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2011 Week One: January 24-28

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UEA Report on the 2011 Utah Legislature General Session



The 59th General Session of the Utah Legislature opened with House Speaker Becky Lockhart taking her place as the state’s first woman speaker of the House. Sen. Michael Waddoups was re-elected President of the Senate.
The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee began its deliberations charged with cutting 7 percent from the public education budget. State Superintendent Larry Shumway reiterated recent polls that show the public does not want to see cuts in public education funding. He said that USOE does not have specific cuts to recommend because any cuts would eliminate programs that are required by statute. There was some discussion about eliminating the “flexible allocation,” which Supt. Shumway indicated would have the effect of reducing the WPU by $296. Committee budget discussions will continue.
In meetings with Gov. Herbert and with his budget director, Ron Bigelow, the UEA Legislative Team received assurances that the governor will push the legislature to adopt his proposed budget and to fund the additional 14,000 new students anticipated this fall. The Governor reaffirmed this commitment in his State of the State address, saying “funding education must be Utah's number one priority.”
Educators from the Davis Education Association and Salt Lake Teachers Association helped kick off the first 2011 Educator Day on the Hill on Jan. 28. Each "citizen lobbyist" was given a lapel button to wear (see photo) as they met with legislators. At a lunch debriefing meeting, several legislators shared insights with the educators including Reps. David LitvackBecky Edwards, Carol Spackman Moss, Patrice Arent and Joel Briscoe.
Bills on the move this week:
(For the current status on all bills of interest see the UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet)

January 24, 2011

Opening Day of the General Session of the 59th Utah Legislature

With family and friends of newly-elected lawmakers looking on, both the House and Senate completed their swearing-in ceremonies today.

The opening of the Utah House was historic as the state’s first female speaker was voted in by acclimation. Speaker Becky Lockhart addressed the body and started her comments by referencing the first elected woman senator in the country, Martha Maria Hughes Cannon from Utah, elected on Nov. 3, 1896. Speaker Lockhart also encouraged cooperation with one another while also respecting the differences that may occur throughout the session.

Sen. Michael Waddoups was re-elected President of the Senate. “I believe in you,” Waddoups said of his colleagues in the Senate. “Let us serve for the right reasons.” He talked about problems facing other states – deficits, the housing crash, etc. But Waddoups pointed out some positives about Utah, including:

  • Mortgage rates are down;
  • Car sales are increasing;
  • More visitors are coming to our state;
  • Unemployment is down, compared to the national rates;
  • We have more than $200 million in new revenue;
  • Our exports have a positive trade balance;
  • More citizens are getting an education;
  • We are the “best managed state” in America; and
  • We are in the #1 slot among states for economic recovery.

“We must live within our means. We will balance the budget,” Waddoups said.

Senate Education Committee: On a day filled primarily with formalities, one bill SB38: K-3 Reading Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Karen Morgan, passed out of the Senate Education Committee with a favorable recommendation. This bill revises the language of a bill passed last year to assess the reading level of a first-, second-, or third-grade student at the midpoint of a school year using multiple assessments. 

January 25, 2011

Public Education Appropriations: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) In the session’s first Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, what began as a review of the Utah State Office of Education budget quickly turned into a discussion about the dangers of relying on federal education funds in an era when the national deficit is at an all-time high.

When USOE representatives explained that $226.5 million in federal funds flows into the state for such programs as special education and Title 1, newly-elected Rep. Ken Ivory asked if a contingency fund had been set up to cover these costs in the event of a loss of federal money. Ivory said the nation is dealing with a trillion dollar deficit and is creating money “out of thin air.” USOE staff explained that the loss of federal money would be the equivalent of a 7 percent cut. In the event of a federal funding cutback, the USOE would continue to administer special education and Title 1 programs.

Several lawmakers expressed concern over the lack of specificity in budget line items and Co-chair Sen. Chris Buttars suggested the possibility of a Saturday meeting to delve into the multi-billion public education budget. Looking at one $5 million line item, Buttars complained, “How do you make a decision when you don’t know how the money is used?” Rep. Francis Gibson agreed that more budget detail is needed. He said if he had his way the Legislature would spend less time on bills and more time examining the budget.

Another point of inquiry for many new and experienced lawmakers was Utah’s adoption of the “Common Core” education standards and how it will affect federal funds. USOE staff said the Utah State Board of Education adopted the “Common Core” last August and is now one of 47 states participating. The committee was reassured that the Obama Administration has backed off a requirement that states adopt the “Common Core” in order to receive certain federal funds. USOE staff noted the “Common Core” standards are a blueprint and that Utah educators are developing the actual curriculum.

