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Jan. 27 2020 Utah Legislature General Session Utah State Capitol
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Governor requests $292 million new K-12 funding, 4.5% WPU increase – January 10, 2020

Utah Governor Gary Herbert released his FY2021 Budget Recommendations on January 8, calling for $292 million in new public education funding. This new funding would include:

  • Enrollment growth for 7,900 new students
  • A 4.5% increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU)
  • A funding increase for optional enhanced kindergarten
  • A new computer science initiative

The 4.5% WPU increase falls short of the 6% requested by the UEA, the Utah School Boards Association and the Utah State Board of Education. If implemented, however, 4.5% would be the largest WPU increase since 2006, according to UEA Research Director Jay Blain.

Gov. Herbert's overall recommendation adds up to an average increase of $432 per K-12 student. The UEA is asking for an increase of $1,234 per student this year.

“We look forward to working with the governor and the legislature to find long-term funding solutions for our students,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews. “We’re concerned the Governor’s budget does not fully reflect education improvement goals recommended by his own Governor’s Education Excellence Commission.” Goals adopted by the commission include:

  • Increase salaries to start at $60,000 and grow to $110,000 over a career
    - estimated annual cost: $535 million
  • Provide more scholarships for prospective teachers
    - estimated annual cost: $45 million
  • Ensure access to high-quality pre-school and extended kindergarten programs
    - estimated annual cost: $150 million
  • Increase school counselors per student to national standard optimum of 1:250
    - estimated annual cost: $130 million
  • Increase student access to school psychologists, social workers and special education teachers
    - estimated annual cost: $285 million

(see: Governor’s Utah Education Roadmap, 2018-2027 and A Vision for Teacher Compensation -  Envision Utah 2019)

Ultimately, the Governor’s budget recommendation is just that, a recommendation. The legislature has final say in how public education is funded. The 2020 Utah General Legislative Session runs January 27 through March 11.


Tax Reform Legislation Passes in Special Session – December 13, 2019

As expected, sweeping tax reform legislation passed both the House (43-27) and the Senate (20-7) during a Special Session on December 12. The bill now goes to the Governor for signature.

“We believe it was irresponsible to pass a major tax reform bill, especially one that includes a significant cut to the income tax, without first demonstrating with certainty how the change will impact public education funding,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews following the legislative vote. "By passing this tax reform legislation, legislators have chosen a piecemeal approach to tax reform rather than the comprehensive approach the UEA and many others recommended."

“Legislators have placed themselves in the precarious position of still needing to address critical public education concerns – such as reducing class sizes, providing high-quality early learning opportunities and addressing our severe teacher shortage, to name just a few – but now with severely reduced available tax funding,” she said.

“Clearly, we’re disappointed in the outcome, but it’s no time to quit. The battle for public education funding continues. (During debate on the bill Dec. 12) we listened to legislator after legislator, including many who voted for the tax reform bill, say they strongly support additional investments in education. Our challenge now is to hold them to their word,” said Matthews.

In a Facebook Live video shared following the vote, Cache Education Association President Theresa Stanton said, “I was pleased to see how many people we had in both chambers supporting public education…Even though I’m disappointed…I’m glad to see democracy in action and, like a math teacher, I’m just going to expect (legislators) to show their work.”

In preparation for the upcoming General Legislative Session in January, Matthews offered five things UEA members can do…

  1. Continue to contact legislators. Strengthen your relationships with them. Find out why they voted the way they did (view the House voteSenate vote) and what they plan to do to protect and grow future education funding.
  2. Look for partners. Reach out to others in your school and your community to build a coalition of support for public education.
  3. Stay informed at UEA Under the Dome. The site is updated regularly with important education-related legislative information.
  4. Schedule yourself to attend at least one UEA Educator Day on the Hill. These meetings, held at the Capitol each Friday during the legislative session, give educators the opportunity to meet lawmakers and share important classroom stories.
  5. Most importantly, spend time with loved ones and enjoy a much-earned holiday rest!

Special Legislative Session Called for Dec. 12 to Pass Tax Reform – December 11, 2019

Governor Herbert announced he is calling a Special Session of the Legislature Thursday, December 12, 5 p.m., to pass a state tax overhaul.

