Page Title

UEA Report on the 2017 Utah Legislature General Session

Page Content

WEEK ONE: 

2017 LEGISLATURE WEEK ONE SUMMARY: January 23-27

“Subdued” is the word many are using to describe the first week of the 2017 Utah General Legislative Session, when compared to previous years. Week One ended with the UEA tracking about 40 bills, nearly half the 80+ bills being tracked at the same time last year, although additional bills are being added daily. Still, the UEA Legislative Team is on Capitol Hill every day making sure good legislation moves forward and poor policies are kept at bay. Finding ways to increase the public education budget was perhaps the most high-profile education topic of discussion.

Session Opening: In opening comments to the House of Representatives, Speaker Greg Hughes downplayed efforts to raise income taxes for education and instead urged other options, including a stronger push for state control of public lands. Senate President Wayne Niederhauser also spoke against the raising income taxes, saying raising taxes by $500-750 million is “politically difficult.”

In his State of the State speech, Gov. Gary Herbert spoke in support of more resources for education, but against raising income taxes. Raising income taxes could hurt the recovering economy and wind up hurting school funding, he said. "The very best way to ensure ongoing growth of education funding is to continue to grow our economy." he said. The Governor suggested other ways to increase education funding, including collecting more of the estimated $150 million to $200 million internet sales taxes owed and removing several sales tax exemptions.

Public Education Budget: The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which consists of 21 legislators from both the House and the Senate, met twice during the first week to begin the work of preparing a budget recommendation for the Executive Appropriations Committee. The draft SB1: Public Education Base Budget Amendments bill was shared with the subcommittee.

Legislative analyst Ben Leishman provided a Public Education Budget Overview and gave a presentation on the Minimum School Program. Other items heard by the subcommittee included a report titled No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State” by the National Council of State Legislatures, the State Board of Education’s “Education Elevated” and the “Excellence for Each Student, Goals and Strategies” reports, and a report from the Governor’s Education Commission.

Educator Day on the Hill: About 20 teachers and education professionals participated in the first UEA Educator Day On the Hill of 2017. Participants shared booklets containing teacher comments from a recent survey with their legislators. This gave everyone the opportunity to meet face-to-face with representatives and senators and establish or strengthen relationships.

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

HB43: American Indian and Alaskan Native Education Amendments is an expansion of a similar bill that passed last year. It would provide $500,000 a year to certain schools to fund recruitment and retention efforts of teachers teaching in schools serving primarily American Indian and Alaskan Native students. The bill passed the House Education Committee unanimously.

HB114: Local School Entity Amendments passed the House Education Committee unanimously. It modifies provisions relating to the Minimum School Program Act, repeals outdated language; and makes technical changes.

HB132: School Bus Safety Requirements requires new school buses purchased after June 30, 2017, to be equipped with seatbelts. It passed the House Transportation Committee on a vote of 7-3.

HB136: Board of Education Revisions passed the House Education Committee on a vote of 9-3. It would require that before prioritizing implementation of certain federal programs the State Board of Education determine the fiscal impact of the failure to implement those programs. If the Board determines there is a financial loss for not implementing the program, the State Board could request that legislature appropriate from the Education Fund revenue surplus, money to mitigate the financial loss.

SB34: Competency-based Education Funding passed the Senate unanimously. The bill authorizes the State Board of Education to reimburse an eligible local education agency for a student who graduates early.

SB59: Students with Disabilities Evaluation Amendments requires the State Board of Education to make rules regarding communication with the parent or legal guardian of a student who may have a disability and annually report certain violations to the Education Interim Committee. It passed the Senate unanimously.

SB61: Students with Disabilities Accommodations Funding passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously and the full Senate on a vote of 25-1. The bill requires the State Board of Education to make rules regarding the disposition of any money appropriated to the board to reimburse local education agencies for certain services rendered to a student with an autism spectrum disorder.

SB64 Student Scholarship Amendments changes the amount of the centennial scholarship and allows a student to defer consideration for a centennial scholarship for certain reasons. It passed the Senate Education Committee and the full Senate unanimously.

SB78: Teacher Pedagogical Assessment would require that a graduate of university education preparation program pass a performance-based pedagogical assessment before receiving a Level I teaching license. In contrast, the bill would allow an alternative-route-to-licensure candidate to teach for up to two years before passing the same pedagogical assessment and retain their Level I license. It passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.

SB80: School Funding Amendments would take one-third of the increase on the WPU each year to increase the number of guaranteed local levy increments to qualifying districts. Essentially, the bill would increase equalization efforts by using the WPU as the source of state funds to match district tax efforts. The bill passed 4-1.

SB102: Utah Student Privacy Act requires a public school to make a list of individuals who are authorized to access education records and provide training on student privacy laws. It passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.


January 23, 2017

Session Opening (reported by Mike Kelley): The first day of the 62nd Utah State Legislature began with ceremony and speeches and with 16 legislators new to their office. In the House, 13 of the 75 representatives took the oath of office for the first time. Three of the 29 Senators are freshmen.

In his opening comments to the House of Representatives, Speaker Greg Hughes shared his thoughts on growing public education funding. “In 2007, then Governor Huntsman proposed reforming our income tax system.” In that year the legislature reduced state income tax from 7% to a flat 5% income tax rate. Speaker Hughes said the goals of that change were to improve the economy and business environment in Utah.

“I would argue the reform we put in place in 2007 has done the very things that we hoped we would see happen for the state of Utah.” Hughes argued that raising the state income tax for public education, as has been proposed by business leaders through the Our School Now initiative, would hurt the economy and not result in growth in funding for schools. Instead, he urged other options, including again pushing for state control of public lands to use them to help raise money for schools.

