2021 WEEK IN REVIEW: January 19-22
|Governor Spencer Cox delivered his first
State of the State address on January 21, 2021.
Photo: The Salt Lake Tribune pool
Speeches and presentations dominated public work during the WEEK ONE of the 2021 General Legislative Session, with most of the difficult work happening behind the scenes. Few public education bills moved during the first week, but it’s unlikely that situation will last long with the number of filed and numbered bills growing daily.
In an opening speech to legislators, Senate President Stuart Adams thanked teachers, but took a jab at Salt Lake City School District for not opening to full in-person instruction. Utah Governor Spencer Cox also praised educators and called for changes in the way public education is funded during a short State of the State address.
Among things lost to the pandemic, we can now add UEA Educator Day on the Hill. For the first time in many years, a legislative Friday passed without teachers gathering on Utah’s Capitol Hill to advocate for public education.
Public Education Budget
The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee heard many reports from education entities this week and heard details of the remarkable Base Budget proposal passed in December by the Executive Appropriations Committee (SB1: Public Education Base Budget, see more about the FY2022 education budget). Reports included funding priority presentations from the State Board of Education, the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, and the School & Institutional Trust Fund Office (SITFO).
Governor, Senate President and House Speaker share praise for teachers during opening remarks
Touting it as “the shortest State of the State speech in Utah history,” newly elected Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox addressed a joint session of the Utah Legislature Jan. 21. A large portion of that speech was dedicated to education, including remarks directly to teachers. “Never in the history of our state have we felt (teachers’) influence or needed you more than right now. You have pivoted on a dime and figured out ways to do what seemed impossible,” he said. “(Teachers) deserve our respect. And they deserve a raise. I’m grateful to you legislators who agree and have pledged historic education funding this year, including $112 million dollars in bonuses for our teachers. In addition, I have proposed a nearly 6% increase in our state’s education funding — more than $400 million in all. And while I just referred to these investments as ‘historic,’ I’m looking forward to them becoming routine.”
The general theme for Speaker Brad Wilson’s opening address to the House of Representatives was, ‘Great moments are born from great opportunity.’ He stated there are three areas to build on for equality in the state: education, housing and healthcare. Specifically, in education he mentioned critical thinking, financial literacy and civics as being necessary in every classroom.
In his opening comments to the Utah Senate, Senate President Stuart Adams said he is “especially proud of our teachers. I am grateful for the efforts of those who have made the classroom clean and safe so that our children and grandchildren can get the best in-person education possible under the circumstances. They are the unsung heroes of 2020.” Pres. Adams said opening the economy has led to budget surpluses that will benefit students. “Last summer, we funded a 1.8% increase in the WPU for teachers, the only state in the nation to increase education spending during a pandemic. In December, we went a step further. The Executive Appropriations Committee recommended the full reinstatement of the 6% increase in the WPU.” Pres. Adams then directed comments to the current situation in Salt Lake City School District, saying “parents should have the option to have their kids in the classroom. We are seeing alarming reports in the Salt Lake City School District where there is not option for in-person learning.”
Education bills begin to appear and move through the process
Included among the handful of education bills publicly discussed during WEEK ONE was a resolution to recognize former educator, NEA State Director and legislator Lawanna Shurtliff. There was little public discussion on education bills the first week, but that should change quickly as the number of bills grows daily. 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 31 (see the current UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet). Here are the UEA-tracked bills moving during the week:
- HCR7: Concurrent Resolution Recognizing the Public Service of Representative Lawanna “Lou” Shurtliff passed both the House and Senate unanimously and now goes to the governor for signature. Rep. Shurtliff was serving as a member of the Utah House representing Ogden’s District 10 when she passed away earlier in January. She was a school teacher and previously served as president of the Ogden Education Association president and a Board member of National Education Association representing Utah.
- HB42: Education Agency Report Process Amendments removes some existing reports and requires the Utah State Board of Education to establish a policy or procedures to evaluate the impact any report required in a rule proposed by the state board may have on reporting requirements for a local education agency. The UEA supports this bill. It passed the House on a vote of 72-1 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.
