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2012 Week Four: February 13-17

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UEA Report on the 2012 Utah Legislature General Session



Public Education Budget

On February 15, unprecedented action was taken by the Public Education Appropriations Committee to insert many concepts into the Minimum School Program budget bill. Many of the items should have been presented as separate bills, heard in committees, received public input and gone through the scrutiny of the normal bill process. This would have allowed them to pass or fail on their own merits…more

Educator Day on the Hill

At Educator Day on the Hill Feb. 17, more than 80 teachers crowded into the room to listen to UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway talk to them about the challenges facing education with some legislation. Most teachers  attended the Senate Education Committee where they heard testimony for and against SB151: Student Opportunity Scholarships, the latest iteration of vouchers, and then SB151 (2nd sub.) which moved the tax credit discussion to Interim Committee.

- See UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh’s testimony before the Senate Education Committee.

Bills on the move this week
(For the current status on all bills of interest see the UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet)


Day Sixteen - February 13, 2012

Public Education Appropriations Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee reviewed the line items in the Minimum School Program. Each item was explained again. Committee members were given sheets to prioritize the requests that have been made of the Committee. There was discussion about “double counting of students” and the “need” to phase in sending more property taxes to charter schools. It was emphasized again that a one-percent increase in the WPU does not guarantee a one-percent increase in salaries because of increased costs in the area of health insurance and retirement contributions.

The Committee will meet one last time on Wednesday evening to finalize their requests for the final budget.

House Education Committee (Reported by Sara Jones): Rep. Becky Edwards presented HB197: Grants for Math Teacher Training. This bill provides $500,000 for math teacher training programs by awarding grants to organizations that provide an alternative route to licensure. The grants would be for 5 years and would include one year in a Master’s degree program and 4 years of intensive classroom mentoring. Rep Edwards stated that Math for America would match the grant with an additional $500,000. She also stated that this issue is one of Prosperity 2020’s top legislative priorities.

Committee questions focused on the effectiveness of the program, the commitment of the matching funds that are promised, whether organizations other than Math for America would qualify and whether there should be a requirement to continue to teach in Utah if one receives a grant. The bill passed Committee on an 11-1 vote.

Senate Education Committee (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): Sen. Aaron Osmond’s SB64, the long-awaited Public Education Employment Reform legislation, passed out of the Senate Education Committee today with a unanimous vote. The UEA supports this legislation.

In his presentation to the Committee, Osmond talked about the time he spent traveling the state to meet with educators and the collaborative relationship he forged with various education stakeholders, including the UEA, to draft meaningful legislation. “This bill is the result of those meetings,” he told colleagues. “What is exciting about this bill is that there is general agreement…that we need these changes to take public education to the next level.”

Osmond then outlined the goals of bill, which include:

  1. Increase the focus on accountability for leadership (administration) in our schools. The Senator said his legislation establishes a requirement that every year we will evaluate the leaders in schools based on student progress indicators, a 360-degree evaluation of leadership, competency in completing staff evaluations, and other pertinent district evaluation criteria. Under SB64, a school or district administrator’s salary shall be based on their most recent evaluation. Further, the bill states, that a school district shall continue to increase the portion of a school or district administrator’s salary that is based on evaluation until at least 15 percent of the administrator’s salary is contingent upon the evaluation.
  2. Increase the focus on effectiveness and consistency of evaluation. Osmond testified that if there are employee deficiencies, we have an obligation to deal with them. Currently, the Utah State Board of Education is working on rules to govern evaluations and their implementation. The Osmond bill reinforces that there must be annual evaluations for all employees and that those evaluations will be “valid and reliable,” and consist of a minimum of four evaluation categories (Levels 1 through 4).School districts will be required to report this data back to the state.
  1. Improving performance management. Incorporated into Osmond’s bill is a new 120-“school day” window for remediation and summative decisions. The legislation enables termination for repeat poor performance within three years of the same problem, and restricts advances on the salary schedule if the employee is rated in the lowest performance categories. In addition, the bill clarifies and improves multiple sections of the code relative to remediation/termination procedures.

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh acknowledged Osmond’s work, saying, “This speaks to the power of collaboration. We are in complete support of the bill.” In answer to some committee member concerns about the role of parents and students in the evaluation process, Gallagher-Fishbaugh said the Utah State Board of Education has been working on an evaluation system that includes the following criteria: classroom instruction, student growth, and parent and student surveys. She noted that her 18,000 members applaud the bill and support the idea of a quality teacher in every classroom.