“Property tax is the engine that funds our public schools in this country,” he said.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser also spoke against the Our Schools Now initiative, saying that raising taxes by $500-750 million is “politically difficult.”

See the 2017 UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet for the current bills being tracked by UEA.

January 24, 2017

Senate Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): SB80: School Funding Amendmentswas presented by Sen. Lincoln Fillmore. The bill would take one-third of the increase on the WPU each year to increase the number of guaranteed local levy increments to qualifying districts. A similar bill was presented in the 2016 legislative session but did not pass. Essentially, the bill would increase equalization efforts by using the WPU as the source of state funds to match district tax efforts. There was considerable discussion from the committee and the public.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard raised the concern that the “WPU has come to mean something” so that changing the distribution of the WPU will be confusing to stakeholders. He asked that when the bill is debated in the Senate that it be assigned a “time certain” so that stakeholders can have input. Sara Jones, speaking on behalf of UEA, stated that while UEA has not yet taken a position on the bill there are two significant concerns that should be part of the discussion going forward. First, the issue of adequacy of overall funding is not addressed by this bill. Before equity of funding for each student can be achieved there must be adequate resources in the system. Second, equalization is an important principle but there is no new money associated with this bill which is a concern. The bill passed 4-1.

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (reported by Jay Blain): The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee spent the day reviewing several reports, including the following:

  • Sen. Howard Stephenson presented “No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State” by the National Council of State Legislatures.
  • Supt. Syd Dickson presented the State Board of Education’s “Education Elevated” and the “Excellence for Each Student, Goals and Strategies” reports.
  • Tami Pyfer, Governor’s education deputy, presented this report on behalf of Governor’s Education Commission. She stressed the importance of investing in the WPU and concerns over the number of ‘reforms’ year after year without any coherence.
  • Sen. Lyle Hillyard discussed the education base budget, SB1: Public Education Base Budget. He stressed that the state cannot fund growth in the base budget without taking from somewhere else. Any or all of it can be changed in the final budget passed in the final week, he said.
  • Fiscal analyst Ben Leishman provided a Public Education Budget Overview.

January 25, 2017

House Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): HB43: American Indian and Alaskan Native Education Amendments was presented by Rep. Mike Noel. This bill is an expansion of a similar bill that passed last year. It would provide $500,000 a year to certain schools to fund recruitment and retention efforts of teachers teaching in schools serving primarily American Indian and Alaskan Native students. The bill passed unanimously.

HB136: Board of Education Revisions was presented by Rep. Michael Kennedy. It is similar to a bill that was proposed last year but did not pass. The bill would require that before prioritizing implementation of certain federal programs the State Board of Education determine the fiscal impact of the failure to implement those programs. If the Board determines there is a financial loss for not implementing the program, the State Board could request that legislature appropriate from the Education Fund revenue surplus, money to mitigate the financial loss. There was substantial debate about the need for the bill, the financial impact and the types of federal programs the Board might choose not to implement. The bill passed with 3 nay votes.

State of the State (reported by Mike Kelley): In his State of the State speech to the Utah Legislature, Gov. Gary Herbert spoke in support of more resources for education, but against raising income taxes, as proposed by the Our Schools Now initiative. The initiative seeks to put on the ballot a $750 million increase in state income tax for schools.

Raising income taxes could hurt the recovering economy and wind up hurting school funding, he said. "The very best way to ensure ongoing growth of education funding is to continue to grow our economy. Failure to take into account how tax rates affect business investment won't help us make good policy decisions," he said. The Governor suggested other ways to increase education funding, including collecting more of the estimated $150 million to $200 million internet sales taxes owed and removing several sales tax exemptions.

January 26, 2017

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (reported by Jay Blain): Legislative Analyst Ben Leishman gave a presentation on the Minimum School Program. He talked about horizontal and vertical equity. Horizontal equity is really what we call equality and vertical equity is true equity. He also discussed the Class Size Reduction line item, describing it as a “Class Size Maintenance” line item. Because of several circumstances such as not funding growth for several years, this line item has essentially become a WPU block grant to districts. Many districts track it well but others don’t, he said.

January 27, 2017

Educator Day on the Hill (reported by Roger Donohoe): The first UEA Educator Day On the Hill of 2017 got off to a strong start today. About 20 teachers and education professionals joined us at the Capitol to meet with legislators and work with them on education issues. Participants shared booklets containing teacher comments from a recent survey with their legislators. This gave everyone the opportunity to meet face-to-face with representatives and senators and establish or strengthen relationships.

At a lunchtime debriefing, Representatives Joel Briscoe and Brian King stopped to visit and share insights. “The best way to (have influence) is to have one-on-one conversations with legislators,” said Rep. King. “To have constituents tell us their personal stories is very powerful. Personal relationships are very important.”

The Senate Education Committee met in the afternoon (see below) and many stayed to attend. We look forward to increasing participation as the legislative session progresses.

Senate Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): SB78: Teacher Pedagogical Assessment was presented by Sen. Ann Millner. The bill would require that a graduate of university education preparation program pass a performance-based pedagogical assessment before receiving a Level I teaching license. In contrast, the bill would allow an alternative-route-to-licensure candidate to teach for up to two years before passing the same pedagogical assessment and retain their Level I license.

Sara Jones, speaking on behalf of the UEA, raised concerns that the bill treats educators based on two different standards. Those with the most instructional experience, education program graduates, must pass the assessment before teaching while those with little or no instructional experience, Academic Pathway to Teaching candidates, can teach for two years before passing the assessment. She said that if the standard is that every educator is ready to teach on day one, that standard should be applied to every educator. The UEA supports that standard and alternative route candidates should demonstrate pedagogical competence before receiving a license, she said. The bill passed unanimously.