Besides repealing a controversial tax reform package passed during a special session in December, WEEK ONE of the 2020 General Legislative Session started relatively slowly. In fact, the House and the Senate both found themselves in an unusual position when they met for scheduled floor time on Wednesday…no bills were available to discuss. It’s unlikely that situation will last long with the number of filed and numbered bills growing daily.
In opening speeches to legislators, Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President Stuart Adams made little mention of public education. President Adams praised specific senators who he said are helping Utah to “lead the nation in outcomes for education dollars spent.” In his final state-of-the-state address, Utah Governor Gary Herbert expressed appreciation for teachers. “I realize that providing the best possible education for our students is not only about the dollars spent but also about the people who are teaching our children. I have such deep respect for our teachers and for their dedication to our students. They have a hard job. They deserve our trust and support. They get the big picture.”
More than 50 educators attend first 2020 Educator Day on the Hill
More than 50 educators, representing schools in Carbon, Granite Park City, Ogden, Logan, Grand, Weber, Jordan, Washington, Iron and Duchesne School Districts – along with several UEA-Retired members and representatives from the Utah School Employees Association – joined the UEA Legislative Team on Utah’s Capitol Hill for the year’s first UEA Educator Day on the Hill. Combined with 37 teachers being recognized for earning or renewing National Board Certification (NBCT), it marked one of the largest groups ever to participate in a Week One Educator Day event.
As a result of a survey conducted by UEA in January, each of the 104 legislators on Capitol Hill will receive comments provided by educators who work in school districts they represent.
Legislature repeals tax reform law
By a vote of 70-1-4 in the House and 27-0-2 in the Senate, the legislature repealed SB2001, the controversial tax reform bill passed by the legislature during a Special Session in December. Governor Herbert signed the repeal later that same afternoon. The vote came on the same day the referendum effort to repeal tax reform reached the required number of validated signatures necessary to put the measure on the November ballot, according to the signature count provided by the Utah Lt. Governor’s Office.
“Thank you to all those who, like me, signed the referendum to strike down this law,” wrote UEA President Heidi Matthews in an email to UEA leaders. “We especially applaud the efforts of those who took the time to volunteer in the signature-gathering campaign. Collecting sufficient signatures was a monumental task deemed unattainable by most political observers. An army of volunteers from across the political spectrum (along with a major boost from local grocers) made it possible.”
The tax reform law would have cut the income tax with unknown impact on overall public education spending. Without a replacement law, the “structural imbalance” in the state’s tax system remains unaddressed. Unsure now how our legislature will deal with this imbalance, the Utah Education Association remains concerned how any new solution will impact education funding.
“Our message to the public and to legislators remains unchanged,” said Matthews. “Our students need long-term, equitable and GROWING education funding. As I said in a recent UtahPolicy.com editorial, ‘As an organization whose members have dedicated their careers to educating our children, we wholeheartedly commit to engaging in continued honest discussions about finding long-term, stable and growing education funding sources. We look forward to working with legislators and education stakeholders to develop a plan that delivers the education opportunities our students so desperately need and deserve.’”
House unanimously recognizes contributions of school bus drivers
mong the handful of education bills publicly discussed during Week One, a resolution to recognize school bus drivers passed the House unanimously.
- HB16: School Meals Program Amendments amends provisions to broaden the use of school “lunch” revenues to school “meals” allowing funds to be used for school breakfast and other items. The State Board of Education requested this bill and supports it, as does the UEA. It passed the House 59-15 and the Senate Education Committee on a vote of 3-1.
- HJR2: Joint Resolution Recognizing School Bus Drivers recognizes school bus drivers for their skills, dedication, leadership, and efforts to foster student and parent relationships. In presenting the resolution, Rep. Elizabeth Weight said, “these drivers have the character and personality that give them interest in and ability to communicate with parents and students and to manage a bus full of 60 or more students while navigating various road conditions, with safety as the first priority.” The resolution passed the House unanimously and now goes to the Senate for consideration.
- SB21: Education Amendments removes language requiring qualified teachers to submit an annual application for the through the Teacher Salary Supplement Program provide their situation doesn’t change. It passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously. The UEA supports this bill.
Looking Forward: Education bills begin to appear, Budget still up in the air
The Public Education Appropriations Committee heard many reports from education entities this week, but legislators have yet to put forward any funding proposals. There was little public discussion on education bills the first week, but that should change quickly as the number of bills grows each day. The UEA Legislative Team has its hands full reading and prioritizing each bill, then working closely with sponsoring legislators to ensure they understand the needs and concerns of educators in crafting their bills. By the end of WEEK ONE, the number of education bills tracked by the UEA had grown to 35 (see the current UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet). A few early bills to watch:
- HB99: Enhanced Kindergarten Amendments addresses requirements and funding for optional enhanced kindergarten. The UEA supports this bill.
- HB107: Effective Teachers in High Poverty Schools Incentive Program Amendments amends the definition of eligible teacher to allow teachers of kindergarten through grade 3 to become eligible for the Effective Teachers in High Poverty Schools Incentive Program; increases the amount of the annual salary bonus; and guarantees the portion of the annual salary bonus paid to an eligible teacher by the state board. The UEA opposes this bill because it ties the stipends to student test scores.
- HB175: Education Accountability Amendments would eliminate the use of A-F grades to rate schools under the school accountability system. The UEA supports this bill.
- HJR5: Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution – Education Amendments would remove the requirement that all income tax goes to education and place the constitutional change on the ballot for voters to consider in November.