Page Title

UEA Report on the 2015 Utah Legislature General Session

Page Content

WEEK ONE: 

2015 LEGISLATURE WEEK ONE SUMMARY: January 26-30

Week One of the 2015 Utah General Legislative Session ended with the UEA tracking just over 60 numbered education-related bills, down from the 70 being tracked at the same time last year, but well above the 40 we were tracking at the same time in 2013. Additional bills are being added daily.

The 2015 General Session of the 62nd Utah Legislature began on a somber note, with tributes to former House Speaker Becky Lockhart in both the House and the Senate. In the House, 15 of the 75 representatives took the oath of office for the first time as newly elected representatives. Three of the 29 Senators are freshmen.

Public Education Budget: The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee met twice during the first week. Informational presentations were made by a variety of education groups. The biggest challenge for the Subcommittee was identifying and recommending a 2% budget reduction from the previous year, as requested by the Executive Appropriations Committee.

The State Board of Education discussed recommendations for how to cut 2% from the budget as requested by legislature. The Board’s final recommendation was for $53 million in budget reductions, including $6 million from student transportation, $23.1 million from “flexible allocation” (used to fund employee Social Security and retirement), $3 million from concurrent enrollment, $6.2 million from USTAR Centers and $11.4 million from charter school local replacement (which school districts are required to pay regardless of the cut).

By week’s end, the Subcommittee had not yet finalized its budget recommendations. Subcommittee co-chair Rep. Steve Eliason clarified that when the final budget is submitted there will be an overall increase but the “buckets” may not look the same. That is the reason each department has been asked to prepare a budget with a 2% cut, he said.

Educator Day on the Hill: During the first UEA Educator Day on the Hill of the 2015 Legislative Session, educators were joined by education students from Westminster College. It was the largest first week’s attendance for Educator Day in memory. Eight legislators stopped by to chat with participants during the event, sharing information about either education legislation they are sponsoring or their take on education funding. Participants were able to talk with their own legislators during House and Senate floor time.

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

HB30: Math Teacher Training Program Amendments would expand a current grant program for math teacher training by allowing the program to include stipends for professional development and becoming a math teacher leader. It passed the both the House floor and the Senate Education Committee with unanimous votes. The UEA supports this bill.

HB49 (1 sub.): Clean Fuel School Buses and Infrastructure provides grants to replace school buses and to create infrastructure for alternative fuel vehicles. It passed the House Transportation Committee unanimously. 

HB69 (1st sub.): English Language Arts Instructional Tool provides $1 million in funding for software licenses to deliver English language arts instructional tools to schools. The software would allow students to write more frequently and get immediate feedback. The bill passed the House Education Committee unanimously.

HB81 (2nd sub.): Local School Board Meeting Requirements requires that school boards must hold their meetings within their geographic boundaries to ensure that constituents have easy access to school board meetings and are able to participate. Charter schools would be exempt since they do not have geographic boundaries. The bill passed the House Education Committee on a 10-2 vote.

SB29: School Planning and Zoning Process changes the notification requirements for a district or charter school to acquire property or construct a new building. The bill passed unanimously from the Senate Education Committee.

SB33: Public School Graduation Amendments would increase the centennial scholarship, available to students graduating high school by 11th grade, from $1,000 to $2,000. It also requires that schools notify and help students in the 8th grade understand the pathway to becoming college ready and graduating high school by the 11th grade. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.

SB 37: Data Reporting Regarding Front-Line Teachers has the goal of creating “transparency for the public and legislature” on how education funds are allocated by districts by reporting data on compensation for “front-line” teachers, according to the bill’s sponsor. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.

SB38: Behavioral Testing and Tracking Restrictions removes references in statute to “behavioral” testing. The bill would not remove necessary testing requirements for special education-related behavioral testing but only “ambiguous” sections of code. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.

SB60: American Civics Education Initiative would require a student to pass a civics test as a condition of graduating from high school. It passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.

SB75: Elementary Arts Learning Program Amendments was heard in the Senate Business and Labor Committee. The bill makes changes to the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts program, increasing the match to 20% match, up from 10%, among other changes. The bill passed unanimously and was placed on the Senate Consent Calendar.

SB78: School District Property Tax Amendments would remove the time limit requirement for imposing property taxes after a school district split. It passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.


January 26, 2015

Session Opening (reported by Mike Kelley): The first day of the 2015 General Session of the 62nd Utah Legislature began on a somber note, with tributes to former House Speaker Becky Lockhart in both the House and the Senate. In the House, 15 of the 75 representatives took the oath of office for the first time as newly elected representatives. Three of the 29 Senators are freshmen.

During opening comments, Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser and House Speaker Greg Hughes touched only briefly on education, but many education issues are already being discussed behind the scenes. Only a few education bills are numbered and available. See the UEA 2015 Legislative Tracking Sheet for the most current bills being tracked by UEA. Education budget discussions begin in earnest Tuesday morning with a meeting of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee. See more about the Utah Public Education budget.

