‘Year of the Educator’ ends in significant new public education funding, defeat of bills targeting educators
Despite a turbulent beginning, Utah educators have much to celebrate from the 2022 General Legislative Session. Legislators passed a record Utah public education funding increase for the second straight year. Educators will now be paid for a portion of their work performed outside contract hours. Attempts to widely expand private school vouchers and to make educators publicly post all curricula failed.
Some are calling it ‘the year of the educator,’ not only because of what was accomplished to support public education, but also because of the influence educators had on outcomes.
The session began with legislators referring to 2022 as ‘the year of the tax cut.’ Yet early in the session it became clear tax cuts would take a back seat to legislation targeting educators and public education. After legislators introduced several curriculum ‘transparency’ bills, private school vouchers, bills affecting our most vulnerable students, and legislation calling into question educator professionalism, educators decided enough is enough.
“Even though continuing COVID restrictions limited our ability to participate at the Capitol, we saw a significant level of UEA member legislative engagement,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews. “Educators attended Educator Day on the Hill, participated in local town hall meetings, signed petitions, rallied at the Capitol and engaged with legislators on a level we’ve not seen in recent years. It all made a huge difference. It truly was the year of the educator.”
Indeed, educators played a considerable role in legislative efforts this year:
- More than 200 educators representing nearly every Utah school district volunteered their time to meet with legislators and share stories about their classroom during UEA Educator Day on the Hill events held each Friday.
- Nineteen educators volunteered to train and write articles about their experiences as 2020 UEA Policy Ambassadors and eight more participated as the inaugural class of UEA Advanced Policy Ambassadors (see their articles here).
- Nearly 35,000 signed a petition against a damaging curriculum bill.
- Hundreds braved cold temperatures on the steps of the State Capitol on February 22 “in support of Utah students, educators and families” at a rally organized by the Salt Lake, Granite, Park City, Jordan and Canyons Education Associations.
- Thousands more wrote their legislators to oppose private school vouchers.
In the end, legislators responded. Bad bills didn’t move forward or were substantively changed, and education funding was substantially increased. Here are a few highlights:
Public Education Budget—
The increase in public education funding started even before the 2022 Session began. In December 2021, the Executive Appropriations Committee passed a Base Budget for education that included funding for growth and inflation, amounting to a 2.6% increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU), the basic funding unit of public education. It also set aside $72 million for an additional WPU increase. As the session unfolded, UEA advocated for additional funding on the WPU and other funding priorities. The outcome was the second straight year with an overall 6% WPU funding increase.
Funding for Educator Time—
The UEA approached Legislators early in the session asking $57 million for Educator-directed Flexible Time. Over the last several years educators have expressed frustration with high stress, low morale and lack of time. The UEA collaborated with Rep. Dan Johnson and Rep. Jefferson Moss to create a bill (HB396) for which the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee initially prioritized $25 million. By the end of the session, this was increased to $64 million. The increased allocation will equate to about 32-40 paid hours for each licensed educator to be approved by a supervisor for most work-related duties performed outside contract hours. “Since when does the UEA ask for something and the legislature gives us more?” said Matthews. “This result is another testament to the influence of our hard-working educators and a welcomed acknowledgment by the legislature of the stress educators are experiencing.” (See more details here.)
Private School Vouchers—
A private school voucher bill (HB331) proposed creating a $36 million voucher program to provide “scholarships” for students to attend private schools, online schools or home school expenses. The UEA expressed strong opposition to the bill because of many structural problems with the design of the program but also because of the fundamental concern about public tax dollars going to private schools with little to no accountability. The bill narrowly passed out of committee on a 6-5 vote, signaling the difficulty the bill would face when voted on by the entire House. Although several substitute versions of the bill were introduced to build support among House members, ultimately it failed on a vote of 22-53. A bill to expand special needs vouchers (SB62) ended up passing both houses. The UEA is asking Gov. Spencer Cox to veto this bill .
Transparency and Curriculum—
On the heels of a resolution to prohibit critical race theory passed in the May 2021 Special Session, numerous bills addressed curriculum “transparency.” At least seven bills were introduced, though at the end of the day only one passed and most never even made it out of committee. Proposals ranged from requiring districts to implement a standard process for adopting instructional materials (SB114), to creating new allowances for parents to sue or bring licensing challenges against educators (SB157, SB257) to requiring educators to post syllabi online and inform parents when they deviated from the public syllabus (HB234) to applying “individual liberty” to everything from teacher training to “programs” (HB366). The one bill that did pass (HB374) did so only after being significantly scaled back from the original proposal. The bill prohibits “sensitive materials” in schools, pornographic materials as already defined in state statute, and requires the State Board of Education to report to the Legislature on complaints about any violations of this prohibition and how districts resolve those complaints.
Two important early learning bills were a policy focus of the UEA this session. One (HB193) sought to make full-day kindergarten available by 2025 to every family who wanted to participate. After successfully passing the House, a substitute version adopted in a Senate Committee gutted the bill. Ultimately, a fifth substitute version was passed that requires the state board to prioritize new funding for full-day kindergarten to those districts with the greatest need, based on geography, socioeconomic need and several other factors. Another (SB127) creates a coordinated, comprehensive statewide early literacy program. The program incorporates everything from teacher preparation requirements to literacy coaching and professional learning to collecting and disbursing best practices in the science of reading through ULEAD.