State Superintendent Larry Shumway also expressed appreciation to Sen. Osmond for the collaborative effort. “This bill is one of the (State) Board’s highest legislative priorities,” Shumway said. “This is a step in the right direction.”

“This bill is an enormous step forward,” Osmond said.

Sen. Karen Morgan commended Osmond for listening to educators. “You have done it in a very good way,” she said, as she moved to pass it out of Committee with a favorable recommendation.

The Committee also forwarded to the full Senate SB191: Accountability for School Attendance. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Stevenson, requires a school board, charter board, or school district to issue a habitual truant citation to a truant if reasonable efforts have been taken to resolve the school attendance problem and the efforts have not been successful.

Sen. Stevenson noted that high rates of crime coincide with high rates of truancy. Former Sen. John Greiner, who testified before the Committee, said SB191 will keep children in school and make the community safer. UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh spoke in favor of the bill, noting that truancy is a critical issue for schools. The bill passed out of committee on a unanimous vote.

Rep. Daniel McCay’s HB218: Local School Board Business Administrator Changes also passed and was placed on the Senate consent calendar. The bill prohibits a local school board from appointing a business administrator during an interim vacancy period and entering into a contract on or after May 8, 2012, that contains an automatic renewal provision.

Day Seventeen - February 14, 2012

House Floor (Reported by Jay Blain): The House considered HB206 (1st Sub): Curriculum Options for Secondary School Students. This bill allows the parents and students to decide where students can take a Career and Technical Education class – at the High School, ATC or UCAT campus. The bill passed with no dissenting votes and will go to the Senate.

Senate Education Committee (Reported by Sara Jones): The Senate Education Committee heard one bill today. Sen. Wayne Niederhauser presented SB196: Software for Special Needs Children. He said that Ogden, Davis, Salt Lake and other school districts are currently using a particular software program with proven results for students with autism. This $3 million one-time appropriation will make this software more widely available to districts and charters around the state, he said. Sen. Niederhauser also said he thought that this program could ultimately save the state money because it would support resources that could move children into mainstream classrooms.

State Deputy Superintendent Martell Menlove, speaking for himself and not USOE, said he had two concerns with the bill. First, restricting the use of the software to “self-contained” classrooms is too narrow a definition. Second, designating the use of a single computer program wouldn’t differentiate needs or allow flexibility for individualized services. He also said that he hoped legislative support for the bill would not send a message that a computer program can replace a highly qualified teacher in the classroom. The bill passed 6-1.

Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): A bill sponsored by Sen. Ross Romero, SB 59: Income Tax Deduction for Elementary Schools, to allow individual taxpayers to contribute to their own local elementary schools via their individual income tax returns was heard in Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee. A question was asked about how you would designate which elementary school would receive the donation. Romero’s response was by entering a numerical code on the individual tax return. This donation would be subject to the same review process as the other check offs. This means that the cumulative amount going to all of the schools would have to meet a certain threshold to stay on the tax returns. The bill passed out of Committee and will go on to the full Senate.

Day Eighteen - February 15, 2012

Senate Floor (Reported by Mark Mickelsen and Jay Blain): By a vote of 26-2, the Senate passed SB152: Charter School Financing, sponsored by Sen. John Valentine. The legislation establishes the Charter School Credit Enhancement Program and requires the Utah Charter School Finance Authority to establish criteria for a charter school to be designated as a qualifying charter school for purposes of issuing bonds.

Enactment of this bill appropriates $3 million one-time from the Education Fund to the Charter School Reserve Account in Fiscal Year 2013. According to the fiscal note, charter schools may see a decrease in debt service costs; for every 1 percent reduction in interest rates, a charter school would save about $49,000 per $1 million in debt on a 30- year bond.

Sen. Aaron Osmond asked how the $3 million will be used. Valentine said the one-time money will be used as ‘seed money.’ Sen. Karen Morgan asked how many charter schools would qualify. Valentine’s response was that any of the state’s charter schools could make application. Morgan said the $3 million appropriation is competing with other public education needs and asked if Valentine had looked at other funding alternatives. “To be financially sound, we started with a base allocation,” Valentine said.

The Senate also passed SB48: Mission of Public Education, which adds a vision statement for the public education system. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Pat Jones, includes language about college and career readiness, literacy, and focuses on preparation so children enter the public education system ready to learn. The bill passed 25-0.

