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UEA Report on the 2013 Utah Legislature General Session

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2013 LEGISLATURE WEEK ONE SUMMARY: January 28-February 1

By the end of the Utah 2013 General Legislative Session week one, the UEA was tracking about 40 numbered education-related bills. This is a far cry from the nearly 130 tracked in 2012…but it’s still early.

Public Education Budget: The public education budget captured much of week’s discussion. The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee met twice during the week, primarily gathering general information. The State Fiscal Analyst’s office provided the Committee with several budget documents, including a Public Education Budget Overview, Total LEA Revenues by Source and Major Budget-Related Issues for the 2013 Session and a budget summary.

State Superintendent Martell Menlove outlined State School Board budget priorities FY2013-14 budget, including:

  • Full funding of student growth (anticipating 13,254 new students)
  • 2 percent increase in the WPU

(View the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee calendar)

SB1: Public Education Base Budget passed both the House and the Senate. This bill is the “base” appropriation for the support and operation of public education for the fiscal year of 2013-14. It sets the value of the weighted pupil unit initially at the same WPU value set for the 2013-13 fiscal year ($2,842) and sets the estimated minimum basic tax rate at .001691 for fiscal year 2013-14. (NOTE: This is just the “Base” budget. Near the end of the session, the House will introduce a supplemental appropriations bill that will contain the bulk of the additional education funding.)

Educator Day on the Hill: UEA held its first Educator Day on the Hill of the 2013 Session in the Cooper Room of the Senate Building. About two dozen teachers from Davis, Granite and Nebo attended. During a lunch-time debriefing, teachers reported conversations with their legislators to the UEA Legislative Team and had visits from several legislators.

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

January 28

Senate Education Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): Sen. Daniel Thatcher presented Senate Bill 128: Financial Transparency in Education in the Senate Education Committee’s first meeting of the session. The bill imposes requirements regarding the submission of public financial information to the Utah Public Finance Website by a school district or charter school.

“The problem is that we are being asked to make policy decisions based on incomplete information. It is literally impossible to calculate and compare information,” said Sen. Thatcher. “We have already been doing this. We have not been sharing this with the public. We are not asking anybody to do anything that we aren’t already doing.” After clarifying that the bill doesn’t change anything, he reported that the only cost is $15,800 to update the website. Sen. Pat Jones asked how pervasive the problem is. Sen. Thatcher said that he went to one elementary and saw that they were spending a lot on one item and he didn’t agree with it. He wondered if they skimping on something else. He didn’t know and couldn’t find out. Sen. Thatcher also brought up example of two schools with identical demographics and disparate graduation rates of 60 percent and 90 percent, but with no way to research why the disparity exists.

State Superintendent Martell Menlove explained the uniform chart of accounts. Menlove explained that it is hard to compare district to district and school to school because of the different ways they account for money.

UEA Director of Government Relations Kory Holdaway talked about the dangers of interpreting longitudinal versus snapshot data. Michelle Sharp a parent from Davis County, spoke in favor of the bill. She said that it might cause a problem of “communication” to happen. She thinks that this would be a great bill.

To summarize, Sen. Thatcher said that there is always a danger of problem of interpretation between longitudinal and snapshot data but we need to start somewhere and this is a good place to do it.

Sen. Howard Stephenson moved to pass the bill out favorably saying that the Canyons District supports it and has set a standard for transparency. He added that it would be good for Community Councils to have this data. The bill passed unanimously with a favorable recommendation.

January 29

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (Reported by UEA Legislative Intern Mikkela Blanton): In today's Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, State Fiscal Analyst Ben Lichman explained several public education funding issues. Budget documents shared at the meeting included a Public Education Budget Overview, Total LEA Revenues by Source and Major Budget-Related Issues for the 2013 Session.

A few interesting details discussed:

  • 29 percent of the overall budget is appropriated to public education;
  • Education (general) receives 49 percent of the budget;
  • Highs for education funding were in 2008 and 2009—we are now nearly to the same spending level for education we were in 2009, but we have witnessed an enrollment growth of 50,000 new students. In other words, we have the same funding, but 50,000 new students.

