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UEA Report on the 2016 Utah Legislature General Session

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WEEK FOUR: 

2016 LEGISLATURE WEEK FOUR SUMMARY: February 16-19

Of the more than 100 education-related bills being tracked by UEA, about two dozen progressed through the lawmaking process this week. Friday’s UEA Educator Day on the Hill saw near record participation with about 100 attending. The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee recommended a 2.5% WPU increase.

Public Education Budget: The House and Senate gave final approval to a base budget, HB1 (1st sub.): Public Education Base Budget Amendments, that sets the budget at essentially equal to the current year. Any increases to the budget will be included a supplemental budget bill recommended by the Executive Appropriations Committee. HB1 also contains language that allows for the immediate allocation of funds that remain undistributed due to an error in last year's SB96. The bill was signed by the Governor.

The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee presented its final budget priorities to the Executive Appropriations Committee. The top items prioritized include student enrollment growth, a 2.5% WPU increase, equalization funding for charter schools and new staffing for the State Office of Education. The committee will consider these and priorities submitted from other subcommittees as it prepares the final budget recommendations to be voted on by the House and Senate.

 

Weber School District teachers meet
with Rep. Jeremy Peterson during
UEA Educator Day on the Hill

Educator Day on the Hill: It was standing room only as nearly 100 converged on UEA’s Educator Day on the Hill at the Utah State Capitol. Educators representing more than a dozen school districts around the state were joined by Utah School Employees Association members, education students and UEA-Retired members. About half the participants were there for the first time.

After hearing the UEA Legislative Team share details about legislation currently in process, participants talked to their own legislators and others. The group then came together at lunchtime to debrief what they heard. Reps. Becky Edwards and Rich Cunningham and Governor Herbert’s education advisor Tami Pyfer stopped by to share their insights and thank the teachers. House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan then spent about 45 minutes listening to teacher concerns. Teachers shared stories about why additional funding is necessary, with emphasis on the severity of the teacher shortage facing Utah schools. Rep. Dunnigan closed by saying he is “actively involved in rolling money to the WPU,” and said the idea is “starting to stick.”

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

HB1 (1st sub.): Public Education Base Budget Amendments is the base funding bill that sets the budget at essentially equal to the current year. Any increases to the budget will be included a later supplemental budget bill. It passed the House and Senate unanimously and was signed by the Governor.

HB28: Grants for Educator Professional Learning would provide $30 million in grants for LEAs to implement professional learning programs. The UEA supports this bill provided a minimum increase of 5% is provided on the WPU first. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.

HB41: Fees for Supplemental Hours would allow school districts and charter schools to offer extended hours of instruction for kindergarten and charge a fee for the program or provide a fee waiver to those families that qualify. The UEA supports this bill. It passed the Senate Education Committee 4-2.

HB48 (4th sub.): Election Law Amendments passed the House on a vote of 55-17.

HB51: Recodification of Post-retirement Employment passed the House unanimously.

HB69: Qualified Political Party Amendments failed in the House on a vote of 14-57.

HB86 (1st sub.): Postretirement Employment Amendments allows a retiree to be reemployed with a participating state employer after a certain period from the retiree's retirement date if the retiree does not receive certain employer provided retirement benefits. The bill passed the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on a vote of 7-6.

HB92: Local School Board Levy Rate Amendments eliminates the split caps on the board local levy. The bill passed the House Revenue and Taxation Committee unanimously.

HB118 (1st sub.): Public Access of Administrative Action addresses access of information on public state-controlled websites. It passed the House unanimously and now moves to the Senate for action.

HB158 (1st sub.): Campaign Funds Restrictions for County and Local School Board Offices prohibits a personal use expenditure on a county and local school board level. The bill passed the House unanimously and now moves to the Senate.

HB164 (1st sub.): Educational Testing Amendments would make several revisions to the administration of SAGE assessments, including that it would allow that SAGE scores may be used to determine a student’s course grade, clarifying which assessments students could opt out of, and allowing that “incentives or rewards may be offered” for taking a SAGE test. The bill failed 6-7 in the House Education Committee.

HB198: Ballot Proposition Amendments passed the House unanimously and now moves to the Senate for action.

HB200: Student Assessment Modifications would allow an LEA the option of choosing to offer the ACT test for 11th grade students in place of the SAGE exam. The bill passed the House Education Committee with 2 nay votes.

HB217: Small School Funding passed the House unanimously.

HB289 (1st sub.): Charter School Closure Amendments develops procedures for closing a charter school. The bill passed the House Education Committee unanimously.

HB301: School Bus Route Grant Program provides a 85% state / 15% local grant program for dangerous routes to school for routes that are under the mileages in code. The appropriation is $1 million in one-time money. The bill passed the House Education Committee.