UEA President Heidi Matthews sent the following message to UEA Leaders on Dec. 10:

As I said in my letter to legislators (on Dec. 9), “We believe it is dangerous to pass a major tax reform bill, especially one that includes a $635 million cut to the income tax, until the legislature can demonstrate with certainty how the change will impact public education funding.” Nevertheless, Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force members voted 6-3 (on Dec. 9) to advance the tax reform bill to the full legislature. The legislature appears poised to pass the bill on December 12.

We’re disappointed legislators have chosen a piecemeal approach to tax reform rather than the comprehensive approach we proposed, but this is by no means the end…It’s not even halftime.

And don’t think for a minute our presence at Task Force meetings across the state wasn’t felt or our voices heard. Among the dozens of orchestrated presenters speaking in favor of the tax proposal last evening, many stressed the importance of continuing work to properly fund public education.

Some examples…

Jacey Skinner, representing the Salt Lake Chamber, said, “We understand the precariousness the education community feels. We share their concern that there are still ongoing conversations regarding education funding that will be left to subsequent legislation. We don’t yet know what that will be. While we prefer that these issues be addressed together, we believe you (legislators) that this important piece will be addressed during a General Session. We want to make sure you understand our clear priority in that area (education funding).”

Task Force member Rep. Mike Schultz specifically directed comments “to my good friends in the education community.” He said, “…I want to say you guys have a very difficult job and you do it better than anyone in the nation does and thank you for that…hopefully we can work together to solve education funding…I can tell you the commitment his here on the legislature’s part and the governor’s part to solve some of the issues that lie ahead.”

Also, when I completed my comments, Task Force co-chair Rep. Francis Gibson, passed along a specific message: “I will say you have been consistent and thank you for your advocacy for those important people. I would also let you know a message from both the Speaker and the Governor that they have spoken and they are committed to continue work with you and other stakeholders in this…specifically from both the Governor and the Speaker I was told to give you that message. I look forward to those dialogues.”

Legislators, the Governor, the Speaker and others felt compelled to acknowledge our concerns. They wouldn’t have done that if we hadn’t been a forceful presence.

Yes, our voices are being heard! It’s now time to pivot to the 2020 General Legislative Session (January 27-March 11), where the fight for education funding will continue.

In the meantime, here are five things UEA members can do…

  1. Continue to contact legislators. Strengthen your relationships with them. Urge them to reject tax reform and income tax cuts until they have a plan for supporting students. If they say they are voting in favor of the bill, find out why and what they plan to do to protect and grow future education funding.
  2. Follow the Special Session debate. Understand the issues and why legislators are voting the way they are.
  3. Stay informed at UEA Under the Dome. The site is updated regularly with important education-related legislative information.
  4. Schedule yourself to attend at least one UEA Educator Day on the Hill. These meetings, held at the Capitol each Friday during the legislative session, give educators the opportunity to meet lawmakers and share important classroom stories.
  5. Most importantly, spend time with loved ones and enjoy a much-earned holiday rest!

As I’ve said before, we are in this for the long haul.


UEA Urges Legislators to Oppose Income Tax Cuts Without Ed Funding Plan – December 9, 2019

UEA President Heidi Matthews sent the following email to all state legislators on December 9, 2019:

Dear Legislator,

Teachers have long understood that any cut to the income tax is a cut to education. We view the current tax reform proposal no differently.

We believe it is dangerous to pass a major tax reform bill, especially one that includes a $635 million cut to the income tax, until the legislature can demonstrate with certainty how the change will impact public education funding.

We strongly oppose any cuts to the income tax or tax restructuring without a firm plan to simultaneously address the critical funding needs of public education. That education plan must provide a path to support critical student needs such as reducing class sizes, providing high-quality early learning opportunities and addressing our severe teacher shortage, just to name a few.

As always, if you have any questions about our position, please feel free to contact us. We look forward to working with you to develop a funding plan that supports our students, our teachers and our schools.

Sincerely,

UEA President Heidi Matthews


UEA Urges Legislators to Oppose a Special Session on Tax Reform – December 4, 2019

The UEA Legislative Team sent the following email to all state legislators on December 4, 2019:

Dear Legislator,

On behalf of Utah’s dedicated public school teachers and their students, the Utah Education Association asks that you please oppose a special session on Utah tax reform until a firm plan for addressing the critical funding needs of public education can be publicly presented, openly discussed and fully vetted.