House Education Standing Committee: (Reported by Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh and Mark Mickelsen) The House Education Standing Committee kicked off its first meeting of the legislative session with discussions about provisional teacher rights, divided school districts, and school clubs.

HB50: School Termination Procedures Modifications, sponsored by Rep. Ronda Menlove, says a school district is not required to provide a cause for failing to renew a provisional teacher’s contract. In Utah, most educators are on provisional status for three years, but may be required to serve five if the district deems it necessary. Superintendents Steven Carlsen (North Summit School District)and Ron Wolff (Box Elder School District), who testified before the committee, asked Rep. Menlove to affirm the concept of at-will employees and provisional status.

Given the cry for local control in so many issues related to public education, Rep. Merlynn Newbold asked why decisions pertaining to provisional educators were not left up to local school districts. Rep. Steve Eliason said there needs to be documentation in order for the state to avoid lawsuits and costs related to unemployment insurance. This was confirmed by a representative of the State Risk Pool, who talked about at-will employees who were not given reasons for termination and filed claims against the state. The burden shifts to the state to show reasons why the employee was terminated.

Kory Holdaway, UEA director of government relations, said “due process should be prevalent” when dealing with provisional employees. He argued that in most other professions, employees serve a six-month provisional period – not the three to five years required of Utah teachers. The committee voted to hold the bill.

HB195: Debt Service Obligations of a Divided School District, sponsored by Rep. Kenneth Sumsion would deal with the bond obligations of a divided school district. Under Sumsion’s plan, when a school district (Jordan School District, for example) splits, a “virtual school district” would be created to keep bond obligations in place until they can be paid off. A levy could be imposed to pay off the debt service, but Rep. Lavar Christensen (R-Draper) questioned whether the district could impose a tax as the district is splitting. Numerous questions about the bill prompted a motion to move to the next item on the agenda.

HB218: Clubs in Public Schools, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, was the only bill passed by the committee. This bill modifies the Student Clubs Act to provide for the use of certain school facilities, including playing fields, for sports activities not sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA). Sandstrom told the committee that Lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in Utah, but is not yet sanctioned by the UHSAA.

January 26, 2011

Meetings covered by the UEA Legislative Team today included the Senate Education Standing Committee, the House Education Standing Committee, the House Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Standing Committee, the Governor’s State of the State Address and a meeting with the Governor’s budget director.

Meeting with Budget Director: UEA President Sharon Gallagher Fishbaugh and Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway met with Ron Bigelow, the Governor’s budget director. The meeting was to talk with him about the Governor’s proposed budget and funding the additional 14,000 new students anticipated in the coming year. Bigelow gave assurances that Governor Herbert will be pushing the legislature to adopt his education budget. This was reassuring given the legislative discussions about cutting education by 7 percent.

State of the State Address: “Funding education must be Utah's number one priority.” That was the message from Gov. Gary Herbert as he delivered his 2011 State of the State address on Wednesday evening. Herbert said an educated workforce is essential for a prosperous economy. He said during the past two years, the state has added more than 25,000 students but "we can only add so much water to the soup without diluting quality." For the first time in several years, the governor said there is sufficient money to fund student growth. "Funding education must be our number one priority."

Herbert talked about the work of his Education Excellence Commission, education leaders and experts from across the state who have spent hundreds of hours developing a plan to ensure educational quality. Increasing reading efficiency and providing extended-day kindergarten - to help the state's youngest and at-risk students - were two of the plan elements emphasized by the governor during his speech. "Investing in our children today benefits all of us tomorrow," Herbert said.

Senate Education Standing Committee: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) The Senate Education Standing Committee today voted to send two controversial education-related resolutions to the Senate floor for debate. Both resolutions require a two-thirds vote of the Senate and House for passage. 

SJR1: Joint Resolution on State Board of Education Authority, sponsored by Sen. Chris Buttars, proposes to amend the Utah Constitution to specify that the general control and supervision of the public education system shall be vested in a State Board of Education, as provided by statute. The words, “as provided by statute,” are new. Buttars said the goal of his resolution is to set clear checks and balances for the Utah State Board of Education (USBE). By adding the words, “as provided by statute,” Buttars said there would be accountability and transparency. He argued that the Legislature gives $3 billion to be divided among school districts, many of which have elected boards “controlled by special interests.” Guests of Buttars testified that current state laws pertaining to education curricula are not being followed.