SB45: Compulsory Education Provisions eliminates criminal penalties for the parent of a truant student. UEA opposes the bill because attendance is a critical factor in the academic success of students. The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 22-5 and now moves to the House for consideration.

SB51: Teacher Leader Role authorizes the State Board of Education to develop a pathway to Teacher Leadership where a teacher could become a leader and commit to mentoring new educators and fellow educators. The bill passed the House and Senate now goes to the Governor for signature.

SB86: School Building Coordination requires a school district or charter school to notify certain entities before acquiring a school site or constructing a school. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and now moves to the House.

SB149 (1st sub.): School Grading Modifications modifies the school grading law. It increases by 2% the range for grade distributions for 2015-16 school grades and also requires that the range will increase by 2% annually until the lower point of the A range reaches 90%. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee with 2 nay votes.

SB152: Accelerated Foreign Language Course Amendments would allow concurrent enrollment in 3000-level language courses to be offered in high school so that students who continue with their foreign language instruction can graduate from high school just a few credits away from a minor in a foreign language. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.

SJR14: Joint Resolution on Teacher Licensure Standards for the Twenty-first Century requires the State Board of Education to study and develop improvements to teacher preparation programs. The resolution passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.


February 16, 2016

House Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): SB78: State Board of Education Candidate Selection was presented by Sen. Ann Millner. This bill attempts to comply with constitutional problems related to the nominating committee that vets candidates for the state school board and that were raised in a lawsuit last year. There was extensive discussion about whether the remedy proposed in the bill would actually satisfy the constitutional issues given the concern that last year the legislature was unable to pass any other solution to the state school board election process. The bill was held in committee until further amendments could be prepared.

HB164 (1st sub.): Educational Testing Amendments was presented by Rep. Kraig Powell. The bill would make several revisions to the administration of SAGE assessments, including that it would allow that SAGE scores may be used to determine a student’s course grade, clarifying which assessments students could opt out of, and allowing that “incentives or rewards may be offered” for taking a SAGE test. There was extensive committee discussion and public comment for over an hour. Ultimately, the bill failed 6-7.

HB200: Student Assessment Modifications was presented by Rep. Marie Poulson. The bill would allow an LEA the option of choosing to offer the ACT test for 11th grade students in place of the SAGE exam. Rep. Poulson said that the idea for the bill was brought to her by several superintendents who felt that students would be more likely to be highly engaged in the ACT exam compared to SAGE since the ACT is more relevant to them. The bill passed with 2 nay votes.

Senate Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): SB149: School Grading Modifications was presented by Sen. Millner. This bill would make further modifications to the school grading system. Sen. Millner said that “every year we have been tweaking the process” of school grades and this bill would allow the state school board, through the rule-making process, to make alterations when needed without requiring statutory change. In addition, it would keep the grade distribution the same as last year. There was extensive discussion about the impact of keeping the grade distribution the same as last year. The bill was held for further discussion.

SB152: Accelerated Foreign Language Course Amendments was presented by Sen. Howard Stephenson. He stated that the first cohort of dual immersion language students are reaching the 9th grade and are prepared to take Advanced Placement language exams. This legislation would allow concurrent enrollment in 3000-level language courses to be offered in high school so that students who continue with their foreign language instruction can graduate from high school just a few credits away from a minor in a foreign language. The bill passed unanimously and will be placed on the consent calendar.

SB143: Competency-based Learning was also presented by Sen. Stephenson. This bill has a fiscal note of $1.8 million. The bill would create a program for LEAs to apply for a grant to plan for or implement competency-based learning. There was extension discussion about the implications of the bill including how it would impact WPU funding, what technical assistance would be needed by LEAs, what state school board rules would need to be waived or be flexible for participating LEAs and so on. The bill was held pending further amendments.

HB28: Grants for Educator Professional Learning was presented by Rep. Brad Last. This bill would provide $30 million in grants for LEAs to implement professional learning programs. The UEA supports this bill provided a minimum increase of 5% is provided on the WPU first. The bill passed unanimously.

House Revenue and Taxation Committee (reported by Jay Blain): Four bills considering postretirement reemployment of state employees (including teachers) were heard in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. All sponsored by Rep. Rich Cunningham, HB47: Postretirement Employment Rural and Title I School Exceptions, HB117: Modifications to Postretirement Reemployment Restrictions, HB86: Postretirement Restrictions, and HB50: Postretirement Reemployment Amendments, were heard all together. Rep. Cunningham claims people being promoted who weren’t in the past just to retain them. He noted the openings in corrections and other public safety departments.

