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UEA Report on the 2015 Utah Legislature General Session

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WEEK SEVEN: 

2015 LEGISLATURE WEEK SEVEN SUMMARY: March 9-12

The week kicked off with one of the largest Capitol Hill rallies held in a decade. Nearly 3,000 public education supporters filled the Capitol Rotunda to show their support for public education. Dozens of bills moved the final week, including one to increase the WPU by 4%, one to raise $75 million in new money for education, and one to make major changes in schools deemed underperforming as measured by school grading. The legislature could not come to a consensus on how to deal with State Board of Education elections.

Public Education Budget: The Legislature approved HB2: Public Education Budget Amendments, the primary funding bill for public education. It includes restoring all the items cut by the Committee in its 2% budget-cutting “exercise”, funding new student growth and adding 4% to the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU). In a vote March 9, Rep. Joel Briscoe moved a substitute bill that would increase the WPU by 5%, rather than 4%. The $26 million required would come from transportation expenses. Despite 16 Republicans joining all the Democrats in supporting the WPU increase, the motion to substitute failed in the House on a vote of 28-44. The bill passed on a final vote of 63-10 and was approved by the Senate unanimously.

The legislature also passed SB97 (3rd sub.): Property Tax Equalization Amendments, which raises the basic property tax rate, generating an estimated $75 million in new money for public education. This money will be distributed to school districts and charter schools through an equalization formula. (See more about the budget.)

Stand Up for Public Education Rally: A crowd estimated at near 3,000 packed the Utah State Capitol Rotunda calling on state legislators to support public education. UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh was joined on the stage by Utah School Boards Association President Kristie Swett, Utah PTA President Liz Zentner, Murray School District Superintendent Steve Hirase and Prosperity 2020 Chairman Rich Kendell. (See more about the rally.)

State Board of Education Elections: Five bills were proposed to change the way State Board of Education members are selected. Each included variations of non-partisan elections, partisan elections and selection by the governor, with approval from the Senate. The process supported by the UEA was direct, non-partisan elections, as drafted in HB186 (5th sub.): State School Board Membership Election Amendments. This bill passed the House on March 3, but was not heard in the full Senate until March 11, where the bill was substituted with a partisan election and selection by the governor similar to what was proposed in SB195: Amendments to State Board of Education. The House refused to concur with the Senate changes. A Conference Committee reached an agreement that would have partisan State School Board elections in 2016 and a vote on a constitutional change to have a Governor appointed school board in that same election. The Conference Committee report was accepted by the Senate, but soundly defeated by the House on a voice vote. No other proposal to change school board elections passed the legislature, so the current process will stand for now.

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

HB2: Public Education Budget Amendments is the primary funding bill for public education. It includes restoring all the items cut by the Committee in its 2% budget-cutting “exercise”, funding new student growth and adding 4% to the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU). The bill passed the House 63-10 and the Senate unanimously (see “Budget” above).

HB186 (5th sub.): State School Board Membership Election Amendments began as a proposal to select State Board of Education members through a direct, non-partisan election, but was changed in the Senate to a partisan election process. The House refused to concur with the Senate changes, so the current process will stand for now (see “State Board of Education Elections” above).

HB197 (1st sub.): Educator Licensing Amendments would remove the requirement that administrators have a teaching license or education degree. The UEA opposed this bill. It passed the Senate 16-12 and now goes to the Governor.

HB203 (2nd sub.): Teacher Salary Supplement Program Amendments originally would have provided chemistry, math, computer science, physics and special education teachers with additional salary in increasing amounts until it reached $10,000. Senate amendments limited the bill to just adding computer science teachers to the existing salary supplement program. The bill passed the Senate 21-7 and now goes to the Governor.

HB335 (1st sub.): Southern Utah Stem Initiative provides a STEM initiative through Southern Utah University and Dixie University. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.

HB363: School Land Trust Program Amendments allows the School Land Trust Program to be funded at a higher percentage in proportion to the amount of fund provided for the Minimum School Program. This bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.

