Page Title

UEA Report on the 2020 Utah Legislature General Session

Page Content

WEEK ONE:

2020 WEEK IN REVIEW: January 27-31


Photo: Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune 
Besides repealing a controversial tax reform package passed during a special session in December, WEEK ONE of the 2020 General Legislative Session started relatively slowly. In fact, the House and the Senate both found themselves in an unusual position when they met for scheduled floor time on Wednesday…no bills were available to discuss. It’s unlikely that situation will last long with the number of filed and numbered bills growing daily.

In opening speeches to legislators, Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President Stuart Adams made little mention of public education. President Adams praised specific senators who he said are helping Utah to “lead the nation in outcomes for education dollars spent.” In his final state-of-the-state address, Utah Governor Gary Herbert expressed appreciation for teachers. “I realize that providing the best possible education for our students is not only about the dollars spent but also about the people who are teaching our children. I have such deep respect for our teachers and for their dedication to our students. They have a hard job. They deserve our trust and support. They get the big picture.”

More than 50 educators attend first 2020 Educator Day on the Hill

More than 50 educators, representing schools in Carbon, Granite Park City, Ogden, Logan, Grand, Weber, Jordan, Washington, Iron and Duchesne School Districts – along with several UEA-Retired members and representatives from the Utah School Employees Association – joined the UEA Legislative Team on Utah’s Capitol Hill for the year’s first UEA Educator Day on the Hill. Combined with 37 teachers being recognized for earning or renewing National Board Certification (NBCT), it marked one of the largest groups ever to participate in a Week One Educator Day event.

As a result of a survey conducted by UEA in January, each of the 104 legislators on Capitol Hill will receive comments provided by educators who work in school districts they represent.

Legislature repeals tax reform law

By a vote of 70-1-4 in the House and 27-0-2 in the Senate, the legislature repealed SB2001, the controversial tax reform bill passed by the legislature during a Special Session in December. Governor Herbert signed the repeal later that same afternoon. The vote came on the same day the referendum effort to repeal tax reform reached the required number of validated signatures necessary to put the measure on the November ballot, according to the signature count provided by the Utah Lt. Governor’s Office.

“Thank you to all those who, like me, signed the referendum to strike down this law,” wrote UEA President Heidi Matthews in an email to UEA leaders. “We especially applaud the efforts of those who took the time to volunteer in the signature-gathering campaign. Collecting sufficient signatures was a monumental task deemed unattainable by most political observers. An army of volunteers from across the political spectrum (along with a major boost from local grocers) made it possible.”

The tax reform law would have cut the income tax with unknown impact on overall public education spending. Without a replacement law, the “structural imbalance” in the state’s tax system remains unaddressed. Unsure now how our legislature will deal with this imbalance, the Utah Education Association remains concerned how any new solution will impact education funding.

"Our message to the public and to legislators remains unchanged," said Matthews. "Our students need long-term, equitable and GROWING education funding. As I said in a recent UtahPolicy.com editorial, ‘As an organization whose members have dedicated their careers to educating our children, we wholeheartedly commit to engaging in continued honest discussions about finding long-term, stable and growing education funding sources. We look forward to working with legislators and education stakeholders to develop a plan that delivers the education opportunities our students so desperately need and deserve.’"

House unanimously recognizes contributions of school bus drivers

Among the handful of education bills publicly discussed during Week One, a resolution to recognize school bus drivers passed the House unanimously.

  • HB16: School Meals Program Amendments amends provisions to broaden the use of school “lunch” revenues to school “meals” allowing funds to be used for school breakfast and other items. The State Board of Education requested this bill and supports it, as does the UEA. It passed the House 59-15 and the Senate Education Committee on a vote of 3-1.
  • HJR2: Joint Resolution Recognizing School Bus Drivers recognizes school bus drivers for their skills, dedication, leadership, and efforts to foster student and parent relationships. In presenting the resolution, Rep. Elizabeth Weight said, “these drivers have the character and personality that give them interest in and ability to communicate with parents and students and to manage a bus full of 60 or more students while navigating various road conditions, with safety as the first priority.” The resolution passed the House unanimously and now goes to the Senate for consideration.
  • SB21: Education Amendments removes language requiring qualified teachers to submit an annual application for the through the Teacher Salary Supplement Program provide their situation doesn’t change. It passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously. The UEA supports this bill.