Equity and Racial Justice—
With the conversation nationally regarding equity and racial justice, the Legislature addressed several issues. To address “period poverty,” legislation passed requiring public schools to provide menstrual products free of charge in female or unisex restrooms. The bill (HB162) appropriates about $4 million over two years and then requires schools to incorporate ongoing costs into their capital budgets by 2025. The International Refugee Committee worked with Rep. Dan Johnson to pass two bills (HB230, HB302) to improve services for refugee students in public schools. These bills improved enrollment procedures and streamlined the process for educators to find translators when having conversations with refugee families. Legislation also passed (SB244) creating a legislative Ethnic Studies Commission to make recommendations to the State Board on incorporating ethnic studies into the core standards. The legislation opens up opportunities for students to learn diverse voices and histories.
After failing to pass legislation last year addressing trans-athlete participation in sports, Rep. Kera Birkeland tried a new approach. The original bill (HB11) that passed the House early in the session created a commission to determine if a trans athlete could participate in a gender-designated interscholastic activity. A substitute bill, proposed on the Senate floor late in the evening on the Session’s final day, creates a total ban on transgender female students participating on girls’ sports teams. The Senate passed the substituted bill on a vote of 16-13. The House then concurred with the change on a vote of 46-29. Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed the bill but the legislature later voted to override the veto.
Legislation of Note in the 2022 Legislative Session
The UEA tracked more than 100 education-related bills in 2022. Here are a few bills of note and their final status:
🙂 = Outcome favorable to the UEA position / 😐 = Outcome neutral / 🙁 = Outcome unfavorable
|HB11: Student Eligibility in Interscholastic Activities
|Bars transgender girls from competing in interscholastic sports matching their gender identities.||🙁|
|HB113: Students with Disabilities Funding Revisions (M. Judkins)||Amends a formula for special education funding.||🙂
Passed the House 72-0
|HB193: Full-day Kindergarten (S. Waldrip)||Prioritizes full-day K funding for to those districts with the greatest need, based on geography, socioeconomic need and other factors.||🙂|
|HB211: School Fees Amendments (A. Robertson)||Identifies the types of fees a school can charge for curricular activities and allows a school to charge fees for extracurricular activities.||😐
Passed the House 58-12 but not heard in the Senate
|HB234: Public Educator Curriculum Transparency Requirements (J. Tuescher)||Requires educators to publicly post learning materials and syllabi for each day of instruction.||🙂
Not heard in the House
|HB274: Health Education Amendments
|Requires the State Board to develop age-appropriate health curriculum addressing sexual violence prevention with parental consent.||🙁|
|HB331: Hope Scholarship Program
|Establishes a voucher program to pay for private education goods and services using taxpayer dollars.||🙂
Failed in the House 22-53
|HB374: Sensitive Materials in Schools
|Defines certain materials as “sensitive” and prohibits those in a public school and requires the State Board to provide guidance and training.||🙁|
|HB386: Education Innovation Program
|Creates a process for an educator to propose an innovation program to their district for approval.||😐
Passed the House 70-1 and the Senate 26-0
|HB396: Paid Professional Hours for Educators
|Allocates $64 million for licensed educators to receive flexible, educator-directed paid time for job-related duties outside contract time.||🙂
Passed the House 70-0
|HB428: School Safety Amendments
|Requires the State Board to provide training and school districts to adopt a plan for harassment- and discrimination-free learning.||🙂|
|HB475: Use of Public Education Stabilization Account Funding (B. Last)||Appropriates funding for teacher flex hours for small district capital projects and provides a distribution to LEA’s for capital and technology.||🙂
Passed the House 70-0
|HB478: Minimum Basic Tax Rate Reduction
|Removes add-ons to the basic rate that fund property tax equalization and that funds the Teacher and Student Success Account.||🙂
Passed the House 56-13
|SB62: Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Amendments (L. Fillmore)||Extends the special needs voucher program to non-special needs siblings of scholarship recipient students.||🙁|
|SB114: Public School Curriculum Requirements
|Requires an open process involving educators and parents to review instructional materials for local board approval.||🙂
Passed a committee but not heard in the Senate
|SB127: Early Literacy Outcomes Improvement
|Creates a statewide, comprehensive approach to early literacy instruction.||🙂
Passed the Senate 28-0
|SB157: Parental Rights in Public Education
|Recognizes “state sovereignty” in public education and opens the door for parents to sue teachers or schools for infringing parental rights.||🙂
Held in the Senate committee
|SB191: Regulatory Sandbox in Education
|Creates a program allowing schools to apply for waivers from State Board rules and local board policies to innovate.||🙁|
|SB244: Ethnic Studies Amendments
|Requires the State Board to incorporate ethnic studies into core standards and requires local boards to adopt materials and curriculum that align.||😐
Passed the Senate 29-0
|SB257: Divisive Concepts in Government and Education (J. Johnson)||Prohibits educators from teaching or discussing ‘divisive concepts’ and allows an individual to file a licensing complaint against an educator directly to UPPAC if suspected of doing so.||🙂
Held in the Senate committee