HB367: Education Ethics Training Requirement requires educational ethics training for new educators within the first year of teaching. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee on a 5-1 vote, but was not heard in the full Senate.

HB444: Charter School Funding Task Force forms a task force to study the issue of how the legislature funds charter schools. The bill passed the House 73-1 and the Senate 22-1.

HB447 (1st sub.): Protections on Parental Guidance in Public Schools requires a school to obtain prior written consent from a student’s parent before the school can provide human sexuality instruction to a student. It passed the House 40-31 and the Senate 21-7.

SB60 (2nd sub.): American Civics Education Initiative requires a basic civics test to receive a high school diploma or an adult education diploma. The bill passed the House 46-26 and now goes to the Governor.

SB97 (3rd sub.): Property Tax Equalization Amendments raises the basic property tax rate, generating an estimated $75 million in new money for public education that will be distributed to school districts and charter schools through an equalization formula. It passed the House on a vote of 43-31 and now goes to the Governor.

SB116 (5th sub.): Public School Dropout Recovery would require school districts and charter schools to provide dropout recovery services and would allow the services to be provided by an outside vendor. The bill passed the House 64-8 and now goes to the Governor.

SB117: Interventions for Reading Difficulties Pilot Program helps with professional development for educators who work with students with dyslexia. It passed the House on a vote of 58-1 and now goes to the Governor.

SB137: Campaign and Financial Reporting Requirement Revisions imposes a fine for using a state email, including a school district email, for political purposes, which are defined as advocating for or against a candidate or a ballot proposition. This is why we continue to stress to not use school emails for political purposes. The bill passed the House 51-10 and now goes to the Governor.

SB145 (1st sub.): Physics Education Proposal requires the STEM Action Center to develop a proposal to promote physics education then report to the Education Committee and the State Board of Education. The bill passed the House on a vote of 66-3 and now goes to the Governor.

SB175 (2nd sub.): School Safety and Crisis Line requires that safety and crisis calls be routed to the University of Utah to crisis counselors staffed 24/7. The bill passed the House 70-1 and now goes to the Governor.

SB195: Amendments to State Board of Education would create partisan elections for the State School Board in 2016 but at the same place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to give the Governor the power to appoint State School Board Members. The bill passed the House Education Committee 5-4 but was not heard in the full House (see “State Board of Education Elections” above).

SB204 (2nd sub.): Parental Rights in Public Education Amendments requires the State Board of Education to make rules for opting out of state and federal tests. It also provides parents the right to take students out of school. The bill passed the House on a vote of 54-19 and now goes to the Governor.

SB222 (2nd sub.): Digital Teaching and Learning Program Proposal creates a digital learning proposal through the Utah State Board of Education and the Utah Education Network. The bill passed the House 47-22 and the Senate concurred with House amendments 19-6.

SB227 (2nd sub.): Charter School Revisions provides a process that allows a charter school authorizer to terminate a charter school and transfer operations to a school district the charter school is in or to a high-performing charter school. The bill passed the House unanimously.

SB235 (2nd sub.): Education Modifications identifies the lowest 3% of schools in the state as determined by school grading and other factors as determined by the State Board of Education. Those schools are then required to contract with outside experts that have been selected by the State Board. If the schools don’t improve there are options the State Board can exercise to punish the schools such as conversion to charters, state takeover, contract takeover or other measures the Board may determine. The bill passed the Senate 21-6 and the House 43-29. The UEA opposed this bill.

SB245 (1st sub.): School Grading Amendments makes minor modifications to the school grading program. It exempts special needs schools, gives the State Board authority to define student growth, and sets the percentages for the grades. The bill passed the House 46-23 and now goes to the Governor.

SB260 (2nd sub.): Public Education Human Resource Management Act Modifications provides for the State School Board to audit the compliance of PEHRMA. It also prohibits fining educators for breaking their contracts when they terminate employment. The bill failed in the House 20-49.

SB263: Early Reading Amendments opens this reading program, which already exists, to more than one provider. There is also language to tighten up on the fidelity of usage of the software. The bill passed the Senate 24-3 and the House 53-16.

