End of mask mandates and test-to-stay, first UEA Educator Day on the Hill in two years – January 21

After a year’s hiatus, educators gathered for UEA Educator Day on the Hill to advocate for their students and their profession. UEA representatives met with the Senate President to share specifics of the UEA budget and express concerns about bills. The House voted to end mask orders and the Senate voted to end test-to-stay. The UEA presented educator spending recommendations to the committee charged with creating the public education budget.

Educator Day on the Hill (reported by Mike Kelley): With participation limited due to COVID and Capitol construction, about 30 educators, representing schools in Alpine, Carbon, Jordan, Granite, Park City, Juab, Grand, Iron and Ogden School Districts – along with 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.

Starting at 7 a.m., the group first reviewed bills, the education budget and other current education issues. Participants then had the opportunity to attend committee meetings and floor debates.

At a noon debrief, educator participants reported on conversations they had with their legislators. Long-time UEA member and State Rep. Joel Briscoe stopped by to provide insight and express appreciation to educators.

Anyone interested in participating in a future Capitol event, please visit the UEA Educator Day on the Hill page to register.

Meeting with Senate President (reported by Sara Jones): UEA President Heidi Matthews and Government Relations Director Sara Jones met this morning with Senate President Stuart Adams. They discussed two important issues, UEA’s budget priorities for the year and HB 183 In-Person Learning Amendments. Heidi Matthews emphasized a budget request for a 5% increase to the WPU, in addition to inflationary costs already covered. She also highlighted a key priority to fund five days of educator-directed flexible time.

Jones raised concerns with HB183, which changes the COVID test-to-stay protocols for schools implemented last year. UEA asked that the bill be amended to allow for schools to move to remote learning when educator and staff absences impede the ability of a school to operate safely and effectively.

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (reported by Jay Blain): UEA President Heidi Matthews and Policy and Research Director Jay Blain presented the UEA Budget Priorities to the Subcommittee. Highlights of the priorities include a total Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) increase of 7.6%, which includes a 2.6% inflationary component, funding for Optional Enhanced Kindergarten and enhanced funding for At-risk Students. The big additional ask is for funding educator-directed contract days for professional purposes.

Legislative Fiscal Analyst Ben Leishman reviewed the Minimum School Program, which makes up about 95% of state funding of education. Teacher Retention Audit was presented by the Legislative Audit staff. One key finding is that overall Utah is lower than other states and it is a local issue. Other important findings are that teachers identify stress and administrator relationships as primary factors in retention and primary concerns as students’ home life/behavior and attendance. The Utah State Board of Education provided a presentation in response. One of the recommendations to reduce teacher stress include the ask for more paid flexible time for teachers.

Senate Floor (reported by Sara Jones): HB183: In-Person Learning Amendments was debated in the Senate today. Several amendments were proposed by Senate Democrats. Sen. Luz Escamilla proposed language to establish thresholds for employee shortages in schools that make operation difficult and necessitate remote learning. Bill sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler opposed the amendment citing recent teacher walkouts in Chicago saying, “I think that language needs to be very carefully drafted so we are not turning the legislatures power over to the teachers in any particular school.” The amendment failed.

Sen. Kathleen Riebe proposed an amendment to prohibit those who opt out of test to stay do not return to in-person learning but learn remotely for a period of time. Sen. Weiler opposed the amendment as taking away the right of parents and the amendment failed. Sen. Lincoln Fillmore asked what happens if a new COVID variant makes this new protocol obsolete and the legislature is not in session, how can there be a quick response. Sen. Weiler stated that the bill makes us “super, super nimble.” The bill passed on party lines on a vote of 22-5.

House Floor (reported by Mike Kelley): The House spent the vast majority of its floor time today on a single resolution. SJR3: Joint Resolution to Terminate Public Health Orders Pertaining to Face Coverings would end the mask orders currently in place in Salt Lake and Summit Counties. Since the legislation had no committee meeting, the public had no opportunity to comment. After considerable discussion by legislators for and against the proposal, the bill passed on a vote of 45-29.