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Under the Dome Achive for the Week of January 25, 2010

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 January 28, 2010

Retirement Discussions Dominate Day 4
By Kory Holdaway and Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Memberss

Today was spent continuing one-on-one conversations with Senators and House members regarding proposed changes to the state retirement system. UEA’s Legislative Team is intent on understanding the position of each individual legislator and providing information to address questions and concerns. Thanks to Rick Palmer, director in the Ogden/Weber UniServ for coming to the Capitol to help meet with legislators from his area.

As we meet with legislators, some indicate they have been receiving e-mails from teacher constituents…this makes a difference to them and is critical to their understanding how great the concern among educators is. Please continue to make contact and follow up with your Senator and Representative and track what is happening on the retirement issue.

The coalition on retirement of which UEA is part of met with House Democrats today during their noon caucus meetings and discussed the challenges related to retirement changes. UEA along with the Utah Public Employees Association, Utah School Employees Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and other labor groups all stood united against the changes proposed by Senator Liljenquist. Each of the groups recognizes there are challenges that Utah Retirement Systems must face; however, we are all in agreement we need to slow down the train these bills are on. The House Democrats asked some very good questions dealing with the protection of the retirement system. As the discussion proceeded, the need to protect the Defined Benefit in the URS system was stressed by each group in the coalition. It was shared with the members of the caucus that teachers and public employees should be looked upon as one of the great state assets and not a liability that must be funded. We also shared with them the need to maintain a meaningful benefit plan to attract and retain quality employees in our classrooms and public employment. The Democrats were very receptive to our message and wanted more information to further understand this important public policy decision.

In other activity, the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee held its second meeting this afternoon. These early meetings are spent in presentations by the State Office of Education and legislative staff explaining the status of various education programs including assessment data, funding levels and other information. Programs outlined today included, among others, year round math and science under the USTAR program, extended year for Special Education teachers (this program is voluntary—95% of Special Educators chose to participate), Critical Languages and Dual Immersion (dual immersion programs exist in French, Spanish and Mandarin with 85 schools offering Mandarin Chinese, and Arabic also offered in a number of schools,), and the school nurse matching program (33 districts and 9 charter school participating). A report on Concurrent Enrollment outlining progress on the legislative changes required in SB81 from the 2009 Legislature was made. Over 27,400 students earned credit through concurrent enrollment classes earning 188,221 credits. Legislators asked many questions and are very positive about the program.

As reported in yesterday’s update, the public education budget proposed for FY2011 (next school year) was presented. The committee chair asked committee members today to begin assessing where they would suggest budget cuts be made in order to address revenue shortages. This prioritizing is planned to begin on or after Feb. 8.

January 28, 2010

FY2011 Budget Proposal Presented
By Kory Holdaway and Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Members

Day 3 was a quieter day…no significant bills presented in committees. Public Education Appropriations met for the first time during the session with the Fiscal Analyst providing a primer for committee members on what comprises education funding. There are three major components: the largest is the Minimum School Program, the second is the Capital Outlay program and the third is Education Agencies, primarily the State Office of Ed but also the Charter School Board, Educator Licensing, Child Nutrition, etc.

The analyst presented the proposed base budget for the coming year (FY2011). This base budget eliminates all of the one-time money which is part of the current year budget…approx. $293 million. It also includes a 2 percent across-the-board reduction as directed by the Legislature for all departments. This results in a base budget for next year which is $350 million less than the current year. The WPU would be reduced from $2,577 to $2,487. This does not provide funding for enrollment growth projected to be 11,000 new students.

MOST IMPORTANT TO KEEP IN MIND—this is a beginning point, not an ending point. The challenge for the education community is to reach the end point with the maximum education funding possible. Do accomplish this, we call on all educators to tell classroom stories to parents, business leaders and legislators…to express the positive work being done with students and the needs that have to be filled to continue the work. We need to make everyone aware of what will be lost for students if the maximum funding level is not reached.

State Superintendent Dr. Larry Shumway reminded the committee how important funding of the Minimum School Program is. He pointed out that recently the US Chamber of Commerce rated Utah No. 1 among the states for return on investment in education and Newsweek ranked Utah in the top 20 for maximizing student opportunity despite the lowest level of funding. We want to be able to continue to be proud of our public schools.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Herbert asked legislators not to cut public education funding.

The challenge is large, but Utah’s teachers can make the difference in meeting the challenge. Be informed, be involved, be in touch.

January 27, 2010

Governor’s State of the State
By Kory Holdaway, UEA Director of Government Relations

Last night Governor Herbert gave his first State of the State address to the Utah legislature and presented the challenges that face the State with regard to the budget. As he presented those challenges, he stated that he wanted to avoid additional cuts to public and higher education. This was met with a standing ovation from the entire legislative body. We as educators are encouraged by his commitment to provide funding, yet we also see the challenges we will face with the increase of over 11,000 new students in our system without the corresponding funding to deal with that growth. This is the first time in recent history that student growth has not been funded in the base budget.

The Governor also made reference to a Governors Education Commission on Excellence that he himself will chair. This commission will meet monthly over the course of the next year developing plans to improve education in Utah. We as an association have been invited to participate at the table to provide our perspective and ideas to affect Educational Excellence. This will be a group of education experts and leaders from across the state with the goal of improving our educational system.

Overall we need to encourage the legislature to work closely with the Governor to adopt a budget that holds the line with regard to funding even as they work to balance the $700 million shortfall. Encourage your Representative and Senator to utilize the rainy day funds that are available.

January 27, 2010

Report shows changes to Utah tax law have eroded public education funding by more than $1 billion per year
Utahns for Public Schools Press Release

Despite fairly generous increases over two of the past three fiscal years, Utah’s spending on Public Education still lags the rest of the country.  Utah’s “funding effort”— defined as Public Education revenues per $1,000 in personal income—for Public Education has fallen from a high of 12th place in the nation to 34th place in 2005. This decline has kept us last in the nation in per-pupil spending by an ever-increasing margin.