SB270: Carson Smith Scholarship Amendments expands this scholarship program to qualifying preschool programs. The bill passed the House unanimously and now goes to the Governor.


March 9, 2015

Stand Up for Public Education Rally (reported by Mike Kelley): A crowd estimated at near 3,000 packed the Utah State Capitol Rotunda calling on state legislators to support public education. (See more about the rally.)

House Floor (reported by Jay Blain): HB2: Public Education Budget Amendments is the primary funding bill for public education as approved by the Executive Appropriations Committee. It includes restoring all the items cut by the Committee in its 2% budget-cutting “exercise”, funding new student growth and adding 4% to the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU). Rep. Joel Briscoe moved a substitute bill that would increase the WPU by 5%, rather than 4%. The $26 million required would come from transportation expenses. Rep. Dean Sanpei claims that this motion puts the budget out of balance. Rep. Steve Eliason said he opposes the motion because he believes that this should go through the committee process.

Rep. Carol Moss referenced the public attending the rally tonight voicing their concerns. If you listen to the education bills over the last several years demanding more accountability it can’t be done without more funding, she said. “Your children demand more, my grandchildren demand more. The money is there. I am sure that the money can be found.” Rep. Moss said the 5% increase would be a nice compromise between what the Governor asked and where we are now.

Despite 16 Republicans joining all the Democrats in supporting the WPU increase, the motion to substitute failed on a vote of 28-44. The bill passed on a final vote of 63-10.

HB444: Charter School Funding Task Force forms a task force to study the issue of how the legislature funds charter schools. The bill passed 73-1.

House Education Committee (reported by Tom Nedreberg): SB195: Amendments to State Board of Education proposes that in 2016 there will be partisan elections for the State School Board but at the same time there will also be a constitutional amendment on the ballot to give the Governor the power to appoint State School Board Members. Sen. Ann Millner gave an overview of when Utah put in place the state school board and what other states do with their state school boards. Rep. Marie Poulson asked what would happen if her bills pass but the Constitutional Amendment fails. Sen. Millner stated that partisan elections would stay in place. Liz Zentner from Utah PTA stated they are not in favor of the bill and would like to see it amended to have non-partisan elections or to give the public the opportunity to have all three choices of partisan, non-partisan or governor appointed. Rep. Carol Moss also spoke against the bill. The people are against partisan elections and to have the governor appoint takes members of the state school board even farther from the will of the people, she said. The bill passed the committee 5-4.

SJR5: Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution -- State Board of Education Changes is the resolution calling for the constitutional amendment mentioned above to be placed on the ballot. There were no motions for this bill so the committee moved on to the next item.

Sen. Aaron Osmond said he had conversations with the State Board of Education about SB37: Data Reporting Regarding Front-line Teachers and they stated they felt they could work on this bill without legislation. The bill was not considered.

SB204 (1st sub.): Parental Rights in Public Education Amendments provides clarification as to how a parent can opt out of any state test or assessment with a minimum of requirements and provide guidance from parents via state board rules. It also restricts the local boards from making rules regarding opting out of tests. In response to a question, Sen. Osmond said the bill could affect school grades and teacher evaluations so the state board is writing rules to minimize the harm to schools and teachers. State Supt. Smith that in some schools the number of students opting out of tests has approached more than 10%. That may invalidate use of the test for some uses. The bill passed the committee with only Rep. Carol Moss voting no.

SB145 (1st sub.): Physics Education Proposal directs the STEM Action Center to work with the State Board to bring a Physics program with Applied Math into the STEM Action Center. Sen. Howard Stephenson said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia brought a similar program forward to him. The bill passed unanimously.


March 10, 2015

Senate Education Committee: HB186 (2nd sub.): Non-partisan Elections for State School Board, sponsored by Rep. Francis Gibson, is the approach to State School Board elections that UEA supports. It provides for direct, non-partisan elections. The bill passed unanimously and now goes to the full Senate.

