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UEA Report on the 2012 Utah Legislature General Session

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Public Education Budget: The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee held lengthy discussions on several items related to the public education budget. The Subcommittee covered 2011 cuts that reduced funding by $5 million for students on release time to attend UCAT programs, heard an in-depth review of the Minimum School Program (MSP). The MSP is a series of 36 programs that distribute $3 billion in funding to the state’s 41 school districts and 80 charter schools and discussed “above-the-line” and “below-the-line” expenditures.

Enrollment growth for 2013 is estimated at 12,000 students. Funding for these new students will cost approximately $43 million. The Subcommittee is expected to vote on a base budget early next week.

Educator Day on the Hill: Eleven educators from six school districts joined the UEA Legislative Team for the year’s first Educator Day on the Hill. Each participating educator had the opportunity to meet with their legislators then debrief with the UEA Legislative Team. Reps. Patrice Arent, Joel Briscoe and Jim Bird, as well as Sen. Aaron Osmond stopped by during the lunchtime debrief to share legislative updates and thoughts on the session. See the Educator Day on the Hill page for a schedule of future times and meeting locations.

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

First Day of the Session - January 23, 2012

Senate Education Committee (Reported by Kory Holdaway): Sen. Karen Morgan’s SB31: Class Size Amendments passed the Senate Education Committee on a unanimous vote. Concerns were expressed about the cost of the bill, but support for the concept was demonstrated. Comments about hearing from constituents as this being one of their major concerns was shared by Sen. Morgan and Sen. Jerry Stevenson.
Sen. Howard Stephenson questioned whether this would be the best use of funds. Currently 36 states have student caps in place. Under this bill, Utah would be the 37th. This bill is focuses on grades Kindergarten through third, phasing it in year by year with a cap of 18 students in the first year on Kindergarten classes, 20 students in the first grade the second year, 22 students in the second grade the third year and 24 students in the third grade the fourth year. The Senate Committee vote was the first of many hurdles for this bill, but it was a positive signal.

House Revenue and Taxation Committee (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): The House Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee dealt with several bills that directly or indirectly impact public education funding.

HB35: Extension of Recycling Market Development Zone Tax Credits – sponsored by Rep. Wayne Harper – extends the repeal date for certain recycling market development zone tax credits to January 1, 2021. The yearly cost to the state’s Education Fund is $2.1 million, but legislative staff confirmed that Harper’s bill simply continues a tax credit that has been in place, and does not further reduce monies in the Fund.

Rep. Harper said the tax credit would allow recycling businesses to serve more people, the result being an increase in corporate and individual taxes that will replenish the Education Fund. Rep. Brian King raised concerns about taking $2.1 million out of the Education Fund each year for 10 years, asking Harper if his bill was “inherently speculative.” The bill passed out of committee on a 9-6 vote.

Rep. Patrick Painter’s HB41: Property Taxation of Business Personal Property did not fare as well. The bill would have allowed that the first $25,000 (currently $3,500) of taxable tangible personal property of a taxpayer be exempt from taxation. Rep. Painter said he was sponsoring the bill after talking to a number of small business owners, many of whom were concerned about the audits they had to endure.

After testimony from Painter and county officials, it became clear that passage of the bill would result in a tax shift of $12 million, and much of that would be passed on to homeowners. Asked why the jump from $3,500 to $25,000, Painter said there was no real method to his science, but he wanted the change to be substantial.

Salt Lake County Assessor Lee Gardner, who said he was opposed to the legislation, noted that businesses would be given an exemption while the people who can afford it least will pay more.

Rep. Susan Duckworth made a motion to move on to the next item on the agenda and it passed.

HB250: Tax Credit for Dependent with a Disability passed out of the Committee on a unanimous vote. The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Dougall, allows a tax credit for a dependent adult with a disability or dependent child with a disability. Dougall said 6,850 taxpayers would receive an estimated benefit of $114 if HB250 becomes law.

In testimony before the committee, UEA Executive Director Mark Mickelsen said the fiscal note on the bill could reduce revenue to the Education Fund by $765,000 in 2013, and $781,000 in 2014. Mickelsen said at a time when we are “trying to invest in, not take money away from public education,” legislators should look at a way to replace the money in the Education Fund that would be impacted by this legislation.

Day Two - January 24, 2012

House of Representatives (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): HB12: Corrections Education Amendments removes the State Board of Regents’ responsibility for the education of persons in the custody of the Utah Department of Corrections. The responsibility remains with Corrections and the Utah State Board of Education. The bill passed the House on a unanimous vote.

Rep. Jim Bird made a motion to circle HB24: Health Insurance for School Districts, which requires local school boards and charter schools to seek competitive bids on the health insurance benefits they offer school employees beginning with the 2012-13 school year and every three years thereafter. The bill requires local school boards to solicit bids from at least two different insurers and retain the services of at least two licensed brokers. Debate on this bill will take place at another time.