State Superintendent Martell Menlove then outlined State School Board budget priorities FY2013-14 budget, including:

  • Full funding of student growth (anticipating 13,254 new students)
  • 2 percent increase in the WPU

January 30

Senate Floor (Reported by Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh): SB10: Retirement Eligibility Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Todd Weiler, passed the Senate unanimously and now moves to the House for consideration. This bill clarifies that Utah Retirement System member who is also an elected official does not have the leave the elected office to be eligible to retire. The UEA supports this bill.

SB34: Special Election Date on Ballot Propositions, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, passed the Senate on a vote of 26-2. This bill requires that an election for a bond, debt, leeway, levy or tax take place only during a November General Election. The UEA opposes this bill as an issue for local school boards.

House Education Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): Rep. Jim Bird presented HB275: Health Insurance for Schools which would require districts to bid out their medical, dental and vision plans at least every five years. Rep. Jim Nielson asked if it is the role of the legislature to dictate to the districts how to do their business. Rep. Carol Moss asked if Rep. Bird had data to back up what he was saying about districts saving money by rebidding. Rep. Bird cited information from a district in Wisconsin. Rep. Kraig Powell asked why districts aren’t doing this already if they are trying to save money wherever they can. Rep. Bird’s response was that insurance brokers sit on insurance boards. Rep. Powell moved to hold the bill in Committee to gather more information. The motion passed and the bill will be considered at the next committee meeting.

House Revenue and Taxation Committee (Reported by Jay Blain): Rep. Brian King presented HB274: Tax Credits for Employing a Homeless Person that provides a tax break for hiring the homeless. He was asked if the education community has a position on the bill. Rep. King responded that they aren’t thrilled with it because of the immediate hit on the education budget of about $500,000, but in the long run it will put more people in the workforce and bring in more money than it will cost, he said. Rep. Steve Eliason explained that many children are also affected by homelessness and therefore the benefit to education outweighs a lot of the cost to the education fund. Rep. Nielson said that he is much more in favor of doing something like this through the tax code than a spending program and he sees this as a tax cut for businesses rather than a tax credit. UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway commented that the UEA is not necessarily opposed to this bill but fears the “death by a thousand cuts” effect that these types of bills have on the education fund. Holdaway suggested a possible sunset date to evaluate the effectiveness of the credit in increasing revenues in the future. The bill passed the Committee with a favorable recommendation.

Rep. Jim Nielson presented HB63: Severance Tax Amendments which phases in the deposits into the permanent state trust fund collected from the severance taxes. It will take $8.3 million out of the general fund this year. Kory Holdaway mentioned the fact that we need to reevaluate the rates we are charging for severance taxes and the need to raise them, especially if funds will be taken from them now. Two members of the public testified that we need to wait until 2016 to do this because the general fund is still below 2007 levels. The bill passed favorably.

January 31

House Floor a.m. (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): The House passed HB24 (1st Substitute): Utah Retirement System Amendments, which clears up language about Tier I and Tier II retirement and rehire. UEA supports the bill.

Congressman Jim Matheson spoke to the body, applauding representatives on their part-time positions in the legislature and their commitment to get things done. He voiced his concerned for federal policies that have created budget uncertainties. He stated it was a bipartisan uncertainty with delaying and extending deadlines. He also said the United States must continue to open markets across the world. “We need to make sure that Utah and US can move their products across the world,” he said. Matheson then talked about energy, saying the US has “been blessed with so much reliable and inexpensive energy sources. We need to continue to develop policy that allows us to develop energy.” His final comments were about education. “We need to have a workforce to fit the 21st Century,” he said. “We need to train for the jobs we need in the future. There are many jobs that are open today in the USA that we can't fill because we haven't trained people to fill them. We can't change this in a year but need to take a long-term view and must try to fix it. Shame on us if we don't try.” Rep. Matheson was given a standing ovation by all members of the House.

Senate Floor a.m. (Reported by UEA Legislative Intern Mikkela Blanton): The Senate considered SB1: Public Education Base Budget. This bill appropriates funds for the support and operation of public education for the fiscal year of 2013-14. The bill provides appropriations for the use and support of state education agencies and provides appropriates for the use and support of school districts and charter schools; sets the value of the weighted pupil unit initially at the same WPU value set for the 2013-13 fiscal year; appropriates $2,607 for the special education and career and technology add-on programs; and $2,842 for all other programs; and sets the estimated minimum basic tax rate at .001691 for fiscal year 2013-14; provides appropriates for other purposes as described; and approves employment levels of internal service funds. The bill appropriates $3,750,000 for the General Fund; $16,000,000 from the Uniform School Fund; $2,494,600,200 from the Education Fund; and $1,149,525,700 from various sources as detailed in the bill. (NOTE: This is just the “Base” budget. Near the end of the session, the House will introduce a supplemental appropriations bill that will contain the bulk of the additional education funding.) SB1 passed the Senate unanimously and moves to the House for consideration.