HB335 (1st sub.): Southern Utah Stem Initiative, sponsored by Rep. John Stanard, proposes a STEM initiative in southern Utah through Southern Utah University and Dixie University. This bill passed the committee unanimously.

HB363: School Land Trust Program Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Rich Cunningham, allows the School Land Trust Program to be funded at a higher percentage in proportion to the amount of fund provided for the Minimum School Program. This bill passed the committee unanimously.

HB367: Education Ethics Training Requirement, sponsored by Rep. Joel Briscoe, requires educational ethics training for new educators within the first year of teaching. This bill passed the committee on a 5-1 vote.

SB299: Classroom Instruction Time, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, requires a school district or charter school to hold a public hearing if there is a reduction in instruction time from one year to the next. There were many questions on this bill and the committee voted to hold it.

House Education Committee: HB447 (1st sub.): Protections on Parental Guidance in Public Schools, sponsored by Rep. Brad Dee, requires a school to obtain prior written consent from a student’s parent before the school can provide human sexuality instruction to a student. It passed the Committee with a vote of 8-2.

SB175 (2nd sub.): School Safety and Crisis Line, sponsored by Rep. Dan Thatcher, establishes a school safety and crisis line for students who are feeling suicidal. The bill passed the committee unanimously. There will likely be an attempt to amend the bill on the House floor. The UEA doesn’t currently support the amendment.

SB227 (2nd sub.): Charter School Revisions, sponsored by Sen. Deidre Henderson, provides a process that allows a charter school authorizer to terminate a charter school and transfer operations to a school district the charter school is in or to a high-performing charter school. The bill passed the committee unanimously.

SB270: Carson Smith Scholarship Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams, extends the Carson Smith Scholarship (for special needs students) to allow eligibility for early childhood special ed students. The bill passed the committee unanimously.


March 11, 2015

House Floor (reported by Jay Blain): The following bills all passed the House and, unless otherwise noted, will now go to the governor for signature:

SB145 (1st sub.): Physics Education Proposal requires the STEM Action Center to develop a proposal to promote physics education then report to the Education Committee and the State Board of Education. The bill passed on a vote of 66-3.

SB204 (2nd sub.): Parental Rights in Public Education Amendments requires the State Board of Education to make rules for opting out of state and federal tests. It also provides parents the right to take students out of school. Rep. Carol Moss expressed concerns about opting out of tests and the effect on accountability. The bill was passed, then reconsidered and substituted. The second substitute bill passed on a vote of 54-19 and the Senate concurred.

SB97 (3rd sub.): Property Tax Equalization Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, raises the basic property tax rate that is levied by the legislature and captures the new money to help with the guarantee to the voted levy and the capital programs. This levy has never been adjusted for inflation. It will generate an estimated $75 million in new money for public education that will be distributed to school districts and charter schools through an equalization formula. Rep. Kraig Powell proposed a substitute bill that moves all districts to the same basic levy. The substitute was adopted and passed, but the Senate did not concur with the substitution. The House then receded from the substitute and passed the original third substitute on a vote of 43-31.

SB137: Campaign and Financial Reporting Requirement Revisions imposes a fine for using a state email, including a school district email, for political purposes, which are defined as advocating for or against a candidate or a ballot proposition. This is why we continue to stress to not use school emails for political purposes. The bill passed 51-10.

SB270: Carson Smith Scholarship Amendments expands this scholarship program to qualifying preschool programs. The bill passed unanimously.

SB117: Interventions for Reading Difficulties Pilot Program helps with professional development for educators who work with students with dyslexia. It passed on a vote of 58-1.

SB175 (2nd sub.): School Safety and Crisis Line requires that safety and crisis calls be routed to the University of Utah to crisis counselors staffed 24/7. The system also utilizes text messages and can be used to report sexual and physical abuse by a school employee. The bill passed 70-1.