House Floor (reported by Jay Blain): Only one bill being tracked by UEA was discussed on the House floor. HB30: Math Teacher Training Program Amendments expands an existing grant program to include current math teachers to assist them in becoming teacher leaders. The program has worked for the past five years to bring Alternative Route to Licensure teachers into math teaching. No new money is being appropriated, just the ongoing money. The bill passed unanimously and now goes to the Senate. The UEA supports this bill.During opening comments, Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser and House Speaker Greg Hughes touched only briefly on education, but many education issues are already being discussed behind the scenes. Only a few education bills are numbered and available. See the UEA 2015 Legislative Tracking Sheet for the most current bills being tracked by UEA.


January 27, 2015

Public Education Appropriations Committee (reported by Jay Blain): In the Public Education Appropriations Committee, Rep. Steve Eliason clarified that when the final budget is submitted there will be an overall increase but the “buckets” may not look the same. That is the reason the Appropriations Committees are asking each department to prepare a budget with a 2 percent cut, he said.

Ben Leishman from the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst reviewed the budget resources available on the legislative website. The Committee also reviewed the impact of the income tax diversion to higher education beginning in 1996 and provided an overview of the Minimum School Program

Senate Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): SB60: American Civics Education Initiative would require a student to pass a civics test as a condition of graduating from high school. Presenting the bill with Sen. Howard Stephenson was Johnathan Johnson, co-chair of the Civics Education Initiative in Utah. Johnson said that “by memorizing these basic facts” students would be better prepared to engage in their communities. He acknowledged that it is a “high stakes requirement” because passing the test would be required to graduate from high school. However, Sen. Stephenson said that this bill “should not become part of a curriculum mandate” and it is “something that students prepare for on their own” because it is “not intended to be a burden for any classroom teacher.” UEA’s position is that the bill is unnecessary. It passed the Committee unanimously.

SB33: Public School Graduation Amendments would increase the centennial scholarship, available to students graduating high school by 11th grade, from $1,000 to $2,000. It also requires that schools notify and help students in the 8th grade understand the pathway to becoming college ready and graduating high school by the 11th grade. The bill passed unanimously.

SB 37: Data Reporting Regarding Front-Line Teachers has been presented in previous legislative sessions and is currently being sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond. Sen. Osmond said that the goal of the bill is “transparency for the public and legislature” on how education funds are allocated by districts by reporting data on compensation for “front-line” teachers. He said that there is no fiscal note for the bill because the required data already exists. The bill would simply require breaking out and reporting the data in a clearer way, he said. Sen. Ann Milner asked whether the bill could include data on teacher’s aides since they are critical for classrooms. Sen. Stephenson asked whether the reporting could also include not just district-wide data but also school-level data, since he is concerned that less-experienced teachers tend to be assigned to at-risk schools. Sen. Osmond said he is open to possible amendments to improve the bill. The bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Osmond stated that questions and concerns from his constituents and delegates prompted him to run SB38: Behavioral Testing and Tracking Restrictions. The concerns related to existing language in statute that references “behavioral” testing. Some were concerned about required testing of students for the purposes of tracking education pathways. The bill would not remove necessary testing requirements for special education-related behavioral testing but only “ambiguous” sections of code, he said. The bill passed unanimously.


January 28, 2015

House Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): HB69 (1st sub.): English Language Arts Instructional Tool provides $1 million in funding for software licenses to deliver English language arts instructional tools to schools. The software would allow students to write more frequently and get immediate feedback. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss made clear that the bill is not intended to replace teachers but would be a supplemental tool. The software licenses would be awarded through a grant process to interested districts. The bill passed unanimously.

HB81 (2nd sub.): Local School Board Meeting Requirements requires that school boards must hold their meetings within their geographic boundaries to ensure that constituents have easy access to school board meetings and are able to participate. There would be certain exceptions to the requirement, such as when a school board conducts site visits outside their boundary. Charter schools would also be exempt at this time since they do not have geographic boundaries. There were a number of questions about what types of meetings would be included since school board members may attend conventions, national meetings, work meetings, etc. The bill passed with two ‘no’ votes.

HB93: School District Amendments deals with the creation of new school districts and ensuring that the remaining district has a sustainable tax base. There was extensive discussion about the bill but ultimately no action was taken.


January 29, 2015

Public Education Appropriations Committee (reported by Jay Blain): It was reported in Public Education Appropriations Committee that there is a different allocation of WPUs to charter schools (Kindergarten receives  0.55%; Grades 1-6 0.9; Grades 7-8 0.99%; and Grades 9-12 1.2%) than districts to make up for the fact that it is more expensive to educate secondary school students. This was done to ensure that charter high schools would open and not just charter elementary schools. School districts can redistribute money internally to address this difference.

Committee Chair Sen. Howard Stephenson stated that districts are misrepresenting the FTE allocations to Title 1 schools to hide the fact that lower quality teachers are being assigned to those schools. He also implied that the districts are taking money out the Title 1 schools, affecting their ability to keep quality teachers in those schools.

Legislative Fiscal Analyst Ben Leishman gave the Committee a thorough explanation of the line items in the Minimum School Program.

