Page Title

UEA Report on the 2015 Utah Legislature General Session

Page Content

WEEK THREE: 

2015 LEGISLATURE WEEK THREE SUMMARY: February 9-13

The House and Senate approved a base budget for the 2015-16 school year that cuts more than 2 percent from the current budget and funds new student growth, however, there is still work to do once final revenue estimates are determined. The UEA is now tracking nearly 90 education-related bills, having added about two dozen new bills during the week.

Public Education Budget: The House and Senate both gave final approval this week to a base budget, SB1 (1st sub.): Public Education Base Budget, which cuts public education funding by more than 2 percent. In addition, the approved budget creates a policy change that directs more funding from school districts to charter schools. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate. It ran into minor opposition in the House where it passed by a vote of 56-17. The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee recommended that the maximum amount possible be put on the WPU once final revenue estimates are determined. The committee also approved a motion to fully fund enrollment growth. These are encouraging signs, but there are many groups on the Hill vying for a share of the revenue. (See more about the budget.)

 

 Nebo educators met with Senator Diedre
Henderson at UEA Educator Day on the Hill

Educator Day on the Hill
: More than 60 educators joined the UEA Legislative Team at Educator Day on the Hill on Feb. 13. About half were participating for the first time. Governor Herbert’s education advisor Tami Pyfer spoke to the group about the budget and other education legislation the Governor is tracking. She discussed her desire to move away from devise- or product-driven strategies promoted by some legislators to strategies focused on the needs of students. Pyfer reiterated the Governor’s desire to increase the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) by as much as possible in order to allow for the most local flexibility. After time spent with legislators in the House and Senate, Rep. Marie Poulson, who is sponsoring a resolution on testing and Rep. Joel Briscoe stopped by to share more about the budget.

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

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. It passed the House 39-33 and the Senate Education Committee unanimously.

HB77: Post-Retirement Employment would allow retirees to return to certain post-retirement employment after 60 days. It attempts to address difficulties in filling some state positions. The bill passed the House Revenue and Taxation Committee by a vote of 11-2.

HB118 (1 sub.): Public Education Human Resource Management Act Revisions passed the House Education Committee unanimously. UEA supports the substitute bill.

HB197: Educator Licensing Amendments would prohibit the state school board from requiring that applicants for an administrative license hold a teaching license, graduate from an educational leadership program or have educational experience. The UEA opposes this bill. It passed the House Education Committee with two no votes.

HB198: Strengthening College and Career Readiness passed the House Education Committee unanimously.

HB203: Teacher Salary Supplement Program Amendments passed the House Education Committee on a vote of 9-2.

HB210: Early College High Schools passed the House Education Committee on a vote of 7-2.

HB213 (1st Sub.): Safe Technology Utilization and Digital Citizenship would require LEAs providing digital technology to provide on and off campus filtering, and provide education and training on safe technology use. The bill passed the House Education Committee unanimously.

SB1 (1st sub.): Public Education Base Budget passed both the House and the Senate. It sets the 2015-16 public education base budget at about 2 percent less than the previous year (see Public Education Budget, above).

SB34 (1st sub.): Charter School Authorization Amendments would allow municipalities to authorize a charter school within the municipality boundaries. By a vote of 3-3, the bill failed to pass out of the Senate Education Committee.

SB75: Elementary Arts Learning Program Amendments sets the matching costs for districts receiving grants through the Beverly Taylor Sorenson arts program at 20% and provides for professional development. The bill passed the House Education Committee unanimously.

SB97 (1st sub.): Property Tax Equalization Amendments would capture new revenue through an increase in the basic property tax rate. The new money would be divided 75% to the voted leeway guarantee and 25% to capital funding. The bill passed the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee 3-1.


