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2011 Legislative Summary

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2011 Legislative Summary


Final Thoughts on the 2011 Legislative Session

By Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh (Comment on this article)

As I sat in the Senate gallery on the last day of the 2011 session, I was struck by the significant amount of work we have to accomplish over this next year. Recently, the governor of Wisconsin stripped the teachers of their rights to collective bargaining and locked the people out of their beloved Capitol building. Idaho teachers have lost their bargaining rights. At this moment, battles over the education of our children, the respect and governance of our profession and our association are taking place in literally every state in our country.

Utah is no different. We may not be a collective bargaining state, but our children and our teachers have lost a great deal this session.  Parents for Choice in Education, the voucher proponents, have submitted a slate of legislation, in cooperation with some members of the legislature, designed to privatize our public education system, institute a national anti-association education reform model and dismantle public schools.

Sen. Howard Stephenson is on record stating that the UEA is all about protecting mediocrity. Are you a mediocre teacher? Apparently the answer for a large number of our legislators is ‘yes’! Legislation passed this year includes revamped evaluation systems; curriculum mandates; exploration of eliminating “career status” based on test scores; exploration of performance pay; elimination of association leave; elimination of “seniority” as the basis for reductions in force when evaluations are equal; diverting scarce funding to charter schools and specific technology providers; giving schools a single grade with no resources for improvement; and a focus on the 8 percent of our children in charter schools to the detriment of 92 percent of our children, including the most needy.

Make no mistake—this is a national agenda. Utah is not immune from the impact of those who want to destroy our traditional neighborhood public schools. The push to revive vouchers is alive and well in Utah. Privatization is alive and well in Utah. A movement to minimize our Association is alive and well in Utah.

We are the advocates for our children, our profession and our schools. We must act now! We may have lost a few battles, but together we can win the war! 

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Education Budget Holds Steady, Funds Growth

By Jay Blain and Mike Kelley

After a long legislative budget process that at one point had public education facing cuts as high as 11 percent, the legislature approved a final 2011-12 Utah state budget that funds public education at the same level as last year. The budget includes new funding to cover an estimated 14,700 new students expected next year.

Public education was spared the budget cuts faced by several other state agencies and departments. The final budget is very close to that proposed by Gov. Gary Herbert in December, which the UEA supported.

“Our legislature has demonstrated its commitment to funding public education by avoiding major budget cuts and providing for growth,” said Utah Education Association President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh in a March 11 press release. “This budget will help educators focus on delivering a quality education without worrying about what will be cut next.”

This is the first time in three years the legislature has funded new student growth. Over the past two years, the state’s public education budget has declined by about $200 million, while nearly 25,000 new students were added to school rolls.

Some sources are reporting an overall increase of 2.2 percent in the public education budget. While this is technically correct, most of this increase will fund student population growth for the first time in three years. This is very good considering the impact that other state agencies and departments felt in their budgets. Teacher supply money was funded at the same level as last year and with the same distribution formula.

The value of the WPU increased from $2,577 to $2,816, an increase of $239 dollars, but this was not new money. It was accomplished by rolling a large amount of the “flexible allocation” line item, used to fund Social Security and retirement, into the WPU. It is important to note that two restricted programs, Special Education Add-on and Career & Technical Ed District Add-on, which are funded on a WPU basis, are being funded at the previous WPU value of $2,577.

In the end, the final public education budget was very close to the one proposed by Gov. Gary Herbert in December.

A proposal to move the Professional Staff Cost Factor line item into the WPU was of concern to the UEA because this line item helps districts fund salaries based on experience and education for educators. In addition, many districts have negotiated stipends for achieving National Board Certification with money from this line item. After hearing objections from the UEA and others in the education community, the line item was maintained.

Other highlights from the budget include:

  • $5 million for teacher supply money, the same amount and distribution formula as last year;
  • Pupil Transportation funded at last year’s level;
  • $7.5 million for early interventions (which could include optional extended day kindergarten), but it is one-time money; and
  • $4 million to continue the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Elementary Arts Program.