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (Reported by Sara Jones): The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee held a lengthy discussion on proposals to address legislation from 2011 that reduced funding by $5 million to school districts for students on release time to attend UCAT programs. UCAT and USOE both presented proposals that, while not restoring the WPU for these students, would create a partnership between districts and UCAT to partially offset the loss of funds. Related to the discussion is a bill sponsored by Rep. Kraig Powell (HB258: Education Funding Amendments) that would reinstate the language to allow students who attend UCAT to be counted in the average daily membership of their home school.

House Education Committee (Reported by Sara Jones): In the House Education Committee meetings, Rep. Ronda Menlove presented HB53 (1st substitute): Utah Education Network Amendments. The bill modifies the governance of UEN, creates a governing Board, specifies membership on the Board, and specifies the duties of the Board in order to create clearer lines of accountability for UEN operations. The bill passed unanimously.

Rep. Greg Hughes then presented HB15: Statewide Adaptive Testing. This bill was listed by the State Board of Education as its No. 1 funding priority for the legislative session. The bill would expand a pilot program for computer adaptive testing to be implemented statewide. Current CRT tests would be replaced with computer adaptive testing that allows for differentiation of student skill level on ELA and math core assessments. This bill would pay for development of the assessments and is a companion bill to an online testing bill sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond that would pay for the hardware to implement computer adaptive testing. The estimated cost is $6.7 million in ongoing funds. The bill passed unanimously.

Senate Democratic Caucus (Reported by Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh): The Senate Democratic Caucus met during a lunch sponsored by the Utah Association of Conservation Districts. The University of Utah Student Government Relations Board introduced their “We are the 66% Campaign.” The students spoke about the need to prioritize higher education funding. The specific goal is related to a study stating that in the future, 66 percent of Utah’s citizen will need a degree in order to positively impact our economy. They spoke about the need to be competitive within the higher education community. They are asking for a 1 percent increase in higher education faculty salaries, additional funding for infrastructure improvements and re-investment in STEM degrees. They have the support of Education First and Prosperity 2020. They spoke the UEA “TEF” message of tying investment in public education to an improved economy.

Day Three - January 25, 2012

Senate Floor (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): The Senate today passed SB10: College and Career Readiness Assessment sponsored by Sen. Margaret Dayton. This measure modifies the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (U-PASS), including requiring school districts and charter schools to administer college and career readiness assessments adopted by the State Board of Education. The ACT test will replace the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test (UBSCT).

Enactment of this bill appropriates $2.2 million ongoing from the Education Fund to the State Board of Education to implement these assessments. However, the Utah State Office of Education currently has $1.5 million in ongoing funding to support the UBSCT. Consequently, the net cost of enacting the testing requirements of this bill is estimated at $700,000.

SB30: Administrative Rules Reauthorization was forwarded to the Third Reading Calendar and is up for final passage in the Senate. All administrative rules in the state must be reauthorized each year. They must be in compliance with state statute and the Constitution. In addressing the bill on the floor, sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson said his measure reauthorizes the rules of all Utah state agencies, except for the following, which were found to be out of compliance:

  • Human Resource Management, Administration, Compensation, Incentive Awards; and
  • Education, Administration, Pupil Accounting, Student Membership.

Stephenson said regarding education, how the state accounts for students is not in compliance with state statute. Agencies have until the end of the legislative session to make changes.

Senate Education Committee (Reported by Sara Jones): Sen. Ben McAdams presented SB117: Publication of Education Fund Revenue Reductions, which as the title suggests, would require publication of the impact of bills that reduce Education Fund revenues. Sen. McAdams stated that the goal of the bill is to create greater transparency and awareness of how legislation is impacting education by requiring regular reporting of the fiscal costs of any legislation to the education fund. The bill failed on a 2-3 vote.

Sen. Stuart Reid presented SJR9: Joint Rules Resolution - Utah College of Applied Technology Appropriations Subcommittee, which would create a new appropriations subcommittee for the Utah College of Applied Technology (UCAT). Sen. Reid stated that he believes that technical education could be better prioritized if appropriations were handled through a stand-alone UCAT appropriations process. The Committee questioned whether this was the best approach for achieving the goal of greater emphasis on CTE, so no action was taken but the bill sponsor will work to revise the bill and return it to Committee.

Sen. Aaron Osmondpresented SB97: Grants for Online Testing, a companion bill to HB15: Statewide Adaptive Testing that passed out of the House Education Committee yesterday (see below), which would provide grant funds for the infrastructure, equipment, maintenance and professional development necessary to implement online computer adaptive testing by 2014/15. The fiscal note is $15 million in one-time funding and $5 million in ongoing funding. LEAs that receive grant funds would be required to match the grant monies received from the state. The bill passed unanimously.

Day Four - January 26, 2012

Public Education Appropriations Committee (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): The meeting began with an in-depth review of the Minimum School Program (MSP). The MSP is a series of 36 programs that distribute $3 billion in funding to the state’s 41 school districts and 80 charter schools.