February 9, 2013

House Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): HB197: Educator Licensing Amendments would prohibit the state school board from requiring that applicants for an administrative license hold a teaching license, graduate from an educational leadership program or have educational experience, in addition to other things. Rep. Kim Coleman acknowledged the importance of instructional leaders in school buildings but said there was a need for a “more comprehensive leader.” She said several states currently have programs that offer MBA’s with an emphasis in education, but Utah would not be able to hire such a person because of the current licensure policies. She also said that this change would have “no effect on local districts” because they can continue to recruit and hire who they like.

Rep. Marie Poulson questioned why this change was necessary when there are already alternate licensure routes available. Rep. Carol Moss asked what data demonstrates that there is a need for such a change. In response, Rep. Coleman state that there was no data but this is about “creating a different option.” Several organizations spoke against the bill, including UEA. Sara Jones, on behalf of UEA, stated that expressly prohibiting the ability to require educational background or experience diminishes the role of principals as instructional leaders. Furthermore, as the new evaluation framework goes in to effect, teachers need to have confidence that principals understand, recognize and can facilitate effective teaching practices and an administrator with no education background or experience will not be able to provide that kind of support. The bill passed with two nay votes.

HB213 (1st Sub.): Safe Technology Utilization and Digital Citizenship would require LEAs providing digital technology to provide on and off campus filtering, and provide education and training on safe technology use. The bill passed unanimously.

SB75: Elementary Arts Learning Program Amendments sets the matching costs for districts receiving grants through the Beverly Taylor Sorenson arts program at 20% and provides for professional development. The bill passed unanimously.


February 10, 2015

Public Education Appropriations Committee (reported by Jay Blain): Legislative Fiscal Analyst Ben Leishman reported on the Teacher Salary Supplement program and how there is not enough money in the fund to pay the full amount to the teachers applying. The amount will need to be prorated unless there is a supplemental appropriation made, he said.

Sydnee Dickson, Utah State Office of Education, reported that school districts are seeing teachers shortages in upper level math (level 4 endorsement), special education, computer science, and physical science. Sen. Howard Stephenson asked if the teacher shortages before the economic downturn are returning. Dickson replied that ‘yes,’ they are for many reasons including the highs stakes environment that they now face. She said the state has many teachers now that are not encouraging others to become teachers because of what they are facing in their classrooms.

Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind made a funding presentation. It included steps and lanes and the required COLA for USDB teachers.

The State Board of Education also made their budget presentation. They recommend that charter schools go to the Average Daily Membership plus growth model for funding, similar to school districts. Rep. Stephen Eliason suggested reducing the charter administrative costs to help soften the blow for districts hurt by the local replacement change.

Rep. Kraig Powell asked why we expect local school boards to fund charter schools. He said the local board sets the property tax rate to run their local schools not others. Rep. Powell added, “I just don’t believe that there are phantom students and funding (as suggested by Sen. Stephenson).”

Other presentations/materials distributed at the meeting included:

Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee (reported by Jay Blain): Sen. Aaron Osmond presented SB97: Property Tax Equalization Amendments, which was substituted. He explained that the substitute would capture new revenue through an increase in the basic rate. The new money would be divided 75% to the voted leeway guarantee and 25% to capital funding. The bill passed the committee 3-1.

House Floor (reported by Chase Clyde): Rep. Eliason presented SB1 (1st sub.): Public Education Base Budget on the House floor. This bill passed the Senate unanimously the previous day. Rep. Eliason commended the State School Board for cooperating like he had never seen before in the 2% exercise. He acknowledged the items that were cut. He implied there are plans to restore most of the cuts in the final budget.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss spoke to the bill. She said the public doesn’t know these cuts are hypothetical. She received lots of feedback from concerned constituents. After cuts of the recession, she said our schools are running very efficiently. She questioned the overall reasoning of the 2% exercise.

Rep. Marie Poulson discussed how the charter school replacement fund was cut. She commented this is a major shift in policy reflected in the budget. If we are going to have this discussion, pass legislation, not a budget item, said Poulson. This cut shifts 50% of funding charter schools to local school districts. It hurts charter schools as well as neighborhood schools, she said.