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (Reported by UEA Legislative Intern Mikkela Blanton): The meeting began with a continuation of State Superintendent Martel Menlove’s outline of priorities for 2013, focusing on reallocating the $800,000 that was appropriated to the Dual Language Immersion Program in 2012. The $800,000 was a one-time allocation. Sen. Howard Stephenson noted that dual immersion funding is a top issue for constituents, commenting that the issue received more phone calls from constituents than any other issue for 2012. Additionally, it was noted that more than 11,000 students are currently learning Mandarin Chinese in dual immersion programs in Utah, which is more than any other state in the nation. Utah has been recognized by a conference in Paris as having one of the top dual immersion programs in the world.

Following Menlove’s address about 2013 priorities, Sen. Stephenson questioned the Superintendent about available ELL software and RFP deployment to Utah schools. He reported that early intervention software for 2012 was needed for 90,000 students. However, only 30,000 licenses were awarded. In most cases, those licenses weren’t even available until late October or early November after the funding was approved. Menlove commented that a delay in implementation was not a result of an absence of diligence in the USOE. Rep. Joel Briscoe pointed out that there is currently little teacher training available for the software.

Fiscal analyst Ben Leishman provided a budget summary to the Committee and reviewed the major budget-related Issues for the 2013 General Session, as well as highlighted programs that would be affected by a 1 percent WPU value increase. He presented data about the MSP (minimum school program) as well as the BSP (basic school program). Appropriations provided through the MSP represented approximately 60 percent of the public education revenues in the state for FY2012. In 2006-08, there was a large spending jump for MSP as the state had more free revenue. From 2008-09, when the recession hit, the MSP was negatively impacted. The Basic School Program includes all programs funded through the WPUs. Each program has a statutory formula that determines how many WPUs a local education agency will generate based on a number of factors. Student Enrollment growth becomes a main legislative issue each year. The base budget currently funds all WPUs in the state. A 2.2% increase in student enrollment is project for the coming fall. Projections through 2021 show an increase in student growth.

Starting in 2012, the legislature adopted two additional WPU values. The first was a Special Education add-on, and the second was a Career and Technology add-on. The base WPU for FY2013 is $2,842 dollars.

Towards the end of the meeting, Sen. Stephenson noted that data from the Utah Taxpayers Association shows that Utah is spending more per pupil in real dollars currently than was spent per pupil in 2001. It is important to note that this same data also shows that Utah spends less per pupil in both real dollars and dollars adjusted for inflation than it did since 2008, and continues to decrease.

Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee (Reported by UEA Legislative Intern Mikkela Blanton): In the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee, Sen. Daniel Thatcher introduced SB141: Education Contribution on Tax Returns. The bill provides for an individual income tax contribution for education. UEA Government Relations Director Kory Holdaway testified, acknowledging that the bill is “good to a point,” as it asks citizens to contribute to education funding. However, Holdaway suggested sending the money to the SITLA fund as more appropriate method of funding the classroom. The Committee unanimously gave the bill a favorable recommendation and passed it to full Senate for consideration.

Sen. Wayne Harper introduced SB138: Amendments to Requirements for Governor’s Proposed Budget. The bill requires the governor’s proposed budget to include an estimate of federal funds receipts in the amount of total estimated revenue and consider projected changes in federal grants of assistance programs in the plan of proposed changes to appropriations and estimated revenues for the next fiscal year. Sen. Gene Davis asked, “Don’t we already do that?” Harper responds that while the information is there, the additional task is being asked of the executive branch by including federal funds receipts in an attempt to increase transparency. Derrick Monson from The Sutherland Institute testified in support of the bill. He said The Sutherland Institutes feels this bill will increase transparency and urged the Committee to pass it to the Senate floor. The bill passed with a unanimous recommendation.

Senate Democratic Caucus (Reported by Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh): Congressman Jim Matheson visited with the Senate Democrats and discussed issues surrounding immigration, sequestration, public land issues.