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Attacks on the Association

By Mark Mickelsen

Attacks on the Association began early in the session when Rep. Keith Grover introduced House Bill 183: School District Leave Policies. The assault continued with Sen. Howard Stephenson’s Senate Bill 206: Labor Organization Provisions in Teacher Contracts.

HB183 prohibits a local school board from granting paid association leave for certain employee association or union duties. Under the substitute bill, which passed March 9, a local school board may allow paid association leave “if the duty performed by the employee on paid association leave will directly benefit the school district, including representing the school district’s licensed educators.”

For certain school districts – like Davis, Granite, and Salt Lake – the bill provides that up to 10 days of association leave is permitted under certain conditions. In those districts, one-third to one-half of an employee’s salary is paid by the district as they take full-time leave from teaching to serve as an association president. These teachers work full-time on behalf of their district’s teachers, with a portion of their salary paid by the association. Districts elect to operate this way because of the valuable service association presidents provide on behalf of the district—services that would otherwise need to be performed by other district employees.

The UEA Legislative Team and Davis Education Association President Susan Firmage fought hard to maintain association members’ rights throughout this battle on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Stephenson gave as his reason for sponsoring SB206 the story of an association member (he didn’t say which association) who was denied the opportunity to discontinue dues deductions during the year. His bill requires that an employer “promptly cease or commence” a union dues wage deduction upon the written request of the employee. The legislation also says a labor organization is not liable to an employee for any claim, service, or benefits that is available only to a member of the organization “if the employee requests cessation of union dues wage deductions.” We felt this bill was largely unnecessary as it mirrors current Association practice. This bill passed both the House and Senate.

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Evaluating Teachers and Grading Schools

UEA Involvement Improves Initially Detrimental Bills

By Sara Jones and Mike Kelley

With a collective, statewide sigh, the 2011 Utah Legislature concluded its General Session March 10. In all, more than 1,000 bills were considered, including about 110 dealing with education.

While the ultimate goal of the UEA Legislative Team may be to see supportive legislation pass and harmful bills fail, much of the work on legislation is not so clearly visible. Perhaps the most effective work performed by the UEA Legislative Team happens behind the scenes and with the help of classroom educators.

Bills targeting the evaluation of teachers and grading schools provide examples of the UEA helping legislation to favorably evolve as it moved through the process:

Senate Bill 59: School Grading System requires the State Board of Education to establish a school grading system that assigns a single letter grade to all public schools. It takes effect following the 2011-12 school year and replaces the U-PASS reporting system.

The bill was drafted with considerable input from Parents for Choice in Education, as were several others in this legislative session.

Due to the work of the UEA Legislative Team and others in the education community, some of the worst language in the bill was removed, including capping at 80 percent the number of schools that could receive an A or a B. However, one of the most concerning aspects of the bill did not change—no money or resources have been allocated to help improve those schools receiving low grades. Sen. Niederhauser has, however, expressed his willingness to consider how resources might be made available in the future. The UEA will continue to advocate for help for struggling schools.

The bill establishes specific considerations that must be included in the grade: 1) proficiency in language arts, math, science and writing based on statewide assessments; 2) learning gains in language arts, math and science based on statewide assessments; 3) and, for high schools, graduation rates and college and career readiness measures. The grade will be based on a standard grading scale with an A representing a score of 90-100%, a B representing a score of 80-89% and so on.

SB59 also requires that during the next year the USOE will model the proposed program and report to the Education Interim Committee any problems that arise that need to be modified. For example, the grading procedure outlined in the bill was tested using data only from schools in the Canyons School District so it is not clear how the grade distribution will look in rural, demographically diverse or small schools.

There is a cost to the state of about $400,000 to create the new system. This includes costs for statistical analysis, database development and so on. There is also a cost to local school districts of about $400,000 for the reporting requirements which would include mailing notifications to parents and posting information on district websites.

Teachers will be represented in the development of the grading procedure at the USOE. Sara Jones, UEA Director, is a member of the committee which will begin meeting next week and continue over the next few months as the details of the grading procedure are determined.