Rep. Joel Briscoe discussed cuts to concurrent enrollment as well as almost $3 million cut from K-3 reading programs. He acknowledged that the house sponsor (Eliason) expects all the money to be put back in. If that’s the case, “then why did we do it?” asked Rep. Briscoe. “Can’t we determine how good programs are without going through this exercise?”

Rep. Brad King commented that the effect of the base budget on individual local school budgets is serious. He said Carbon School District and Grand County School District would lose significant amounts of money.

Rep. Brad Wilson defended the base budget. He talked about the $4 billion per year that goes into public education. He said this money is important but it is more important that we are good stewards of the public’s money. This process infuses discipline in the budget process, said Rep. Wilson. These cuts will prepare us in case our economy contracts. He noted that the bill does provide and extra $57 million to fund growth.

Rep. Eliason closed by suggesting that a ‘no’ vote on SB1 puts the entire public education system at risk. One thing that might not be put back into budget is Charter school replacement dollars. He said 75% of school districts will benefit from this change. No district would take more of a cut than $1 million. Many rural school districts would benefit, said Rep. Eliason.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 56-17. All 12 Democrats and five Republicans voted no.


February 11, 2015

House Revenue and Taxation Committee (reported by Chase Clyde): Three bills were heard in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee that are of interest to educators.

HB77: Post-Retirement Employment tries to tackle issues related to post-retirement employment. Sponsor, Rep. Rich Cunningham, acknowledged that the “post retirement double dipping” issue was addressed in 2010. However, with the improving economy government agencies are looking for more effective ways to hire retired employees. A representative from the Murray City Fire Department discussed how, throughout the state, fire departments are having to look outside of Utah to fill Fire Chief positions. He said they are losing expertise and qualified candidates by being forced to wait a year before they can hire retired employees.

Rep. Joel Briscoe brought up the issue regarding the growing teacher shortage in Utah and how good teachers are prevented from returning in many circumstances when they are needed. As expected by the UEA Legislative Team, the bill was substituted and moved out of committee. The substitute bill creates a task force to study the issue.

HB207: Educator Tax Credit would allow teachers to file for a state tax credit for school supplies purchased with personal money. Rep. Mike McKell suggested he was tempted to amend the bill to make the tax credit larger. Rep. Dan McCay pointed out teachers already have a $5,000 allowance. Parents are contributing money to their kids’ classroom. Why not give parents a tax credit too?

Rep. Steve Eliason made it clear he doesn’t view this tax credit as compensation for teachers. He compared it to writing off a business expense. He also acknowledged the amount of the tax credit in his bill was too low. If the bill is successful, he said he would look at trying to make the tax credit larger in future years.

Public testimony on the bill included the Utah Taxpayers Association (against) and the wife of a public education teacher. UEA Legislative Team member Chase Clyde spoke in favor of the bill. “We know that educators routinely spend money out of their own family budgets to support the work in their classrooms,” said Clyde. “This is money above the Legislative Supply money allocated by the Legislature. It is not uncommon for an educator to spend anywhere from about $300 to $1,000 or more annually to provide all the things needed to teach…Allowing this tax credit to continue at the state level will put money directly back to educators with the loss of the opportunity to do this on their federal returns. We thank Rep. Eliason for recognizing this and his willingness to bring this forward.”

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 11-2.

The sponsor of HB231: School Board Levy Amendments, Rep. Kraig Powell, said this is a simple, but very important bill. Currently, school boards are subject to two different caps on board district levies. Rates are capped at .0018% for some districts. Other districts are capped at .0025%. These caps were adopted about four years ago, he said. There used to be six different caps. Powell’s bill simply allows ALL school districts to cap their levy at .0025%. Districts are not required to make this change, but the bill gives them the option.

Rep. Briscoe asked if Rep. Powell thought all these school districts would suddenly rush to raise their board levy. Powell said he didn’t think so, but some might consider it, but they would still have to go through the truth-in-taxation process.

Superintendents from Wasatch and Beaver School Districts spoke in favor of the bill. No motion was made regarding the bill, essentially holding it in committee. Powell said he looks forward to answering questions and bringing the bill back for consideration this session.

