand for many courses and expressed a need to increase the supply of courses available from colleges/universities to high school students. The bill passed on a vote of 8-1.

According to Rep. David Lifferth, HB264: Competency Licensing for Educators would add a fourth route to teacher licensure to the three existing ways teachers can become certified in Utah. The bill provides that the state shall bestow a license to anyone who passes a test of competency offered by any agency that has licensed at least 5,000 educators and is recognized in at least 10 states.

Rep. Lifferth then gave a personal example of how he graduated in computer science with a teaching minor but no teaching practicum, therefore he didn’t get certified as a teacher. At some point he may want to go into teaching and would like this route be available, he said.

Several members of the committee expressed concerns about the bill and the process. State Supt. Brad Smith said that while he is supportive of alternative routes to licensure, he was concerned that under this bill the state would be required to extend teaching licenses to those who passed tests and would lose its gatekeeper function for licensing.

Due to time restrictions, public comment was limited. Representatives from the only vendor know to meet the requirements of the bill spoke in favor of the bill. UEA Legislative Team member Sara Jones noted that the bill appears to favor a single vendor and that a competency-based route to licensure already exists. She said that the state should focus on what will lead to a quality educator in every classroom and that lowering licensure requirements may not be the right path.

The committee passed a motion to hold the bill for further study.

SB38: Behavioral Testing and Tracking Restrictions removes language from code that allows the Department of Workforce Services to collect student behavior indicators as part of career assessment. According to the bill’s sponsor, it came about because of requests for behavior testing that were not authorized as part of an IEP and will not change behavior testing that is part of an IEP.

Peter Canon speaking on behalf of the Eagle Forum stated that no US citizen should be subjected to behavior testing by its government. The bill passed unanimously and was placed on the Consent Calendar.

SB60: American Civics Education Initiative would require all students to pass a civics test in order to receive a high school diploma. Sen. Howard Stephenson said they have determined there will be a cost to implement this bill and are working finalizing the fiscal note. With limited time, the committee asked if there were members of the public wanting to speak to the bill who would not be able to attend another meeting. A student from the Salt Lake School for the Arts spoke against the bill, saying students are already required to take social studies courses and that civics should be part of the regular curriculum. The committee passed a motion to hold the bill with intent to place back on the agenda at a later date.


February 20, 2015

Educator Day on the Hill (Reported by Mike Kelley): The turnout was amazing at today’s Educator Day on the Hill. Educators were joined by education support professional members of Utah School Employees Association and teachers being recognized for National Board Certification. In all, more than 110 attended…a new record! Participants represented 15 school districts – Davis, Iron, Weber, Jordan, Washington, Park City, Tooele, Nebo, Granite, Weber, Canyons, Alpine, Ogden, Provo, Salt Lake City, Cache and Logan.

UEA Legislative Team members provided an overview of education bills making their way through the legislature and encouraged participants to share their stories with their legislators. Governor Herbert’s education advisor Tami Pyfer spent nearly an hour with the group. She expressed the Governor’s continued support for a 6.25% increase on the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) despite the feelings expressed by some in the legislature that it cannot be done. “The money is there if the legislature has the will,” she said.

Representatives Ray Ward, Stephen Handy, Craig Hall and Rebecca Edwards stopped by during lunch to share their thoughts and express appreciation to the group, both for coming to the Capitol and for what they do in schools every day. Government Relations Director Chase Clyde then stressed the importance of continued contributions to the UEA Political Action Committee to enhance our influence on the Hill.