The Legislative Fiscal Analyst’s Office is recommending changes related to funding distribution, expenditure reporting, and performance measures.
State Supt. Larry Shumway said the strength of the MSP lies in the original program goals, which ensure that all children should receive an equal education regardless of size of the school district.

The Committee’s fiscal analyst, Ben Leishman, explained that when looking at the budget, there is often reference to “above-the-line” and “below-the-line” expenditures. He said “above-the-line” refers to a program funded with Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) money, while “below-the-line” is based on legislative directive (with distribution determined by various formulas, such as the number of students, qualifying teachers, etc.). The WPU is the primary funding mechanism for public education.

During the overall budget presentation, Leishman said enrollment growth for 2013 is estimated at 12,000 students. Funding for these new students will cost approximately $43 million, he said.

Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee (Reported by Mark Mickelsen): In a 4-1 vote, the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee today advanced SB138: Health Insurance Mandate Accountability Amendments to the full Senate. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Todd Weiler, amends the Accident and Health Insurance Policy chapter of the Insurance Code. This measure applies a health insurance mandate that is enacted by the state after January 1, 2012, to a public school district, charter school, or a state funded institution of higher education.

Sen. Weiler said his bill creates fiscal responsibility and is not intended to be an anti-mandate bill, but a pro-public education bill. He said money paid for mandates reduces money for other public education programs. He said his intent is to hold education harmless.

Should this bill pass, it has an immediate effective date.

Patti Harrington, who represents school boards and superintendents, said they support the concept of the bill.

Sen. Ben McAdams voted against the measure.

State of the State - January 26, 2012

Gov. calls for increased education funding, innovation

We’ve heard it many times…Gov. Gary Herbert’s No. 1 budget priority is education. He stressed it once again in his 2012 State of the State Address. “My top legislative priority is to fund the growth and continued innovation in our education system,” he said during his annual speech before both houses of the Utah Legislature.

The Governor’s proposed budget, released last month, called for $111 million in new money for public schools, including what the Governor described in his address as “a modest, but well-deserved, pay increase for our teachers.”

“My message to students is simple: If you want a good job, get a good education," said Herbert. “Now, it is up to us - assembled here - to make sure they can.”

Click here to view the full speech text

Day Five - January 27, 2012

Educator Day on the Hill (Reported by Mike Kelley): Today eleven teachers from six different school districts joined the UEA Legislative Team for Educator Day on the Hill. “We thank you for taking the day to join us (at the Legislature),” said UEA Executive Director Mark Mickelsen. “Your voice is critical as we work to educate our legislators about education issues.”

Each participating educator had the opportunity to meet with their legislators then debrief with the UEA Legislative Team. Reps. Patrice Arent, Joel Briscoe and Jim Bird, as well as Sen. Aaron Osmond stopped by during the lunchtime debrief to share legislative updates and thoughts on the session so far.

See the Educator Day on the Hill page for a schedule of future times and meeting locations.

House Education Committee (Reported by Sara Jones): HB261: Dividing of School Districts Amendments was presented in the House Education Committee by Rep. Kenneth Sumsion. This bill is related to potential future splits of schools districts and the costs related to those splits. It attempts to ensure the debts are equitably shared. The bill passed unanimously.

Rep. Patrice Arent presented HB65: College and Career Counseling for High School Students. The purpose of the bill is to increase the number of students attending post-secondary programs, both academic and vocational. Arent stated that the current ratio of students to counselors is too high for adequate one-on-one attention to students needs in preparing for post-secondary school.

This bill would create a pilot program to provide 18 specialists in high schools throughout the state to advise students on using, the admissions process and finding financial aid. The pilot would use students pursuing a master’s degree in counseling as interns to work with high school students on college and career readiness. The interns would receive specialized training through the USOE. The fiscal note for the three-year program is $800,000. The bill passed 10-2 with Reps. Sumsion and Merlynn Newbold voting against.

Sen. Margaret Dayton presented SB10: College and Career Readiness Assessment. This bill would eliminate the UBSCT exam and replace it with the ACT or another college or career readiness test. There was some discussion about the fiscal note which is currently listed as $2.2 million in ongoing money with $1.5 million covered from funds that were previously allocated for UBSCT testing. However UBSCT was put on hold several years ago because of funding concerns so there needs to be further analysis of the total cost of this legislation. The bill passed unanimously.

House Floor (Reported by Jenny Okerlund): A substitute version of HB24: Health Insurance for Schools, sponsored by Rep. Bird was debated on the House floor. The substitute bill added requirements for higher education, in addition to public education, to put employee health insurance to bid every three years. The bill was previously heard in interim Committee without the inclusion of higher education.

The substitute bill was amended twice on the floor, once with technical amendments and again to increase the minimum mandatory period for insurance re-bidding from three years to five years.

Rep. Bird indicated that school district currently spend $280 million per year for health insurance. Each 1 percent saved would result in $2.8 million that could be used for employee salaries, he said.

There is no fiscal note on the substitute bill. After considerable discussion, the bill was circled, meaning it is place on hold for later consideration.