Paul Cunningham, HR Director from South Jordan (no relation), spoke in favor of the bills. He said city budgets are generally 70% personnel costs. He said that most postretirement rehires work for less than 3 years. Patti Harrington, representing the School Boards and Superintendents Associations, said this is one strategy among many to address the acute teacher shortage. She estimated schools currently have three to four hundred long-term subs because they are unable to recruit full-time teachers. Former state senator Dan Liljenquist, who sponsored the legislation many of these bills would reverse, gave public comment opposing the bills saying that the problem is not postretirement employment in recruiting and retaining public employees but rather wages. He said that these bills would put downward pressure on wages in the long run.

The committee did not take action on the bills before the meeting adjourned. The items will be carried over to the next committee meeting.

House Floor: HB118 (1st sub.): Public Access of Administrative Action addresses access of information on public state-controlled websites. It passed the House unanimously and now moves to the Senate for action.

HB158 (1st sub.): Campaign Funds Restrictions for County and Local School Board Offices prohibits a personal use expenditure on a county and local school board level. The bill passed the House unanimously and now moves to the Senate for action.

HB198: Ballot Proposition Amendments passed the House unanimously and now moves to the Senate for action.

Signed by Governor: HB1 (1st sub.): Public Education Base Budget Amendments is the base funding bill that sets the budget at essentially equal to the current year. Any increases to the budget will be included a supplemental budget bill recommended by the Executive Appropriations Committee. HB1 also contains language that allows for the immediate allocation of funds that remain undistributed due to an error in last year's SB96. It passed the House and Senate unanimously.


February 17, 2016

Executive Appropriations Committee (reported by Jay Blain): The co-chairs of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. Howard Stephenson and Rep. Steve Eliason, presented the subcommittee’s budget priorities to the Executive Appropriations Committee. The committee will consider these and priorities submitted from other subcommittees as it prepares the final budget recommendations to be voted on by the House and Senate.

Senate Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): HB41: Fees for Supplemental Hours was presented by Rep. Eliason. The bill would allow school districts and charter schools to offer extended hours of instruction for kindergarten and charge a fee for the program or provide a fee waiver to those families that qualify. The committee debated the bill for some time and there was extensive public comment raising concern about such a program competing with the private sector. The UEA supports this bill. It passed the committee 4-2.

SB143: Competency-based Learning Amendments was presented yesterday and discussed again today. Sen. Stephenson proposed a substitute bill but did not move to adopt it. Instead, he said that he was “uncertain” whether the substitute presents the right approach to competency-based learning and asked for feedback. The substitute proposes to allow school districts and charter schools to define competency rather than having a common statewide definition. No action was taken on the bill.

SB149 (1st sub.): School Grading Modifications was also presented yesterday and discussed again today. Sen. Ann Millner proposed a substitute to address committee concerns. The substitute increases by 2% the range for grade distributions for 2015-16 school grades and also requires that the range will increase by 2% annually until the lower point of the A range reaches 90%. The bill passed with 2 nay votes.

SJR14: Joint Resolution on Teacher Licensure Standards for the Twenty-first Century was presented by Sen. Lincoln Fillmore. The resolution requires the state board of education to study and develop improvements to teacher preparation programs. There was no committee discussion. Syd Dickson, acting superintendent of the Utah State Office of Education, stated that Utah has been involved in a national network examining teacher preparation and would like to work to help craft some amendments to make the resolution more compatible with the work that has already begun. The resolution passed unanimously.

House Revenue and Taxation Committee (reported by Jay Blain): HB92: Local School Board Levy Rate Amendments eliminates the split caps on the board local levy. Wasatch School District Supt. Terry Shoemaker said his district is butting up against the .0018 cap. They are one of the fastest growing districts in the state. In his view it is a matter of fairness, the policy should be the same for all. Mike Anderson from Jordan District also spoke in favor. The bill passed unanimously.

HB86 (1st sub.): Postretirement Employment Amendments allows a retiree to be reemployed with a participating state employer after a certain period from the retiree's retirement date if the retiree does not receive certain employer provided retirement benefits. Jay Blain of the UEA spoke to the bill saying that this is one small tool to address the teacher shortage that has reached crisis levels statewide but we also need to address the needs of wages. We need to help districts pay for this and wages by increasing the WPU significantly, he said. Billy Hesterman of the Utah Taxpayers Association spoke against the bill. A motion to adopt a substitute that includes a 5-year sunset passed. The bill passed the committee on a vote of 7-6.

Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee (reported by Jay Blain): SB104: Amendments to Income Tax increases the marginal tax rates on incomes over $250,000 and $1 million. Sen. Jim Dabakis started by stating that this is the most important bill in this session. It is to address the acute funding issue in our schools, he said. There was considerable discussion from both the public and members of the committee. The League of Women Voters, Alliance for a Better Utah and Voices for Utah Children spoke in favor of the concept. The Utah Taxpayer’s Association spoke against. No action was taken on the bill.