Teachers have looked to the tax reform process with great anticipation and hope for their students. In many ways, they see this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity, through this official tax reform process, to do something truly visionary for the students of Utah.

Our teachers have heard the promise that as the economy grows, so will investments in education. Unfortunately, current proposals do not keep that promise. They do little to GROW education investments and allow us to address critical student needs such as reducing class sizes, providing high-quality early learning opportunities and addressing our severe teacher shortage, just to name a few.

While we appreciate recognition that student enrollment growth and inflation must be a given in order to maintain status quo and we applaud efforts to ease legislative barriers our local school boards face in raising funds locally, no current plan ensures the sustainable, long-term, equitable and growing education resources our students so desperately need.

We urge you to oppose a special session to enact tax reform and continue the work to develop a plan that supports our students, our teachers and our schools.

Sincerely,

The UEA Legislative Team


UEA President calls tax reform plan “wrong for Utah” - November 22, 2019

‘Tough time’ predicted for Utah lawmakers’ funding plan for schools in tax reform package
Deseret News, Nov. 22, 2019

“The overall tax proposal, plus the education piece, cuts hundreds of millions of dollars from our schools. That’s not good for kids. It’s wrong for our teachers. It’s wrong for our schools. It’s wrong for our students and it’s wrong for Utah,” Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews said Thursday.

…Matthews, who was in Florida Thursday for an education association meeting, said teachers are already raising their own concerns about the plan.

“My email is blowing up on an hourly basis,” she said

The funding in the plan is “very insufficient,” Matthews said, in terms of making up for the estimated $651 million cut in income taxes being proposed from dropping the state income tax rate from 4.95% to 4.56% and adding new exemptions and credits aimed at helping families along with the poor and elderly.

“It does not grow the investment in public education. While it does lay a baseline foundation for growth and inflation, it is simply not sufficient to address the needs of our students,” she said, warning those guarantees “would all but solidify our position as the lowest funded schools” in the nation per pupil.

A special session on tax reform, especially if it does not include an education funding plan, is premature, Matthews said.

“This has been such a confusing message from the beginning,” she said of the tax reform effort that started with a failed bill last session. The proposal then would have added sales taxes to many services to deal with a structural imbalance in the budget caused by lagging growth in sales taxes as consumer spending shifts from goods to services.

“Now we’ve gone from taxing services to gutting the fund that is constitutionally designated for public education. It’s complicated. It feels very rushed,” Matthews said. “Our members within the Utah Education Association are having such a hard time tracking this ... they want to know, ‘How is this going to affect my classroom?”

Teachers “absolutely” will campaign against amending the Utah Constitution to remove the restriction on spending income taxes only for schools, she said. Asked if their opposition could result in teacher walkouts or similar actions, Matthews said, “anything is possible. We care deeply.”


19 educators train as UEA Policy Ambassadors – November 11, 2019

The 2020 UEA Policy Ambassador program launched with a Fall Retreat on Saturday, November 9. Led by members of the UEA Legislative Team, the retreat focused on logistics of the legislative process and lobbying, developing leadership and advocacy skills, effective communication and messaging, as well as team building and networking.

The 19 educators selected as 2020 Policy Ambassadors will engage in a series of activities related to the 2020 legislative session. In addition to training at the Fall Retreat, Ambassadors will speak with their elected representative and senator, participate in UEA Educator Day on the Hill, attend legislative committee meetings, study a policy issue of interest, write about their experience on UEA Under the Dome and present at the UEA Summer Leadership Academymore


Draft tax reform bill calls for income tax cuts but gives no details on plan for education – November 7, 2019

(Reported by Jay Blain)

Dozens of teachers dressed in #RedForEd filled the hearing room as the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force unveiled a draft bill for comprehensive tax reform. In his opening comments, task force chair Lyle Hillyard explained that the gas tax only generates enough to cover about one-third of road construction costs. He also said revenue is not growing as fast as the state’s population.

Sen. Curt Bramble commented that is not good process to see a bill reported in the media before the committee even sees it. He is frustrated about getting phone calls from constituents about reports in the media about contents of the bill when he hasn’t even seen it.