SCR5: Concurrent Resolution Encouraging Parental Engagement in the Education of Children, by Sen. Pat Jones, passed unanimously on third reading. Sen. Jones stated that for most parents this is a glaringly obvious statement but that for some parents it isn’t. She said that she has heard from many teachers that homework goes home and doesn’t come back. Furthermore, teachers report to her that more parental involvement would me a very positive factor for student achievement.

HB62: Provisions Regarding School Supplies was heard in the Senate and passed onto the third reading calendar unanimously. This bill allows elementary teachers to send home list of supplies and then parents and students may voluntarily send them to school.

House Floor (Reported by Sara Jones): Rep. Lee Perry presented HB213: School Community Council Member Qualifications. This bill revises legislation from last year which prevented educators from serving as a parent member of a SCC if they also taught in the same district as the school their child attended. Rep. Perry’s bill is a response to an audit which found that hundreds of parent members were disqualified from serving because of last year’s legislation. This bill would allow educators to serve as a parent member of a SCC so long as their child attends another school from where they are employed. The bill passed the House 68-0 and will move to the Senate for consideration.

Rep. Marie Poulson presented HJR2: Joint Resolution on World Class Curriculum. This non-binding resolution urges Utah schools to provide students with a broad, rich curriculum that includes art, music, literature and other subjects in addition to reading, writing and math. The bill passed the House 66-2 and will move to the Senate for consideration.

House Education Committee (Reported by Sara Jones): The House Education Committee spent nearly two hours discussing Rep. John Dougall’s HB123: Education Savings Accounts. The bill would transform public education funding for high schools by creating an education savings account funded with $6,400 annually for every high school age student. Rep Dougall said the bill “brings a different perspective to high school funding” because it funds the student rather than the institution or program. The account would allow students and parents to shop for classes and “mix and match” district, charter, online and higher education courses. Rep. Dougall also said the bill preserves the current line items for special education, rural assistance (NESS) and transportation. He testified that it would cost about $1 per student per month for approximately 167,000 high school students for USOE to set up and manage individual student accounts. He also said that the bill would allow each school and district to set its own graduation requirements.

There were extensive comments and questions from the Committee and the public. Rep. Carol Moss questioned Dougall’s statement that the money would only fund public schools since it would allow students to purchase online classes via private vendors through the new Statewide Online Education Program. Rep. Steve Eliason questioned whether more costly low enrollment, specialty classes would have to be dropped by schools in favor of cheaper, high enrollment classes. He also asked what would happen if a student ran out of money in their account and how the state would then fulfill the guarantee of a free public education.

Kory Holdaway spoke about UEA concerns with the $17 million fiscal note. He also stated that this bill represents a “significant policy shift” and recommended sending the bill to a taskforce for a more comprehensive review of the Minimum School Act in order to create cohesion of funding issues.

The bill was held in Committee and a substitute bill is anticipated to be presented later in the session.

Day Nineteen - February 16, 2012

Senate Floor (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): HB285: Repeal of Higher Education Tuition Assistance Program passed the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, repeals the Utah Higher Education Tuition Assistance Program within the State System of Higher Education.

House Floor (Reported by Jay Blain): Rep. Jen Seelig presented her HB230: Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind Amendments that amends provisions regarding governance of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind. Rep. Stephen Handy weighed in on his support for the bill. The bill more clearly defines the qualifications that the Superintendent for USDB must have. The bill passed unanimously and will now go to the Senate.

Day Twenty - February 17, 2012

Educator Day on the Hill (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): Educator Day on the Hill started early on Feb. 17 with a meeting at 7 a.m. in Room 130 of the State Capitol. After the door was finally opened, more than 80 teachers crowded into the room to listen to UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway talk to them about the challenges facing education with some legislation. First on the list was SB151, a Tuition Tax Credit bill sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, which was being heard that morning in the Senate Education Committee. Another bill of concern was HB174, which reallocates sales tax to water projects, thus reducing money for education. This bill was being heard in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. Kory asked for a few volunteers to be in that committee meeting but the vast majority of teachers went to the Senate Education Committee where they heard Sharon testify against SB151 and for SB151 second substitute which would move the tax credit discussion to Interim Committee.

- See UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh’s testimony before the Senate Education Committee.

After the committee meetings, teachers met again in the basement of the Capitol for a few minutes to discuss the meeting and to divide up to talk to representatives and senators during their regular sessions. At lunch teachers met again to debrief the day. Holdaway thanked them for a job well done in showing support for teachers and public education in Utah.