The School Funding and Tax Policy Series I-IV issued by Utahns for Public Schools (UTPS) highlights legislative policy changes that are responsible for Utah’s decline in Public Education funding effort.  In addition, it is a warning that if these trends persist, they will continue to significantly limit funding to Public Education in the future. These research reports find that systemic, if not systematic, changes have occurred in the past decade that, if reversed, would bring more than a $1 billion in revenue back into Public Education.  Utahns for Public Schools recommends that the Legislature reconsider its actions of the last decade and once again conclude that Public Education should be its top long-term economic development priority.

January 26, 2010

Day 2: Busy First Business Day
By Susan Kuziak, UEA Legislative Team Member

Day two of the 2010 session of the Utah Legislature allowed no time to stretch out and warm up before the exercise routine began. There were bills UEA is tracking heard in both the House and Senate Standing Education committees.

The Senate Ed. Committee heard SB87: School Property Tax Equalization Revisions sponsored by Sen. Gene Davis. This bill would eliminate the Salt Lake County-wide pool of capital outlay property tax revenue created last year by the legislature to redistribute capital outlay revenue among the SL County school districts. The bill was originally enacted to assist the remaining Jordan District which lost a substantial portion of its revenue base when the Canyons School District was created. Salt Lake, Murray, Granite and Canyons districts each currently “contribute” revenue to Jordan District. Equalization of capital outlay continues to be a complicated and contentious issue. A bill to provide for statewide pooling of capital outlay revenue sponsored again this year by Rep. Newbold will also be considered. A motion to move on to the next item on the agenda (which forestalls any action on a bill by the committee) passed. Sen. Stephenson indicated his intent to pursue a solution to the issue and the bill is likely to come back to the committee at a future meeting.

The House Ed. Committee heard 2 bills. Rep. Allen’s HB81: School Employee Criminal Background Check passed out with a favorable recommendation. The bill will shift the cost of periodic required background checks for non certified school employees to the employee. Licensed educators currently are required to pay the cost of a criminal background check conducted every five years in conjunction with license renewal. The bill also expands the information which is required to be maintained, provided and that may be considered in licensing recommendations. Concerns will continue to be discussed with Rep. Allen as the bill moves forward.

First Substitute HB42: School District Employees-Career Status Requirements sponsored by Rep. Menlove was heard. This bill allows a school board to extend the provisional status of an employee up to an additional 2 consecutive years under a policy adopted by the board specifying the circumstance under which provisional status may be extended. Rep. Menlove sponsored the bill at the request of the School Boards Association and superintendents. Rep. Menlove has modified the bill to address concerns raised by UEA and the substitute bill is an improved bill. The Association continues to have concerns and raised these with the Committee: 1) the bill is unnecessary as local school districts already have the flexibility to extend provisional status for an extra year under negotiated agreements, written district policies or district practice, 2) this is an issue of local control for school boards, 3) this change will leave affected educators in an “at will” status. Other concerns were also raised. There was substantial debate. Several committee members ( Rep. Frank and Rep. Hughes) expressed their preference to have no Orderly Termination statute. Rep. Frank stated he would make an educator’s entire career path “at will” as in his experience employees must “justify their existence every year.”

Voting for HB 42 were Reps. Hughes, Frank, Newbold, Last, Ipson, Powell and Sumsion. Voting against the bill were Reps. Poulson, Moss, Wheatley, Edwards, Anderson and Black. The bill passed from committee on this 7-6 vote and will move to the House for consideration by the full body.

The coalition of employee groups working together on critical retirement issues presented to the Senate Democratic caucus this afternoon. Kory Holdaway represented UEA along with representatives from Utah Public Employees Association and the Fraternal Order of Police. Providing a wide range of information about the negative aspects of proposed changes to the retirement system and why these drastic changes are not necessary. The group stressed that the approach to dealing with concerns about the stability of the retirement system should be to establish a task force to study all aspects the system and the impacts of proposed changes. The caucus members asked questions and expressed support for the concerns of the employee groups.

January 25, 2010

Utah’s Business Community Voicing Support for Education Investments

For years now, the UEA has been touting the benefits of investing in public schools, including the important positive economic effects these investments can generate. It’s very refreshing to see leaders of Utah’s business community now supporting that message.

Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, said in a speech given at the Utah State Board of Education and Utah State Office of Education Legislative Dinner: “The challenge this (legislative) session is to balance the budget in a way that best positions us, not just for an economic recovery, but to emerge from the “Great Recession” stronger than we were before…better positioned for growth than we were before…and stronger than the competition. We can do that by maintaining our investment in education.”

Natalie Gachnour, COO of the Salt Lake Chamber, wrote the following on a blog about the first Legislative Policy Summit: “Utah Foundation Executive Director and seasoned public policy analyst Steve Kroes revealed the most shocking data of the Summit. Utah’s commitment to education as a percent of our economy has dropped from a ranking of seventh among states in 1995 to 34th among states today. What used to be a bragging right in terms of our commitment to our future workforce is now a black eye for us. I have heard a lot of depressing news over the past 18 months, but none so dangerous.”

And Mark Bouchard, senior managing director at CB Richard Ellis and chair of the Salt Lake Chamber Education Task Force wrote in an editorial: “A well-trained workforce is the single most important element to maintaining and enhancing Utah’s reputation as a great place to do business. Further reductions in public and higher education put our workforce at risk. Education funding must be protected as we balance the state budget.”

We applaud these leaders for their recent comments and very much look forward to working with the Utah business community in strengthening our future workforce and making education and our public schools a priority.