Legislative staff then presented an executive summary of the bill. The bill reduces the income tax rate from 4.95% to 4.58%. According to the summary, income taxes would be cut by $650 million, while sales tax revenues would increase by about $570 million, for an overall net tax reduction of about $80 million. A family of four earning $60,000 annually would see an estimated tax reduction of more than $320 under the proposal.

During public comment, UEA President Heidi Matthews read a statement endorsed by the Utah Public Education Coalition supporting principles for education reform. She also expressed concerns about draft bill. “The bill includes massive cuts to the Constitutionally dedicated revenue source for public education in Utah. This bill proposes no vision for the schools we want for our state and more importantly no public plan for demonstrating sustained increases in growing education funding for our students’ future. How can we even begin to make decisions about this proposal in the absence of a new funding plan for education?”

Matthews said the time frame for approving and implementing massive statewide tax changes is also problematic. “The Legislature has failed to make a case that warrants a special session in the next few weeks. Decisions of such magnitude require significant discussion. Without those discussions, holding any special session is premature.”

Michael McDonough, Granite Education Association president and a teacher at Woodstock Elementary School, said cutting education funding without resolving how that money would be replaced is like demolishing an old school that needs replacing while the kids are still in it instead of waiting for a new building to be completed.

Caren Burns, a teacher at Beehive Elementary in Kearns became emotional as she described the impact raising the sales tax on food and adding new taxes to services will have on the low-income students she serves.

Many others spoke to the bill, including advocates for the poor sharing concerns about increasing the food tax and service providers who object to increased taxes on their services.

The task force took no action during the meeting but plans to meet again on Nov. 21.


UEA delivers tax reform concerns to legislators – October 14, 2019

The UEA Legislative Team sent the following email to all state legislators on October 14, 2019:

Dear Legislator,

On behalf of Utah’s dedicated public school teachers and their students, the Utah Education Association respectfully requests you keep the following in mind as you develop and consider tax reform proposals:

  1. Education powers our economy.
    Tax policies must deliver sustainable and growing education investments in individualized student attention, the state’s critical teacher shortage, student health and safety, and equitable opportunities for every student no matter where they live. Besides providing a better education for our children, each dollar invested in education provides greater economic returns than equal investments in corporate subsidies or tax cuts.
  2. Any cut to income tax hurts students.
    The income tax that is constitutionally guaranteed to fund public education has not kept pace with student needs. Just a .05% reduction in the income tax rate, as we saw in 2018, means about $55 million less available for our students each year. We simply can’t afford to leave any child’s potential unrealized.
  3. Transportation shortfalls require a transportation fix.
    General Fund revenue gaps exist largely because the state has been unable to keep up with growing transportation demands. Don’t attempt to solve a transportation funding problem on the backs of school children.
  4. The state has a revenue problem.
    The needs of Utah’s citizens are growing while tax burdens are falling. There is clearly a need to continue to grow education investment, adjust sales tax collection for a 21st century economy and increase transportation revenue for a growing population.

It is not enough to simply maintain or “hold harmless” education funding. Our students need secure sustainable and growing education revenue sources.

Please feel free to reach out to any member of the UEA Legislative Team if you would like to discuss our concerns.

Sincerely,

The UEA Legislative Team


Education a hot topic at tax townhall meetings – August 6, 2019

Teachers were out in force over the summer as the Utah Legislature conducted townhall meetings to discuss tax reform. The Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force held a series of eight revenue restructure meetings across the state, beginning June 25 in Brigham City and concluding July 30 in Orem.

“It is not an exaggeration to say the decisions resulting from the tax reform process have the potential to impact education funding for generations,” said UEA Government Relations Director Chase Clyde. “The Legislature needs to hear that tax decisions are important because ensuring sustainable growth in education funding is important. It is critical that the voices of educators are heard.”

Indeed, teachers were heard. Teachers wearing #RedForEd took the microphone in many of the meetings to express the need for protecting and growing education funding.

“Current funding of education is not meeting the needs of our students,” said Grand High School teacher Hank Postma at the Moab townhall meeting. “We’ve been told the last decade plus to be patient and let the economy grow and that growth will fund the needs of our students. Well, the economy has grown and rather than taking the opportunity to invest in our children, we are now looking at moving that money elsewhere.”

