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Headed to the House…private school voucher bill clears committee by a single vote – February 15

The private school voucher bill, House Bill 331, narrowly passed the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, setting up what will likely be a contentious House debate. A bill limiting the types of student fees schools can charge passed the House and moves to the Senate.

House Revenue and Taxation Committee (reported by Sara Jones): The school voucher bill, HB331: Hope Scholarship Program, was debated in the House Revenue and Taxation meeting today that was standing room only. Rep. Candice Pierucci presented an overview of the bill and the committee had very few clarifying questions. The meeting was then opened for public comment for more than an hour. Limited to just one minute to present comments either in favor of or against the bill, the committee listened to comments from attendees both in person and online.

UEA president Heidi Matthews emphasized that “educators have been crystal clear that what they need most are time, resources and respect and HB 331 delivers absolutely none of these things. None.” Sara Jones, UEA Government Relations Director, identified specific problems with the bill including that it requires “exactly zero reporting about student learning outcomes” for voucher students, the voucher pays “twice as much state funding to students attending a private school than the state is willing to pay to the exact same student in a public school” and the bill “expressly limits state regulatory authority over private providers”, including no oversight of curricula in schools receiving vouchers which is a “surprising choice given the intense interest this year in school curricula”.

The bill passed narrowly by a vote of 6-5 and moves to the full House for debate. See more from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News.  Write your legislator now!

Senate Education Committee (reported by Jay Blain): Four bills tracked by UEA passed the Senate Education Committee and now go to the full Senate:

  • HB230 (2nd sub.): Refugee and Immigrant Student Policies Amendments requires the State Board of Education to create a repository for immigrant students’ and foreign exchange students’ transcripts and amends requirements for when: an individual enrolling a student in a school is unable to produce the student’s birth certificate; and a student’s birth certificate does not accurately reflect the student’s age. It also amends requirements related to conditional enrollment when a school has not received a student’s complete immunization record. Many gave testimony in support of the bill, including very moving comments by a refugee student who came from Sudan in 2016 and was placed in high school instead of 7th grade because of a missing birth certificate. His father had buried their documents before he was killed. The UEA supports this bill. It passed unanimously.
  • SB171: Behavioral Health Curriculum Program requires the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, within the University of Utah, to develop a public education behavioral health curriculum. It would be optional for districts and charter schools to adopt it. The director of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute explained that dysfunction of the brain is similar to the dysfunction of other functions of the body. And they can be improved, if not fixed. The bill passed on a vote of 2-1.
  • SB191: Utah Innovation Schools Initiative was amended to a new title, Regulatory Sandbox in Education. UEA Legislative Team member Jay Blain spoke to the bill asking questions. Who gets the ball rolling? Students, teachers, administrators, parents, or all of the above? He expressed concern about the ability to change things like compensation packages and retirement. The bill passed unanimously.
  • HB251: School Dropout Prevention Amendments gives school districts and charter schools options in dropout prevention programs, allowing them to do their own thing instead of hiring a third-party provider. The bill passed unanimously.

House Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): Three UEA-supported bills passed out of House Education Committee this evening and now go to the full House.

  • SB103: Special Education Licensing Amendments requires Special Education Directors at charter schools to have an appropriate educator license. The bill passed unanimously.
  • HB193: Full-day Kindergarten expands the current optional full-day kindergarten program. By providing funding over the next three years and requiring LEAs to have a full day kindergarten option by 2025, the bill will make full day kindergarten available to any family who wants to participate. The bill passed on a vote of 10-2.
  • HB274: Health Education Amendments passed on a vote of 8-4 after lengthy discussion and debate. The bill requires the state board to develop age-appropriate health education curriculum addressing sexual violence behavior prevention education which would be subject to parental consent as with other sex education material.

House Floor (reported by Mike Kelley): Two UEA-tracked bills passed the House and now go to the Senate for consideration:

 

Policy Ambassador Messages

In 2022, 15 educators were selected as UEA Policy Ambassadors. These teachers received training from the UEA Legislative Team and agree to engage with legislators and share their experiences with UEA members. Here is an excerpt from a new submission:

Many Different Voices, One Loud Message

Submitted by UEA Advanced Policy Ambassador Taylor Layton, instructional coach/math interventionist at Woodrow Wilson Elementary in Granite School District

“…Like the members of a choir, our various educator voices don’t dilute or hamper one another. Instead, they echo and resound, they harmonize and fulfill each other. When Utah teachers stand up and speak together, we are heard. Thousands of signatures on a petition kill a bill. Teachers march from their schools to the Capitol, to the front-page news. Whether it is writing to your legislator, attending Educator Day on the Hill, or just talking with your neighbors and family, add your voice to our chorus. Utah’s students need you.”

 

Upcoming Legislation to Watch

One UEA-tracked bill is on the agenda for the Senate Education Committee at 4 p.m., Feb. 16:

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