- HB124: Civics Engagement Pilot Program Amendments simply changes the start date for a civics engagement pilot program created in last year’s legislative session from 2020-21 to 2021-22. It passed the House Education Committee on a vote of 13-1.
- HB134: Notice of Public Education Reporting Requirement requires that the legislature indicate whether a bill will impact reporting requirements for school districts and charters. It passed the House Education Committee unanimously.
- HB181: Personalized Competency-based Learning updates language and definitions regarding personalized, competency-based learning. It passed the House Education Committee on a vote of 10-1.
- SB11: Retirement Income Tax Amendments creates an individual income tax credit for certain social security benefits and an individual income tax credit for military retirement pay. It passed the Senate unanimously and now goes to the House for consideration.
- SB107: In-Person Instruction Prioritization states that any district or charter school that “does not provide a broad-based in-person learning option for all students in kindergarten through grade 12 by February 8, 2021” will face funding consequences including requiring the district to pay up to 75% of the cost of private school tuition for families wanting in-person instruction. The bill targets the Salt Lake City School District, the only district that does not currently have an in-person learning option for students. There was extensive committee discussion with Senate President Adams saying there is “nothing punitive about this bill.” UEA President Heidi Matthews spoke against the bill stating that SB107 is simply the legislature “flexing its muscles” and threatens the kind of collaborative efforts that achieved the historic funding proposals seen this year. The bill the Senate Education Committee passed on a vote of 5-2. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
UEA Policy Ambassador message
Eleven educators were selected to become 2021 UEA Policy Ambassadors. These teachers received training from the UEA Legislative Team and have agreed to participate in UEA legislative activities, engage with their legislators and share their experiences with UEA members. Here is an excerpt from a new submission...
- As a Teacher, Your Job is Political – by UEA Policy Ambassador Hunter Clapsadl, sixth-grade teacher at Diamond Ridge Elementary School in Granite School District
“…As we have all seen, this year has been one of the most politically charged, dividing times we have experienced as educators. We’ve seen COVID completely change the structure of our school and social communities, watched and stood with those demanding equality in our country and even witnessed an attack on our nation’s capital. As an adult I have struggled to process these events and how they affect me”…read the full article from Hunter Clapsadl
Staying connected during the 2021 General Legislative Session – January 13, 2021
Like many other things during COVID-19, the 2021 Utah Legislative Session will look very different than in previous years. While there are no planned in-person Educator Day on the Hill activities at the Capitol, there are still plenty of opportunities to stay informed and for your voice to be heard, including several new activities for 2021:
Join the UEA Legislative Team for a UEA Capitol Insights Zoom briefing each Thursday at 4:30 p.m. during the legislative session. You’ll hear the latest updates on important education issues and have the chance to ask questions of the UEA lobby team. Register here (register once and you can use the link to join each week).
Receive regular email updates during 2021 Legislative Session by registering as a UEA activist. Sign up to be a UEA activist and receive the UEA Capitol Insights e-newsletter here.
Live Video Updates
Watch for regular Facebook Live updates from your UEA Legislative Team at the Capitol. Follow the UEA on Facebook at facebook.com/UtahEducationAssociation.
Lobbying Training Videos
Watch UEA videos on effective virtual lobbying during the 2021 Legislative Session.
Gov. Cox recommends significant education investments in his first budget - January 11, 2021
The UEA expressed support for the first budget recommendation unveiled Jan. 11 by Governor Spencer Cox. The Governor’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget calls for a public education budget increase of nearly $431 million in ongoing funding and $180 in one-time funding.
The Governor’s budget priorities align very closely with the UEA’s 2021 Legislative Priorities and the budget proposal approved by the Executive Appropriations Committee in December.
“We applaud the public education budget proposed today by Governor Spencer Cox in his first budget recommendation to the Utah Legislature,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews in a media statement. “(The Governor’s) recommendation combined with a similar budget vote by the Executive Appropriations Committee in December signify a significant commitment by both the governor and the legislature to invest in the students of Utah.”