During the Davis County meeting, Weber School District teacher Maddie Williams said, “I’m here for the students, that’s why I teach.” She described the difficulties in teaching classes with a large number of students. “Those kids deserve to have a comfortable place to learn and without funding in the right places, we can’t do our jobs.”

While revenues for education are up (Education Fund), the state has experienced much slower growth in revenues for other services (General Fund). Failed attempts to address General Fund shortfalls led the 2019 Legislature to pass HB495, creating the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force charged to “study state and local revenue systems with the purpose of making recommendations to address structural imbalances among revenue sources.”

Next steps in the process are yet to be publicly announced. Check here at UEA Under the Dome regularly for the most recent information, links and updated meeting details.


UEA: Utah tax policy should ‘grow public education investments in student success’ – May 30, 2019

The UEA released the following Issue Brief outlining its recommendations for tax policy solutions…

UEA Issue Brief: Utah State Tax Restructuring and Equalization

While revenues for education are up (Education Fund), the state has experienced much slower growth in revenues for other services (General Fund). Failed attempts to address General Fund shortfalls led the 2019 Legislature to pass HB495, creating a “Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force” charged to “study state and local revenue systems with the purpose of making recommendations to address structural imbalances among revenue sources.” The Task Force will hold town hall meetings around the state to solicit public engagement and ideas.

The UEA SUPPORTS tax policy solutions that…

1. Grow public education investments in student success

  • It is not enough to simply maintain or “hold harmless” education funding. Our students need secure sustainable and growing education revenue sources.
  • We must safeguard and expand long-term resources available for public education such as provided by the Utah constitutional guarantee directing income tax to education
  • Policymakers should rely on teachers as experts when identifying what is needed to ensure student success.

2. Provide equitable resources for ALL students to learn and thrive

  • All students, regardless of zip code, deserve learning opportunities in safe schools, classes small enough for one-on-one attention and up-to-date learning materials/tools.
  • Students cannot learn when they are hungry, stressed or in pain. Families in need should be provided support services like nutrition, counseling and health care.

3. Allow the state to attract and retain qualified teachers and other school staff

  • We must invest in the root causes of the teacher shortage and support teaching as a sustainable profession.
  • We must ensure that every educator has the resources, mentoring and support they need to ensure student success.
  • Salary is critical, but resources must be provided to address other stress factors driving teachers from the profession such as:

-   class sizes well beyond recommended norms for optimal student learning;

-   over-focus on standardized tests that take up valuable learning time;

-   lack of classroom support (counselors, librarians, paraeducators, etc.);

-   increasing student social, emotional and behavior issues; and

-   insufficient mentoring support for educators entering the profession.


- Printable version of the UEA Issue Brief: Utah State Tax Restructuring and Equalization (pdf)
- "Telling Your Story" about education funding (pdf)


Task force charged with tax restructuring holds first meeting, announces townhall dates – May 30, 2019

Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force (reported by Jay Blain): The first meeting of the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force included a discussion of the process and announcement of tentative town hall meeting dates and locations, but included no public comment, policy action or discussion. Several teachers were in attendance wearing their #RedForEd.

After introductions, Rep. Mike Schultz gave a recap of the 2019 Legislature’s HB441. The bill would have reduced the income tax and expanded sales tax to many services. His summary was that there was not enough time to address all the concerns raised. He said the process worked.

Jonathan Ball, legislative fiscal analyst, gave a presentation to review the definition of the problem. They also shared a document explaining the vision and principles for the task force and a process graphic about public input.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard explained that the purpose of the town halls is not to debate but to get public input on options. He also said legislative staff will be developing a website for the task force where the public can enter comments, get information about the data and other items.

The tentative town hall dates, times and locations announced during the meeting are as follows, with specific venues to be named later (handout provided at the meeting):

  • Tuesday, June 25, Brigham City, 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 27, Salt Lake County, 6 p.m.
  • Friday, June 28, Richfield, 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, June 29, St George, mid-day (no specific time given)
  • Monday, July 8, Davis/Weber County, 6 p.m.
  • Tuesday, July 9, Roosevelt, 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, July 20, Moab, mid-day (no specific time given)
  • Tuesday, July 30, Utah County, 6 p.m.

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