Peggy Jo Kennett, Utah School Boards Association, spoke in opposition to the resolution, asking, “Why should the state constitution be changed because of disagreements in one district?” Responding to parents who testified in favor of Buttar’s plan, Kennett said what happened in the districts is a local control issue and should be determined locally. She said local boards try to be responsible and follow state law and curriculum.

Debra Roberts, USBE chair, submitted a letter to the committee explaining the Board’s opposition to the resolution. In the letter, Roberts said over the past two years, strides have been made to build a partnership with the Legislature. She reminded lawmakers that USBE members are elected by a large constituency and work hard to honor the letter and spirit of the law. “Do not vote for this resolution,” she concluded.

The resolution passed out of committee on a 3-2 vote. Senators Karen Morgan and Lyle Hillyard voted no.

SJR9: Governance of Public and Higher Education, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Reid, would amend the Utah Constitution to move the general control and supervision of the public education and higher education systems to the governor.

Reid noted that while the public believes the governor has control over education, he has no constitutional authority of any kind, nor any management control. He said 60 percent of the state budget is related to education, but the governor has no authority. “There is something really wrong with that,” the Senator said. Reid said he wants the issue to be voted on by the citizens of the state – a requirement if either SJR1 or SJR9 passes the Legislature.

Sen. Morgan asked if the measure would eliminate the USBE. Sen. Reid said his plan would eliminate the constitutional authority of USBE, but not necessarily do way with USBE.

State Supt. Larry Shumway did not speak for or against either resolution, but told the committee he wasn’t aware of any state board members who believe they are above the law. “The USBE is absolutely committed to the rule of law, to obeying statute, and the constitution of the U.S. and this state,” he said. Shumway said actions as abrupt as these (resolutions) should receive long consideration.

Sen. Morgan cautioned against the Legislature becoming a super school board and micromanaging education from the Capitol. SJR9 passed out of committee on a 4-1 vote. Sen. Morgan voted no.

House Education Standing Committee: (reported by Tom Nedreberg) HB220: Civics Education Amendments, was introduced, says sponsor Rep. Michael Morely, because of a concern that “we teach that our country was founded as a republic not a democracy.” Rep. Moss talked about how this bill is presumptive about what is taught or not taught in the classroom and that it is micromanaging teachers and districts. She felt it was insulting to teachers that they are presumed they are not teaching specific things legislators want them to. After a lengthy discussion, the bill was held for discussion in another meeting.

HJR8: Joint Resolution Regarding School Supplies, sponsored by Rep. Kraig Powell, was discussed. The bill would clarify that schools or teachers may ask students to voluntarily provide school supplies for the student’s own use. Powell said he felt this bill would help our financially beleaguered schools. After discussion, the committee voted to hold the bill pending review by the Constitutional Revision Commission.

House Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Standing Committee: (reported by Tom Nedreberg) While this committee is not one typically covered by the Legislative Team, HB199: Advertisements on School Buses, sponsored by Rep. Jim Bird, was heard in there today. The bill would allow advertising on school district buses, generating an estimated $1.3 to $3.3 million. The bill limits the type of advertising as well as the size and placement of ads. Parents, citizens and school board members testified in support of the bill. An advertising representative testified against bill, saying he did not like the restrictions on the content and did not like the government agency, the school district, being able to apply restrictive regulations. The bill passed out of the committee with a favorable recommendation on a 5-2 vote. 

January 27, 2011

Public Education Appropriations Committee: (Reported by Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh and Jay Blain) The Public Education Appropriations Committee continued its review of educational with an overview of funding for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind. Several committee members asked questions that were answered by officials from the State Department of Education.

State Superintendent Larry Shumway reiterated recent polls that show the public does not want to see cuts in public education funding. Nevertheless, he indicated that to achieve a 10-percent cut would require eliminating all “below-the-line” items from the education budget. He said that USOE does not have specific cuts to recommend because any cuts would eliminate programs that are required by statute. There was some discussion about eliminating the “flexible allocation,” which Supt. Shumway indicated would have the effect of reducing the WPU by $296.

Rep. Tim Cosgrove gave an impassioned plea to keep all funding in place. “Public education is an investment for the future,” he said. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss expressed her feeling that there is no waste or extravagance in the budget at this point. She would recommend making no cuts. Rep. Marie Poulson strongly supported Rep. Moss’ comments and added that student growth should be funded.

The chairs of the committee will take the recommendations and bring back something to the committee on Monday.