A question was raised about why small districts are not consolidated. It was suggested that this issue be looked at during interim. Rep. Joel Briscoe pointed out that there are Regional Service Centers that provide many shared administrative services to reduce costs. Their budgets are in the USOE budget.

The question was asked if there was any standard to be met to receive the class size reduction money. Leishman said there was not. Bruce Williams explained that the name of this line item is really a misnomer and is really just class size maintenance. Teachers are being hired with this money he reported. He said that it should be obvious that if this money is removed class sizes will rise. Sen.

Stephenson suggested there should perhaps be a class size limit that needs to be met in order to receive the funding. Rep. Brad Last said there is no doubt that this money reduces class size. If the legislature took it away because the district doesn’t hit a limit, then class sizes will go up. That is where they are already struggling, he said.

Transportation Committee (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): HB49 (1 sub.): Clean Fuel School Buses and Infrastructure provides grants to replace school buses and to create infrastructure for alternative fuel vehicles. Rep. Stephen Handy stated that the bill was about children being around dirty diesel buses older than 2002 both with safety and clean air. These types of buses are all over the state and would benefit most districts. If the bill is funded with $20 million, $7 million will go towards clean buses and infrastructure and $13 million for fueling stations. Districts would make a plan then to apply for funds towards purchasing newer school buses and providing for them. The other money would then be used as a perpetual funded endowment.

In public comments, UEA Vice President Tom Nedreberg thanked Rep. Handy for putting this bill forward, for using one-time funds and for being concerned about the safety and clean air for our children. He also said that he had worked in Tintic School District for 30 years, had a CDL for 30 years and knew for a fact that every year cleaner safer buses were made and felt it was a good bill to improve the safety of our states bus fleet.

The passed out of committee unanimously. 

Utah State Board of Education Meeting (reported by Sara Jones): The State Board of Education held a meeting to discuss legislative issues. Rep. Handy presented his school bus bill, HB49 (see above), to the Board.

The remainder of the time was a discussion of Board leadership recommendations for how to cut 2% from the budget as requested by the Executive Appropriations Committee. Board member Dave Thomas stated that based on his conversations with Public Education Appropriations Committee leadership, legislators are interested in figuring out what below-the-line programs should be rolled in to the WPU. He said they have indicated that cuts made below the line would be added back in to the WPU.

Because the initial Board recommendations for where to cut exceeded the 2% mark, the board discussed what could be restored in their proposal. They voted to restore At-risk, Youth in Custody, K-3, Library, Dual Immersion and Early Intervention cuts. They also voted to cut $1 million from Adult Ed and use that to restore the money for Enhancements for Accelerated Learners. They did not make any changes to a proposed cut in $11.4 million in charter school replacement money, although Leslie Castle made a motion to restore that money by taking it out of the educator salary adjustment money. That motion failed.


January 30, 2015

Educator Day on the Hill (reported by Tom Nedreberg): During the first UEA Educator Day on the Hill of the 2015 Legislative Session, educators were joined by education students from Westminster College, adding energy to the room. It was the largest first week’s attendance for Educator Day in memory.

Eight legislators stopped by to chat with participants during the event, sharing information about either education legislation they are sponsoring or their take on education funding. Participants were able to talk with their own legislators during House and Senate floor time. At a lunch debrief the educators shared what those conversations were about. Several participants listened in on a meeting of the Senate Education Committee (see below) in the afternoon.

“It was a good start for the year for Educator Day on the Hill, but as the session progresses each week, we look forward to having more educators attend, talking to their legislators and representing their students,” said UEA President Tom Nedreberg. “Also with all the discussion about education funding, it’s important to have educators advocating for the Governor’s budget and a 6.25% increase in the WPU.”

Senate Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): There was very little in the way of discussion or public comment in the Senate Education Committee today.

SB78: School District Property Tax Amendments would remove the time limit requirement for imposing property taxes after a school district split. Sen. Howard Stephenson said that the purpose of this bill is to “prevent creation of further inequities” if, in the future, there are school districts split. There was no public comment. The bill passed unanimously.

SB29: School Planning and Zoning Process changes the notification requirements for a district or charter school to acquire property or construct a new building. There was public comment from charter school representatives. The bill passed unanimously.

HB30: Math Teacher Training Program Amendments would expand a current grant program for math teacher training by allowing the program to include stipends for professional development and becoming a math teacher leader. It would not change the amount of the appropriation but allow more options for the use of the grant monies. The bill passed unanimously.

Senate Business, Economic Development and Labor Committee (reported by Jay Blain): SB75: Elementary Arts Learning Program Amendments makes changes to the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts program. Under this bill, the program would fall under the Utah State Office of Education. The grants would be a 20% match, up from 10%. In addition, the bill:

  • increases a local education agency's flexibility in the number and types of art specialist positions the agency may hire through the program;
  • allows an integrated arts program at an endowed university in the college where the endowed chair resides to:
    • provide high quality professional development in elementary integrated arts education in accordance with professional learning standards;
    • conduct research on elementary integrated arts education;
    • provide the public with elementary integrated arts education resources; and
    • removes the requirement for an independent evaluation.

The bill passed unanimously and was placed on the Senate Consent Calendar.