Senate Bill 256: Teacher Effectiveness Evaluation Process directs school districts or charter schools to develop a teacher evaluation instrument in consultation with a joint committee of teachers, parents and administrators appointed by the local school board and requires that provisional educators be evaluated twice each year and career educators be evaluated annually. Also requires that during the interim session the Education Interim Committee, in consultation with the USOE, will study how teacher performance can be evaluated in the areas of 1) student learning gains; 2) classroom observations; and 3) parent, student or community satisfaction.

Due to the work of the UEA Legislative Team, some of the worst language in the bill was removed, including mandates that every school establish its own evaluation instrument and that 40 percent of an evaluation must be tied to student test scores. However, one of the most concerning aspects of the bill did not change—removing the requirement that districts provide an educator with "reasonable assistance to improve performance." Districts may choose to provide this assistance, but will no longer be required.

Teachers will be represented in the development of the evaluation framework. Sara Jones, UEA Director, is a member of the USOE committee that will begin meeting in April and continue over the next few months as the details of the evaluation framework are determined.

Senate Bill 73: Public School Teacher Tenure Modifications, another bill targeting teacher evaluations, eventually passed the House and Senate, but not before major modifications stripped the bill of most of its detrimental provisions.

In its original form, SB73 would have mandated that teachers whose students perform at the bottom 5 percent on a statewide test would be deemed “low performing.” The proficiency label would then be used to strip educators of “career” status and make them provisional.

In a Senate Education Committee meeting, UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh and several other teachers testified about the harmful effects of labeling teachers based on student test scores. Granite UniServ Director Star Orullian said she believes "that the law that is presently in place is sufficient and does provide what is needed to rid the system of underperforming teachers." She also said Granite School District has a "model" teacher evaluation system (see the UEA editorial). A second-year teacher stated that not only could this legislation create a mass exodus from Title I schools, but possibly a mass exodus from the profession.

Because of the concerns raised in testimony and the possible unintended consequence of the bill, Sen. Howard Stephenson decided to hold it until some changes could be made. As passed, the bill prohibits school districts from using last-hired, first-fired as a policy for reduction-in-force and proposes an interim study of using test scores to determine “career” status for teachers. Passed. While the UEA remains opposed, the final bill is a dramatic improvement over the original.

SB73 removes seniority from the reduction-in-force (RIF) process for school districts. Given the fact that very few, if any, districts have gone to RIFs for teachers, it will likely have minimal impact on teachers at this point in time.

Another provision of the enacted bill presents a future concern: “During the 2011 interim, the Education Interim Committee, in consultation with the State Board of Education, shall study how the performance of teachers may be evaluated for the purpose of awarding or eliminating teacher career employee status.The concern is that next session we will see legislation that will have the effect of removing a teacher’s career status based on evaluations that rely heavily on student test scores.

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Legislation of Note in the 2011 Legislative Session

With more than 1,000 bills on the docket—including about 110 that directly or indirectly impact education—the 2011 Utah Legislature had its hands full. Here are a few education bills of note and their final status:

 = Outcome favorable to the UEA position
 = Outcome neutral to the UEA position
 = Outcome unfavorable to the UEA position

 HB2 (2nd sub.): Minimum School Program and Public Education Budget Amendments is the primary budget bill for public education. Details of the bill are as outlined under “Public Education Budget,” above. Passed. Supported by the UEA.

 HB50: School Termination Procedures Modifications clarifies that a school district is not required to provide a cause for not renewing a provisional employee’s contract. Passed. Since this reflects current practice, the UEA felt this was unnecessary.

 HB75 (1st sub.): Dangerous Weapons Amendments eliminates the 1,000-foot restricted perimeter around a school zone for carrying a weapon. Passed. Opposed by the UEA.

 HB92 (1st sub.): Public Education Regional Service Centers gives school district regional service centers legal standing. These centers provide vital resources to rural districts, allowing small districts to pool together to provide resources. Passed. Supported by the UEA.

 HB98: Capital Outlay Funding Modifications allows a local school board of a school district with an enrollment of fewer than 2,500 students to use the proceeds of a capital outlay levy for certain maintenance and operations functions. The flexibility will help rural school districts. Passed. Supported by the UEA.