House Revenue and Taxation Committee: (Reported by Kory Holdaway and Jay Blain) In a split vote, the House Revenue and Taxation Committee voted to reject HJR1: Joint Resolution Amending State and Local Taxing Authority offered by Rep. Carl Wimmer. This proposal would have required a two-thirds majority to approve any tax or fee increase. Evidence was offered to show many states that have adopted this approach were struggling to provide services for their citizens. Several groups testified in opposition to the legislation including the UEA, Utah Association of Counties, Cottonwood Heights City and Crossroad Urban Center. The Sutherland Institute spoke in support of the legislation.

After extended debate, the committee rejected moving the legislation to the floor on a vote of 7-7. Reps Painter, Wimmer, Newbold, Hutchings, Neilson, Butterfield, and Dougall supported the bill and Reps Brown, Clark, Fisher, Duckworth, King, Cosgrove and Briscoe voted against.

Senate Education Committee: (Reported by Sara Jones) Sen. Howard Stephenson presented his SB115: School Performance Reporting. He said last year a hold was placed on UBSCT testing and in that process reporting requirements were eliminated, creating a gap in reporting. This bill corrects that and changes the reporting date from 2012/13 to 2010/11. State Supt. Larry Shumway stated that the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) supports this bill and asked that it be clarified whether this bill would reinstate UBSCT testing. Senator Stephenson stated that it is not the intent of the bill to reinstate UBSCT testing this year. The bill passed the committee.

Stephenson’s SB 119 School district Superintendent Amendments would allow a local school board to hire a superintendent who does not hold an administrative license. Currently, such hires are allowed if the district applies to the USBE for a waiver. Sen. Stephenson stated he believed requiring a waiver would be a disincentive to applicants wanting to apply for a position and this bill would allow for business leaders to be considered eligible. 

Supt. Shumway stated that one reason a license is required is to guarantee a background check. He also stated that the USBE has granted waivers so the process is working. UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh cautioned against a general practice of hiring non-educators as superintendents. She stated that as attention is focused on the need for higher student achievement and school performance, superintendents need to be educational leaders. She also stated that every district already has a business manager to oversee business issues and reminded the committee that "from a teaching perspective [education] is not a business." The bill passed the committee.

January 28, 2011

Meeting with Governor Gary Herbert: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen) Members of the UEA Legislative Team met with Gov. Gary Herbert today to talk about the public education budget, proposed education reform and attacks on public education.

UEA leaders praised the governor for building coalitions, such as the Education Excellence Commission, whose members (including UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh and former UEA President Kim Campbell) have worked together to reach consensus on certain elements of a long-term plan for public education. He encouraged the UEA to do the same, to build relationships with all 104 legislators and organizations and businesses outside of the Association who support positive changes for public schools.

Educator Day on the Hill: (Reported by Mark Mickelsen and Mike Kelley) Educators from the Davis Education Association and Salt Lake Teachers Association today helped kick off the first 2011 Educator Day on the Hill meeting. Each "citizen lobbyist" was given a lapel button to wear (see photo), with the message "I'm here for the kids," that was suggested by Davis educator Richard Heath (pictured) during a meeting of U-PAC, the Association's political action committee. As luck would have it, Heath was on Capitol Hill today to speak with his legislators. "We need to let our lawmakers know why we are here and what really counts," Heath said.

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh welcomed the group during an early morning briefing at the Capitol. She said while the tone of the Legislature is different this year, "what is making a difference is relationships, relationships, relationships." UEA Vice President Tom Nedreberg talked about how a bill becomes law. Kory Holdaway, UEA director of government relations, discussed issues we are facing during this session. Before heading off to the Capitol, educators were given the assignment to speak to at least two representatives in the House and one in the Senate. They also wrote a card to their respective lawmakers, explaining why they teach and the issues they are facing in the classroom. "They (legislators) want to hear from you," said Gallagher-Fishbaugh. "They want to hear from teachers."

At a lunch debriefing meeting, several legislators shared insights with the educators including Reps. David LitvackBecky Edwards, Carol Spackman Moss, Patrice Arent and Joel Briscoe. Participants reported on their morning conversations with legislators. They were able to provide an educator’s perspective and help explain how legislative proposals will impact their classrooms.

In a meeting with Rep. Keith Grover, about his House Bill 183: School District Leave Policies, DEA President Susan Firmage, SLTA President Susan McFarland and Holdaway discussed potential changes to the bill. As written, the bill would prohibit a local school board from granting paid association leave for certain employee association or union duties. “We’re hopeful we may reach a compromise,” said Firmage.