The Senate Democrats expressed concern over the amount of money being spent on charter schools and the ever-increasing amount being siphoned away from traditional neighborhood public schools.

Sen. Pat Jones asked for a presentation to be made to the caucus of all the potential gun bills that may come forward.

February 1

Educator Day on the Hill (Reported by Tom Nedreberg): UEA held its first Educator Day on the Hill of the 2013 Session in the Cooper Room of the Senate Building. Teachers from Davis, Granite and Nebo attended, learned about the legislative process and became citizen lobbyists advocating for students and teachers with their representatives and senators. Teachers attended a Higher Education Appropriation Committee meeting, the regular House and Senate Sessions, and a Health and Human Services Committee meeting where bills were considered that affects student athletes and school nurses (see below).

During a lunch-time debriefing, teachers reported conversations with their legislators to the UEA Legislative Team. The teachers made contact with a few new legislators that that the Legislative Team hadn't had an opportunity to meet yet. All teachers were encouraged and signed pledges to keep in contact with their legislators during the session. They were finally thanked and sent off with the message about how important teachers are when they are involved with their legislator in speaking for education. Several legislators also visited with the group during lunch. Sen. Jim Dabakis spoke to the group about his ability to speak freely because he has no aspirations to higher offices. Rep. Jim Bird shared information about his bill, HB271: Funding for Public Education, which allocate funds from liquor sales to support public education. He also talked about his HB275: Health Insurance for Schools, which would require districts to bid their health insurance every three years. Rep. Joel Briscoe talked about the budget and said the atmosphere at the legislature is more positive and looking better for educators.

House Floor (Reported by UEA Legislative Intern Mikkela Blanton): Rep. Brad Last introduced SB1: Public Education Base Budget, explaining it as the base budget that simply introduces the framework to move forward. Rep. Marie Poulson asked about student growth. Rep. Last responded that the base budget “does not fund student growth.” Rep. Briscoe, while admitting that he will be voting for the base budget, commented that he supports funding for student growth and clarified that this bill is just a starting point. The base budget passed the House unanimously and will be forwarded to the Governor.

Senate Floor (Reported by Sara Jones): Sen. Daniel Thatcher presented SB128: Financial Transparency in Education on second reading. In beginning his presentation Sen. Thatcher asked the Senate President to allow him a little hyperbole as he described his bill as “the greatest bill of all time.” He said that the “beauty [of the bill] is in its simplicity.” Currently, school districts report to the State Board of Education financial information based on certain categories of spending. In addition to the current reporting procedures, this legislation would require that districts also submit the same report for publication on the Utah Public Finance Website, a public financial transparency website. An estimated fiscal impact of $15,800 would be for training and coordination in districts and updating search functions on the website. The bill passed to the third-reading calendar.

House Health and Human Services Committee (Reported by Tom Nedreberg and Mikkela Blanton): HB58: Protection of Athletes with Head Injuries Act Amendments was presented by Rep. Paul Ray, who clarified that the bill targets organizations that provide sports for children, but excludes schools, which have their own policies, and private organizations like churches. Kelly Atkinson, Representing the Utah Health Insurance Association testified about the importance of this bill due to the long-term negative effects of concussions. The bill passed the Committee unanimously.

Rep. Ray also presented HB269: Training of School Nurses, which allows for nurses to treat children who sustain a concussion or traumatic head injury during school hours or on school property. The bill also prohibits a school nurse from providing a written statement permitting the child to return to PE class after sustaining a concussion or traumatic head injury unless the nurse has been trained in the evaluation and management of a head injury. An amendment was passed to change the word “treats” in the legislation to “assesses.” Rep. Rebecca Chaves-Houck noted the shortage of public school nurses and asked what happens if there isn't a school nurse available. Rep. Ray said it will be handled by someone on staff who has been trained. Rep. Tim Cosgrove said the ratio of school nurses to students is 1 to more than 6,000. He said he feels nurses are being asked to do an impossible job. UEA Vice President Tom Nedreberg spoke in favor of the bill, saying the UEA supports making our schools safer. Brenda Barrons, a Davis Teacher attending UEA Educator Day on the Hill, spoke about her sister who suffered a head injury at school and was inappropriately given Ibuprofen, which caused a lot of problems. As an educator she doesn't have training and advocated for more nurses. Bill passed the Committee unanimously.