 HB110 (1st sub.): Teacher Salary Supplement Program Amendments allows teachers who have the qualifications but not the degree to apply for math and science incentive pay. Passed. Supported by the UEA.

 HB111: Full-day Kindergarten would have allowed funding for two half-day kindergartens, but prohibit funding for full-time kindergarten. Did not pass. Opposed by the UEA.

 HB123: K-12 Education Amendments would have dramatically modified how education money is distributed to school districts and charter schools. An amendment removed a provision that would also have reduced the term of local school board members from four to two years. Because of its complexity, the House Education Committee voted to hold the bill and study the concept during the interim. Opposed by the UEA.

 HB134 (1st sub.): Collection of Front Line Teachers Data (formerly titled HB134: Focus on Primary Classroom Teachers Program) would collect data for a statewide program to provide incentives for school districts that spend more of their budget on classrooms. The House passed the bill but it was not heard in the Senate.

 HB152 (1st sub.) School Community Council Amendments modifies provisions pertaining to the membership, selection, and operation of school community councils. Passed. The UEA objects to a provision that forbids certified school employees from serving as parent representatives on a school community council.

 HB183 School District Leave Policies limits the association leave a local school board may grant for certain employee association or union duties. In the Senate, the bill was amended to disallow the 10 days provided for association leave in the House bill. The House refused to concur. In a conference committee, the bill was amended to allow the 10 days only for associations that have previously provided association leave. Passed. Opposed by the UEA.

 HB191 (1st sub.): Nonresident Tuition Waiver Amendments originally would have eliminated in-state tuition for all nonimmigrant alien students, regardless of how long they lived in Utah. The substitute bill allows in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants if the children have graduated from a Utah high school and the children can show that their parents paid taxes during the time they were in school. Passed the House, but was not heard in the Senate. Opposed by the UEA.

 HB199: Advertisements on School Buses would allow for up to 35 percent of a school bus to be used for advertisements. Money collected through advertising will stay in the transportation budget of the school. Passed. Supported by the UEA.

 HB220: Civics Education Amendments requires schools to teach about specific forms of government and political philosophies, including that the U.S. is a “compound, constitutional republic.” Passed. Opposed by the UEA on the basis curriculum decisions should be left to the local school district.

 HB264: State Board of Education Election Process Amendments would have provided for the direct, nonpartisan election of state school board members. Rejected by the House on a vote of 28-45. Supported by the UEA.

 HB301: School District Property Tax Revisions rolls six specific property tax levies into two, and exempts school districts from certain truth-in-taxation notice and hearing requirements. Passed. Opposed by the UEA because it reduces transparency and may lead to future funding reductions for traditional public schools.

 HB302 (1st sub.): Reading Program Amendments is a substitute bill (the original bill failed in the House, but was reconsidered) that imposes requirements for reading instruction in kindergarten through grade three and standardizes the reading testing for K-3 students. The substitute bill makes the use of technology as an opt-in consideration, funded with new money to education. Passed.

 HB313: Charter School Funding Amendments would take money from the current revenue stream of property tax and redistribute it to charter schools. Passed the House Education Committee, but it died in the House. Opposed by the UEA and many other education organizations.

 HB339: Charter School Enrollment Amendments gives the State Board of Education authority to approve an annual increase in charter school enrollment capacity equal to 2 percent of total school district enrollment. The bill originally failed in the House, but later the same day was reconsidered and passed by a vote of 47-27. Passed the House, but was not heard in the Senate. Opposed by the UEA because of the potential funding it removes from traditional public schools.

 HB388: Operation and Management of Charter Schools provides that a “chartering entity” may use certain data to measure the performance of a charter school; prohibits a chartering entity from imposing performance standards that would limit a charter school from accomplishing the purposes of charter schools; and requires a charter to include an acknowledgment that neither the chartering entity nor the state is liable for the debts or financial obligations of the charter school. Passed. Opposed by the UEA because of the different standards for charter and traditional public schools and the oversight lost by the state charter school board.

 HB447: Kindergarten Literacy Improvement Program would create a computer-based kindergarten literacy software program for all Kindergarten Students. Failed. Opposed by the UEA due to cost.