In a typical year, the Base Budget enacted by the legislature at the beginning of the legislative session is set at or near the previous year’s budget. Any new expenditures are debated later. This year, the legislature is proposing the Base Budget that includes significant public education funding increase. “When enacted, not only would this budget represent one of the highest levels of funding for Utah education in recent years, the significant step of establishing much of the increase in the Base Budget, as proposed by the Executive Appropriations Committee, makes this truly remarkable,” said Matthews.
Gov. Cox’s budget proposal, which will be considered by the Legislature during its General Session beginning Jan. 19, includes a 5.82% increase in the weighted pupil unit (WPU), the primary funding mechanism for Utah K-12 schools. Cox said the extra money for education would help fund enrollment growth and allow districts to provide “meaningful pay increases to teachers.”
“I cannot overemphasize how essential teachers are to our state’s long-term success as they educate the young Utahns that literally are our future,” Cox said. “Let’s give them our support as a state.”
Great news for education! Huge funding increase, teacher bonuses receive preliminary approval – December 17, 2020
The Legislative Executive Appropriations Committee passed a recommendation to include an unprecedented $400 million investment in public education in the Base Budget. The Base Budget is typically approved in the very early days of the Legislative Session. In a typical year, budget increases are not voted on until near the end of a session.
“This is indeed reason for celebration! As a member of the UEA, YOU did this! WE did this,” wrote UEA President Heidi Matthews in a message to UEA members. “Our UEA pushed hard for legislators to keep the promise made during the 2020 legislature, the necessity of supporting our educators now, and for alleviating any further stress and anxiety by having these funds committed at the beginning of a session.”
Here’s what’s included in the recommendation:
- The remainder of the promised of 6% on the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) from March 2020 ($141 million)*
- Student enrollment growth ($33 million) **
- Inflation ($62 million)**
- Fluctuations in enrollment due to the pandemic ($43 million over two years)
- Supplemental Educator COVID Stipend ($121 million)…enough to provide a BONUS of $1,500 for every licensed educator and $1,000 for most other school employees.
- Public Education Stabilization fund ($128 million)
“Not only is this one of the highest levels of funding we have received in years (equivalent of 6% WPU increase plus a bonus!) the significant step of establishing the increase as the starting point for education funding makes this truly remarkable,” said Matthews. “While the end product appears in the press, so much more happens behind the scenes…in rooms where we are included because of our collective power and influence. YOU made this happen as a member of the UEA. And, yes, as stated in a Salt Lake Tribune article, I am ‘ebullient’.”
The news was soured somewhat by the inclusion of legislative intent language that would potentially exclude Salt Lake City School District employees from the bonus.
“What should have been a day of united celebration quickly soured with the legislative efforts to overturn local control so inconsistently and conveniently applied,” said Matthews. “Our UEA stands in solidarity with our Salt Lake Education Association members. No Utah educator should be denied the bonus, especially based on a decision out of their control. We believe #AnInjusticeToOneIsAnInjusticeToAll. There is still time, since the final vote will not happen until after the legislature begins its General Session on January 19.”
2021 UEA Legislative Priorities
For the 2021 General Session, the UEA asks the legislature to reverse the overwhelming workload and support Utah educators during the COVID pandemic crisis by strictly limiting education-related bills to essential legislation that must be accomplished during the 2021 General Session. The 2021 UEA legislative priorities call on legislatures to fully restore $140 million in WPU funding cut during 2020 interim special sessions; fully fund student enrollment growth; include a WPU inflation adjustment in the Base Budget; and support long-term education economic stabilization through a working fund.
The UEA also asks the legislature to reinstate other cuts made during 2020 interim special sessions, to hold all schools harmless for enrollment fluctuations during the 2020-21 school year due to COVID, and to allocate $40 million in one-time funding for COVID-related expenses. The UEA continues to oppose schemes (such as vouchers or tax credits) that funnel public education money to personal student accounts or privately-run entities where taxpayer accountability is lost.