House Floor: HB69: Qualified Political Party Amendments failed on the House floor on a vote of 14-57.

SB51: Teacher Leader Role authorizes the State Board of Education to develop a pathway to Teacher Leadership where a teacher could become a leader and commit to mentoring new educators and fellow educators. The bill passed the House 41-29 and now returns to the Senate for concurrence with amendments.

Senate Floor: SB45: Compulsory Education Provisions eliminates criminal penalties for the parent of a truant student. UEA opposes the bill because attendance is a critical factor in the academic success of students. The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 22-5 and now moves to the House for consideration.

SB86: School Building Coordination requires a school district or charter school to notify certain entities before acquiring a school site or constructing a school. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and now moves to the House.


February 18, 2016

House Education Committee (reported by Jay Blain): HB301: School Bus Route Grant Program provides a 85% state / 15% local grant program for dangerous routes to school for routes that are under the mileages in code. The appropriation is $1 million in one-time money. Rep. Jon Stanard gave some examples of these routes in St George. The Utah PTA spoke in favor of the bill. A representative from Granite District noted that the whole transportation funding line needs to be increased to ensure student safety. The bill passed the committee.

HB289 (1st sub.): Charter School Closure Amendments develops procedures for closing a charter school. According to the bill’s sponsor, the bill was introduced in response to two charter school closings last fall. Representatives from Granite School District and UEA spoke in favor of the bill. UEA Director of Education Excellence Sara Jones said the UEA recognizes the important role that charter schools play in the public education system and supports the increased transparency and accountability that this bill provides when a school closure is necessary. The bill passed the committee unanimously.

The sponsor of HB94 (1st sub.): Local Funding Options for Public Education, Rep. Norman Thurston, says this bill will allow school districts flexibility in their budgets. It delivers much of the education funding in block grants with accountability back to the State Board, he said. Several legislators expressed concerns that there may be unintended consequences. A motion was made to send the item to study during the interim. Ultimately the committee adjourned with no action taken.

House Floor: HB48 (4th sub.): Election Law Amendments passed the House on a vote of 55-17. HB51: Recodification of Post-retirement Employment passed the House unanimously. HB217: Small School Funding passed the House unanimously.


February 19, 2016

Educator Day on the Hill (reported by Mike Kelley): It was standing room only as nearly 100 converged on UEA’s Educator Day on the Hill at the Utah State Capitol. Educators representing more than a dozen school districts around the state were joined by Utah School Employees Association members, education students and UEA-Retired members. About half the participants were there for the first time.

Participants listened to the UEA Legislative Team share details about legislation currently in process, how to talk to legislators and an overview of the day’s schedule. The team assigned attendees to talk to their own legislators and others about the importance of focusing on an increase in the WPU. The severe nature of Utah’s teacher shortage was also discussed.

After time spent with legislators in the House and Senate, the group came together at lunchtime to debrief what they heard. Representatives are “not very hopeful (the WPU increase) will be more than 2.5%,” said one teacher. “(Legislators) are hearing from charter school representatives more than those of us (in traditional schools),” said another. There were dozens of conversations with legislators providing opportunities for teachers to share their stories and messages.

A couple of legislators stopped by to speak to teachers. Rep. Becky Edwards told participants that the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee spent a lot of time discussing their “perfect world WPU”, but that they are “still hashing all that out.” She offered teachers a “plea to stay involved and a reminder that your voice matters.”

Rep. Rich Cunningham discussed his efforts to improve retirement options as one way to address teacher shortages. He expressed his support for education and became emotional when he talked about his father who was an educator for 35 years.

Governor Herbert’s education advisor Tami Pyfer stopped by to share her appreciation for teachers. She also made a pitch for running to serve on the State Board of Education and open legislative positions.

House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan had requested the opportunity to hear from teachers. He spent about 45 minutes listening to teacher concerns. In his introduction, he explained that revised state revenue estimates were coming out next Monday. He has heard that the estimates are “not good” and hopes they will not be lower than current estimates used to create the existing budget proposal. Teachers shared stories about why additional funding is necessary, with emphasis on the severity of the teacher shortage facing Utah schools. Rep. Dunnigan closed by saying he is “actively involved in rolling money to the WPU,” and said the idea is “starting to stick.”

Senate Floor: SB51: Teacher Leader Role authorizes the State Board of Education to develop a pathway to Teacher Leadership where a teacher could become a leader and commit to mentoring new educators and fellow educators. The Senate concurred with House amendments and the bill now goes to the Governor for signature.