 HJR1: Joint Resolution Amending State and Local Taxing Authority would have required a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to approve any tax or fee increase. Rejected in committee. Opposed by the UEA.

 SB4: Current School Year Supplemental Public Education Adjustments contains provisions for education funding proposed by the Executive Appropriations Committee (see “Public Education Budget” above). Passed. Supported by the UEA.

 SB38: K-3 Reading Amendments revises the language of a bill passed last year to assess the reading level of first-, second-, or third-grade students and notify parents by Feb. 15 of each school year if a student is below grade level. Passed. Supported by the UEA.

 SB59 (1st sub.): School Grading System would assign a letter grade (A-F) to a school based on student test scores. The latest version of the bill is much more in line with U-PASS data that is currently part the reporting done by individual schools. Passed the Senate 17-10 and the House 39-32. While the UEA still has concerns, the final bill was an improvement over the original.

 SB63: K-3 Reading Improvement Program Accountability provides allowable uses for K-3 Reading Improvement Program money, and requires the Utah State Board of Education to report related school district and charter school expenditures. Passed. Supported by the UEA.

 SB65 (1st sub.): Statewide Online Education Program establishes a statewide online education program. It was substituted in the House to reduce the dollar amount allowed for each course and restrict providers to current public schools, reducing some of the concern about public dollars going to private providers. Passed. Opposed by the UEA and most other public education organizations, however, the final bill was an improvement over the original.

 SB73 (1st sub.): Public School Teacher Tenure Modifications in its original form would have classified educators as either “proficient” or “low performing” based on student scores on a statewide assessment. As passed, the bill prohibits school districts from using last-hired, first-fired as a policy for reduction-in-force and proposes an interim study of using test scores to determine “career” status for teachers. Passed. While the UEA remains opposed, the final bill is an improvement over the original.

 SB119 (1st Sub) School District Superintendents Amendments provides that a district superintendent is not required to hold an administrative/supervisory license. Passed. Opposed by the UEA.

 SB127: Post Retirement Employment Amendments allows a retiree who begins employment with a participating employer on or after July 1, 2010 to be reemployed within one year. Under the new law, an employee will be able to retiree and after a 60-day waiting period can come back and work if the following conditions are met: 1) cannot be in a position with benefits and 2) cannot earn more than $15,000 or 50 percent of the retirement allowance, whichever is less. In order to work full time, the employee must still sit out a full year (any part-time work would count against that one year.) Passed. Supported by the UEA.

 SB179 (1st sub.): Math Education Initiative would have required the legislature to appropriate money to award grants to school districts and charter schools to adopt the Singapore math program and would also impose requirements for honors math courses and teachers. Passed the Senate, but was soundly defeated in the House. Opposed by the UEA as something that should be determined by local school districts.

 SB206: Labor Organization Provisions in Teacher Contracts requires that an employer promptly cease or commence a union dues wage deduction upon the written request of the employees. Passed. Because this reflects current practice, the UEA opposed this legislation as unnecessary.

 SB224: Partisan School Board Elections would have required that Utah State Board of Education members are elected in partisan elections. Passed the Senate, but was not heard in the House. Opposed by the UEA.

 SB256 (2nd sub.): Teacher Effectiveness Evaluation Process is a substitute bill that moves the teacher evaluation process to the district level. The original bill required each school to have its own evaluation process. Unfortunately, the bill also removes the requirement that districts provide educators with “reasonable assistance” for improving performance. It also “sets up an interim study to review pay for performance pilot and further teacher pay” issues. Passed. While the UEA remains opposed, the final bill is an improvement over the original.

 SJR1: Joint Resolution on State Board of Education Authority would have placed control and supervision of public education in the hands of the Utah State Legislature over the State Board of Education. Passed the Senate Education Committee, but was not heard on the floor. Opposed by the UEA.

 SJR9: Joint Resolution - Governance of Public and Higher Education would have amended the state constitution to place public and higher education under the governor’s control. Passed the Senate by the required two-thirds margin for a constitutional amendment, but was not heard in the House. Opposed by the UEA.