Senate Education Committee (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): With more than 80 UEA members looking on, the Senate Education Committee today considered Sen. Howard Stephenson’s “Student Opportunity Scholarships” legislation. Committee Chair Sen. Aaron Osmond began the discussion by saying Stephenson had agreed to move the “voucher” bill to interim study and focus on how to address the needs of the at-risk students identified in the legislation.

Stephenson testified that he is concerned about at-risk students who are prone to drop out of school, but because of misinformation surrounding the bill, said, “I have chosen to take a full year to have this vetted in the court of public opinion.” He also said there may be a better way than “tuition tax credits” to take care of the problem.

“At some point, I hope the voice of experience and professionalism in classrooms and in our schools will be trusted, valued and understood,” said UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh. “What I see is, in some cases, the voice of groups that have little or no experience in a classroom is given greater value than the voice of those in the profession.” The UEA leader said organizations that are intent on privatizing public schools “are given greater standing in the eyes of some in this body – at the expense of support for the majority of students who attend our public schools.” Gallagher-Fishbaugh talked about the importance of trusting the professionals who teach our children. “We are relieved today that Sen. Stephenson has chosen to pull this bill for further study. We hope that as data is reviewed and research is presented, the voice of education professionals will be heard and valued.”

Dr. Galey Colosimo, principal of Juan Diego High School, spoke in favor of fully vetting the bill and coming up with legislation that will serve everyone. “We don’t feel we should be in an antagonistic position with public schools,” he said, adding, “we have deep respect for public school teachers.”

Sen. Karen Morgan said, “We already have excellent [at-risk] programs in our state. I think our greatest concern is being able to fund those programs.”

Mike McDonough, a Granite School District elementary teacher, reminded Committee members that the students who need help need more individual help from their teachers – and this could be achieved through class-size reduction. He also said a dollar that goes to (a private school) is a dollar that doesn’t go to public schools.

Stephenson’s substitute SB151 (2nd sub.): Students At Risk of Academic Failure Study, calling for interim study of the issue, passed out of Committee with a favorable recommendation.

SB54 (1st sub.): Amendments Related to Education Funding, designed to make changes in tax and education provisions, was tabled in Committee. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ben McAdams, would have increased the maximum property tax rate allowed under a voter-authorized school district property tax levy; established a set tax rate for the school minimum basic levy; and created a public education restricted account within the Uniform School Fund.

Sen. McAdams argued his legislation would provide additional funding for schools without raising taxes. He said teachers feed the minds of Utah children, but we expect more and more from teachers. He said we cannot maintain a quality education system “without financial support.” McAdams noted that the per-student funding gap between Utah and the rest of the country is $3,702. He said his bill prioritizes public education.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher spoke against the bill, saying it would be a tax increase. Sen. Wayne Niederhauser said he was not in favor of going this direction “without the broader discussion” about all taxes.

UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway said we need to start thinking about education “as an investment, as opposed to an expenditure.” He said a dollar invested in education brings back $7 in tax revenues. He said UEA supports the bill. “We see this as setting a standard, a bar, that is healthy.”

The United Way of Salt Lake City, school superintendents, and the Utah PTA all spoke in support of the bill.

I believe this is a brilliant approach and it is very well thought out,” said Sen. Karen Morgan, who moved to pass it out of Committee with a favorable recommendation.

Sen. Thatcher made a substitute motion to table the bill, saying “Utahns will have $5 million less in their pockets if we pass this bill.” The bill was tabled, but without the support of Sens. Osmond and Morgan. Earlier, Osmond said his constituents tell him the Legislature is not adequately funding public education. He argued that a broader discussion is needed. Sen. McAdams said, “this is not a tax increase, it is tax stabilization.”

SB175: School Grading Amendments passed out of Committee with a favorable recommendation. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, provides for the implementation of a school grading system, beginning with the 2012-13 school year. Niederhauser told the Committee there are a number of components in the grading system that need to be completed before implementation, thus the one-year delay in the law passed during the 2011 legislative session.

House Floor (Reported by Kory Holdaway): The House passed HB115: Peer Assistance and Review Pilot Program on a vote of 51-18. The bill would provide $300,000 for competitive grants for school districts to create creates a pilot program for peer assistance, where educators assist other educators in improving teaching practice. It now goes to the Senate for consideration. The UEA supports this legislation.