Senate Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): Three bills were heard in Senate Education Committee today. The first, SB34 (1st sub.): Charter School Authorization Amendments would allow municipalities to authorize a charter school within the municipality boundaries. After a lengthy discussion by the committee, several groups spoke about the bill during public comment.

Charter organizations spoke in favor of the bill. UEA opposed the bill. Sara Jones, UEA Director of Education Excellence and Government Relations, questioned why an additional chartering entity should be allowed when there are still many unresolved issues related to funding of charter schools. She referenced a discussion from yesterday’s Public Education Appropriations Committee which focused on the need to find adequate policies to create more transparent funding for charter schools. By a vote of 3-3, the bill failed to pass out of committee.

SB151: National Board Certification Scholarships for Teachers would create a National Board Certification scholarship program to support teachers pursuing certification as well as support the mentors who work with teachers through the process. Dessie Olson, representing the Utah National Board Coalition, presented data about the National Board process and the impact on student outcomes.

The bill would appropriate $10 million to support the scholarship program and, given the size of the appropriation, there were many questions from the committee about the effectiveness of certification on student achievement. Sen. Aaron Osmond said that he was willing to consider other approaches to the bill, including a pilot to compare the effectiveness of Utah NBC teachers to Utah non-NBC teachers. The meeting adjourned without taking action on the bill.

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. Having passed the House 39-33, it passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.


February 12, 2015

Public Education Appropriations Committee (reported by Jay Blain): The chair recommendations for distributions were distributed and explained. Several motions were made and passed regarding the budget recommendations.

There was an extensive discussion about a motion regarding having the state board set class size limits for K-3. The State Board and Deputy Supt. Syd Dickson both said that there could be unintended consequences to setting class size limits or caps, including the effect of raising class sizes in upper grades. Rep. Joel Briscoe added an amendment to estimate the cost necessary to limit the class sizes in grades K-3, without impacting class sizes in grades 4-12. Rep. Steve Eliason stated that this will not be language to force action this year but rather to have the State Board of Education report back with standards before they are implemented.

Rep. Bruce Cutler moved to strike the line to develop criteria for charter transportation in the overall transportation and the motion passed.

Three related motions were made in relation to Charter School Local Replacement Money. Rep. Kraig Powell commented that he cannot support one system (districts) supporting another system (charters). The time has come to create a levy just for charters, he said. Rep. Marie Poulson said that local districts have to go through truth-in-taxation and be responsible to their constituents only to send money to unaccountable charters. These motions all passed.

Two other motions were made on charter pupil accounting and a privatization report on Student Information Systems. These also passed. The committee then considered ongoing and one-time recommendations for the committee chairs. These are NOT prioritized lists, they said. The committee is recommending that the maximum possible be applied to increasing the WPU.

House Education Committee: The House Education Committee had four bills on its agenda:

Each of these bills now goes to the full House for consideration.


February 13, 2015

Educator Day on the Hill (reported by Lisa Nentl-Bloom and Mike Kelley): More than 60 educators joined the UEA Legislative Team at Educator Day on the Hill. About half were participating for the first time. The morning began with an update on the budget and a review of a few key bills on the UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet.

Governor Herbert’s education advisor Tami Pyfer stopped by to share insight into the budget and other education legislation. She discussed her desire to move away from devise- or product-driven strategies promoted by some legislators to strategies focused on the needs of students. Pyfer reiterated the Governor’s desire to increase the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) by as much as possible in order to allow for the most local flexibility.

After time spent with legislators in the House and Senate, the group came together to debrief what they heard. While most legislators professed to want to fund public education, but there was disagreement on whether it should go on the WPU or to specific areas. Testing was another important topic of discussion. Members shared some of the challenges around testing and visited with Rep. Marie Poulson, who is sponsoring a resolution on testing. Rep. Joel Briscoe also stopped by and shared more about the budget. Those who participated left excited to have attended and pledging to engage UEA members back home in contacting their Legislators.