Looking Forward: Education bills begin to appear, Budget still up in the air

The Public Education Appropriations Committee heard many reports from education entities this week, but legislators have yet to put forward any funding proposals. There was little public discussion on education bills the first week, but that should change quickly as the number of bills grows each day. The UEA Legislative Team has its hands full reading and prioritizing each bill, then working closely with sponsoring legislators to ensure they understand the needs and concerns of educators in crafting their bills. By the end of WEEK ONE, the number of education bills tracked by the UEA had grown to 35 (see the current UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet). A few early bills to watch:


More than 50 educators attend first 2020 Educator Day on the Hill – January 31, 2020

Educator Day on the Hill (reported by Jay Blain): More than 50 educators, representing schools in Carbon, Granite Park City, Ogden, Logan, Grand, Weber, Jordan, Washington, Iron and Duchesne School Districts – along with several UEA-Retired members and representatives from the Utah School Employees Association – joined the UEA Legislative Team on Utah’s Capitol Hill for the year’s first UEA Educator Day on the Hill. Starting at 7 a.m., the group first reviewed bills, the education budget and other current education issues.

Several legislators stopped by to visit with the teachers and provide insight, including long-time UEA members Sen. Kathleen Riebe and Rep. Lawanna ShurtliffReps. Karen Kwan and Elizabeth Weight paid a visit to the group as did State Auditor John Dougal and Governor’s Education Deputy Tami Pyfer.

During lunch, participants reported on conversations they had with their legislators. Many shared stories of being invited to sit with their legislators in the House and the Senate.

House and Senate Floor (reported by Mike Kelley): The teachers who earned or renewed National Board Certification (NBCT) also participated in activities on the Hill. There were 18 who earned new certification and 19 who renewed. These educators were recognized in the House and Senate.

Senate Education Committee (reported by Jay Blain): SB21: Education Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Riebe, removes language requiring qualified teachers to submit an annual application for the through the Teacher Salary Supplement Program provide their situation doesn’t change. It also removes a requirement in the Educational Improvement Opportunities Outside of the Regular School Day Grant Program that matching funds be private. In addition, the bill amends a definition regarding a waiver of immunity related to sexual battery and sexual assault against a student under certain conditions. It passed the committee unanimously. The UEA supports this bill.

HB16: School Meals Program Amendments amends provisions to broaden the use of school lunch revenues to school meals, allowing for breakfast and possibly after-school programs. It also imposes certain reporting requirements on local education agency governing boards regarding school breakfast. The State Board of Education requested this bill and supports it, as does the UEA. It passed the committee on a vote of 3-1.


House unanimously recognizes contributions of school bus drivers – January 30, 2020

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (reported by Jay Blain): The subcommittee continued to hear reports:

House Floor (reported by Mike Kelley): HJR2: Joint Resolution Recognizing School Bus Drivers recognizes school bus drivers for their skills, dedication, leadership, and efforts to foster student and parent relationships. In presenting the resolution, Rep. Elizabeth Weight said, “these drivers have the character and personality that give them interest in and ability to communicate with parents and students and to manage a bus full of 60 or more students while navigating various road conditions, with safety as the first priority.” The resolution passed the House unanimously and now goes to the Senate for consideration.


Lawmakers have nothing to discuss, Governor praises teachers and ed accomplishments – January 29, 2017


Photo: Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune 

State of the State Address (reported by Mike Kelley): In his final state-of-the-state address, Utah Governor Gary Herbert outlined the state’s accomplishments during his 10-plus years as governor. Regarding public education, he noted high school graduation rates improving by 11.4 percentage points and that Utah students score in the top 10 in almost every subject.

“All the energy and time we invest in supporting this economy will do very little if we do not put our children and their education first in every decision that we make,” said Gov. Herbert. “If want to plan for the future, if we want to plan for growth, we would be wise to invest directly in the people who will lead Utah in the future…our children. Throughout my time as governor, education has been my number one priority. I’ve often said that education is not all about the money, but it is some about the money.”

He went on to express appreciation for teachers. “I realize that providing the best possible education for our students is not only about the dollars spent but also about the people who are teaching our children. I have such deep respect for our teachers and for their dedication to our students. They have a hard job. They deserve our trust and support. They get the big picture.”

After recognizing Utah 2020 Teacher of the Year, Lauren Merkley, he said Utah must have a vision for an education system “that meets the individual needs of each and every student. A system unafraid of innovation, dedicated to equitable practices and filled with teachers expertly versed in both content and compassion.”

“We have everything it takes to achieve our goal of becoming the best education system in America,” he said. “We can achieve that goal by working together. By expressing gratitude and supporting the good work of our teachers and also by continuing to appropriately fund public and higher education. We also need to acknowledge the efforts of our parents, of our principals, of our superintendents, of our school board members and of our partners in the private sector. Let’s continue to commit right here and right now that as a state, when it comes to supporting education, we will settle for nothing less than an 'A' grade.”