One bill was substituted and renamed, SB235 (2nd sub.): Education Modifications (formerly School Turnaround and Leadership Development Act). After being substituted, the bill was circled for later action by the House. The original bill was strongly opposed by the UEA and other education groups. It would have forced the bottom 3% of public schools each year, as measured by the school grading system based almost solely on SAGE testing, into “turnaround” and required the hiring of an outside turnaround expert.


March 12, 2015

House Floor (reported by Jay Blain): HB186 (5th sub.): State School Board Membership Election Amendments originally began as a proposal to select State Board of Education members through a direct, non-partisan election. It passed the House on March 3, but was not heard in the full Senate until March 11, where the bill was substituted with a partisan election process and passed. The House refused to concur with the Senate changes. A Conference Committee reached an agreement that would have partisan State School Board elections in 2016 and a vote on a constitutional change to have a Governor appointed school board in that same election. The Conference Committee report was accepted by the Senate, but soundly defeated by the House on a voice vote. No other proposal to change school board elections passed the legislature, so the current process will stand for now.

SB60 (2nd sub.): American Civics Education Initiative requires a basic civics test at a certain level to receive a high school diploma or an adult education diploma. The student must answer 35 out of 50 questions correctly. An alternative assessment should be available for those who qualify. Rep. Joel Briscoe commented that some teachers felt this was the legislature micromanaging their classroom. He was not sure that passing this test will increase any engagement in civic engagement. He is concerned about the legislature dictating curriculum and its assessment. The bill passed 46-26 and now goes to the Governor.

SB222 (2nd sub.): Digital Teaching and Learning Program Proposal directs the Utah State Board of Education to develop a proposal along with the Utah Education Network. It has a $5 million fiscal note, with $1 million to the State Board and $4 million to UEN to work with districts. Rep. Bruce Cutler commented that this a lot of money to come at the end of the session without a committee hearing and he won’t be supporting the bill. The bill passed 47-22 and now goes to the Governor.

SB245 (1st sub.): School Grading Amendments makes minor modifications to the school grading program. It exempts special needs schools, gives the State Board authority to define student growth, and sets the percentages for the grades. The bill passed 46-23 and now goes to the Governor.

SB263: Early Reading Amendments opens this reading program, which already exists, to more than one provider. There is also language to tighten up on the fidelity of usage of the software. The bill passed 53-16 and now goes to the Governor.

SB260 (2nd sub.): Public Education Human Resource Management Act Modifications provides for the State School Board to audit the compliance of PEHRMA. It also prohibits fining educators for breaking their contracts when they terminate employment. The bill failed 20-49.

SB235 (2nd sub.): Education Modifications identifies the lowest 3% of schools in the state as determined by school grading and other factors as determined by the State Board of Education. Those schools are then required to contract with outside experts that have been selected by the State Board. If the schools don’t improve there are options the State Board can exercise to punish the schools such as conversion to charters, state takeover, contract takeover or other measures the Board may determine. The bill provides for a leadership academy for principals of failing schools and incentives for schools that improve their school grades. Rep. Rich Cunningham spoke in opposition saying many teachers have asked him for one thing, give them back their dignity. He sees this as one more way we tell the teachers that they aren’t good enough. Rep. Kim Coleman spoke in support of the bill saying we need systemic change and school districts need “skin in the game.” The bill passed 43-29 and now goes to the Governor. The UEA opposed this bill.

SB116 (5th sub.): Public School Dropout Recovery would require school districts and charter schools to provide dropout recovery services and would allow the services to be provided by an outside vendor. The bill does not affect schools above the current graduation rate of 83%. Schools below that rate would have to work with at least 10% of the group. The bill passed 64-8.

Senate Floor: HB197 (1st sub.): Educator Licensing Amendments would remove the requirement that administrators have a teaching license or education degree. The UEA opposed this bill. The bill passed 16-12 and now goes to the Governor.

HB203 (2nd sub.): Teacher Salary Supplement Program Amendments originally would have provided chemistry, math, computer science, physics and special education teachers with additional salary in increasing amounts until it reached $10,000. Senate amendments limited the bill to just adding computer science teachers to the existing salary supplement program. The bill passed 21-7 and now goes to the Governor.