House and Senate Floor (reported by Mike Kelley): The House and the Senate both found themselves in an unusual position when they met for scheduled floor time on Wednesday…no bills were available to discuss. Speaker Brad Wilson told the House that there are “large numbers” of bills in the process of being drafted, but the bill sponsors have not yet approved the them to be formally filed and numbered. In other words, despite what some are saying is a record number of bills to be considered this year, there was nothing for House and Senate members to do.


Tax reform bill overwhelmingly repealed by legislators – January 28, 2020

Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (reported by Jay Blain): Subcommittee co-chair Sen. Lyle Hillyard opened with comments. He noted that for every 1-percent increase in the WPU, property tax increases by $5 million. He claimed that money from the Teacher and Student Success Account is distributed about the same as the WPU. He touted the benefits of optional extended-day kindergarten and stated the need to address at-risk students.

Legislative analyst Ben Leishman provide a public education budget introduction and several other details, including:

Some important findings from the USBE study: Recent research links increased school spending to positive outcomes for students, including higher graduation rates, increased college attendance and higher lifetime wages. Also, the research suggests that, on average, money matters, but not necessarily in every context, in all settings, or in all school districts.

The State Board of Education also presented information about their strategic plan and budget priorities.

House and Senate Floor (reported by Mike Kelley): The legislature voted in favor of HB185: Tax Restructuring Revisions - Repeal by a vote of 70-1-4 in the House and 27-0-2 in the Senate. This bill repeals SB2001, the controversial tax reform bill passed by the legislature during a Special Session in December. HB185 now goes to the Governor who has already said he will sign the repeal.


Referendum successful in signature gathering, Legislature repeals tax reform law – January 28, 2020

By a vote of 70-1-4 in the House and 27-0-2 in the Senate, the legislature repealed SB2001, the controversial tax reform bill passed by the legislature during a Special Session in December. Governor Herbert signed the repeal later that same afternoon. By coincidence, the vote comes on the same day the referendum effort to repeal tax reform reached the required number of validated signatures necessary to put the measure on the November ballot, according to the signature count provided by the Utah Lt. Governor’s Office. Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Gov. Gary Herbert, House Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President earlier announced that the legislature would repeal the law, preempting a vote of the people.

“Thank you to all those who, like me, signed the referendum to strike down this law,” wrote UEA President Heidi Matthews in an email to UEA leaders. “We especially applaud the efforts of those who took the time to volunteer in the signature-gathering campaign. Collecting sufficient signatures was a monumental task deemed unattainable by most political observers. An army of volunteers from across the political spectrum (along with a major boost from local grocers) made it possible.”

The tax reform law would have cut the income tax with unknown impact on overall public education spending. Without a replacement law, the “structural imbalance” in the state’s tax system remains unaddressed. Unsure now how our legislature will deal with this imbalance, the Utah Education Association remains concerned that a new solution may well be more harmful to education funding than the previous one.

"Our message to the public and to legislators remains unchanged," said Matthews. "Our students need long-term, equitable and GROWING education funding. As I said in a recent UtahPolicy.com editorial, ‘As an organization whose members have dedicated their careers to educating our children, we wholeheartedly commit to engaging in continued honest discussions about finding long-term, stable and growing education funding sources. We look forward to working with legislators and education stakeholders to develop a plan that delivers the education opportunities our students so desperately need and deserve.’"

"Yes, there are many unknowns, but this legislative session may well represent a unique opportunity for us to influence education funding for generations to come," noted Matthews.


Little mention of education in opening-day speeches – January 27, 2020

Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Session Opening (reported by Mike Kelley): In his opening comments to the House of Representatives, Speaker Brad Wilson began by addressing the recent referendum to repeal tax reform legislation. “Legislation by referendum, while part of the political process, can be divisive and at many times be short of facts. It has proven ruinous for many states that have turned down that path and turned away from the basic principles of a democratic republic,” he said. “We must find new ways of both listening and explaining to our constituents the issues that we face and the decisions we make to address them.”

The Speaker made no direct mention of public education in his formal remarks, however, a video included as part of his presentation said, “education and education funding will continue to be a top priority for lawmakers. We’ve substantially increased education funding over the past several years and this year will be no different.”

Senate President Stuart Adams described Utah as having “the best economy in the nation.” His only direct reference to public education was to praise specific senators who are helping Utah to “lead the nation in outcomes for education dollars spent.” He later noted that the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration account “currently has $2.7 billion in it and this year will deliver almost $100 million to help with additional funding for our schools.”

House Floor (reported by Mike Kelley): Opening day is typically for bills previously recommended by interim committees. Just one UEA-tracked bill was heard today:

  • HB16: School Meals Program Amendments amends provisions to broaden the use of school “lunch” revenues to school “meals” allowing funds to be used for school breakfast and other items. The bill passed 59-15, with some of the more conservative House members voting against the change. It now goes to the Senate.

See the 2020 UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet for the current bills tracked by UEA.