2021 UEA Legislative Summary
Legislative session ends with school budgets restored, bonuses for educators
Utah educators can expect bonuses and the potential for significant salary increases following the 2021 Utah Legislative Session. During the session, Legislators continually expressed appreciation for teachers while also attempting to undermine school district decision-making authority and the local voice of educators.
The biggest news was an increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU-the primary unit of funding for Utah public education) of nearly 6% and bonuses for school employees. It made a big difference that the funding came very early in the session as part of the Base Budget.
“Not only is this one of the highest levels of funding we have received in years (nearly 6% WPU increase plus a bonus!) the significant step of establishing the increase as the starting point for education funding makes this truly remarkable,” wrote UEA President Heidi Matthews in a message to UEA members shortly after passage of the Base Budget in February. “While the end product appears in the press, so much more happens behind the scenes…in rooms where we are included because of our collective power and influence. YOU made this happen as a member of the UEA.”
In addition to the budget increases, the legislature passed bills to remove the school grading requirement for 2020-21 and to provide scholarships to allow paraprofessionals to become licensed teachers. The UEA successfully argued against attempts to dictate curriculum, to switch control from locally elected school board members to an appointed panel, and to enact a temporary voucher-like reimbursement scheme.
In a Utah General Legislative Session that looked very different from any before, the UEA managed to provide ways to keep members engaged and informed on education issues through daily Under the Dome website updates, a daily Capitol Insights email, a weekly briefing with the UEA Legislative Team and a series of training videos specific to the session.
In all, the UEA tracked nearly 90 education-related bills moving through the process. Here are a few highlights:
Education Budget and Taxes
The work on the public education budget was very different this year. The process really began during the 2020 Legislative Session with the passage of bills that created a new budgeting process and culminated in the approval of Constitutional Amendment G by voters in November 2020.
|In one of many virtual lobbying discussions this session,
members of the UEA Legislative Team met virtually
with Governor Spencer Cox and Senior Advisor for
Education Brittney Cummins on February 2.
In December, the Executive Appropriations Committee proposed a Base Budget that not only re-approved the nearly $6 billion in education spending from the previous year, it set a new precedent by adding growth and inflation. It also included a significant increase on the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) and bonuses of $1,500 for licensed educators and $1,000 for most classified employees. This Base Budget was approved as Senate Bill 1 by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Cox on February 4, 2021. Some highlights of SB1:
- a 5.8% increase on the WPU
- student enrollment growth fully funded
- $43 million in one-time money over 2 years for enrollment fluctuations (one-time)
- $121 million for COVID-19 stipends (bonuses)
Another bill that impacted the budget was Senate Bill 142 that moved the Enhancement for At-Risk Students to be a WPU item and made the funding formula simpler. UEA also helped kill a bill, Senate Bill 242, that would have implemented tax credits (a voucher) for parents who disenrolled their children from public schools during the pandemic and either home-schooled them or placed them in a private school.
Legislators approved a nearly $100 million dollar tax cut during the session. The tax cut was in 3 bills, House Bill 86, Senate Bill 11, and Senate Bill 153. The cuts were targeted to military retirees, Social Security recipients of certain income levels, and those with child dependent deductions. One other attempt for a large overall rate cut of about $250 million from the Education Fund (Senate Bill 206) passed a committee but went no further.
Three prominent Special Education bills were introduced this session. House Bill 421 restored the Intensive Services Fund and seeded it with $1 million. House Bill 105 would have removed a lag time in the funding formula and raised the cap on the prevalence rate. This bill would have passed, but it had a $2.6 million price tag that was not funded. Senate Bill 175 tried to loosen the rules for using state funding, particularly for charter schools. The bill died in the Senate after opposition from many groups, including the UEA.
COVID and School District Governance Issues
A significant theme of the 2021 session was legislation addressing the impact of COVID-19 on public education. House Bill 233 states that a district or charter school may not deny a student access to in-person learning based on vaccination status. House Bill 308 prohibits a government entity, including public schools, from requiring a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment. Senate Bill 187 requires that before a public health order affecting a public or private school is issued, the public health agency must notify the affected schools.
|Salt Lake Education Association President James Tobler and
others addressed nearly 200 educators, parents and
concerned citizens gathered at the Utah State Capitol on
February 23 objecting to legislative attempts at
undermining school district decision-making authority.
Public education governance was another significant theme. At the beginning of the session, Salt Lake City School District was the only district without broad-based, in-person learning. Senate Bill 107 originally targeted any district without in-person learning options by disqualifying employees for the legislative COVID stipend. By the end of the session, a seventh substitute of SB107 required every school district to offer four day per week in-person instruction by March 22 and set thresholds for the test-to-stay program and returning to remote learning.
House Bill 428 would have created an oversight panel to review parent complaints against policies adopted by a local school district and either affirm or reverse the policy or revoke the authority of the local board and place them under the control of the state board of education. The bill narrowly passed a committee but was never debated on the House floor.
Remote learning in the spring of 2020 prevented the administration of statewide standardized tests. Due to the lack of assessment data, Senate Bill 184 waives the requirement to rate schools using a single letter grade as well as the requirement to designate low-performing schools for school turnaround status in 2021. Senate Bill 91 would have permanently eliminated the requirement for a single letter school grade, but the bill never received a hearing.
Two bills modifying existing salary supplement programs passed this year. Senate Bill 154 expands the Teacher Salary Supplement Program to include educators with a deaf education license. House Bill 323 provides flexibility in using assessment data from previous years to determine the teacher bonus in the High Poverty Schools program since there were no assessments given in 2020 to use as the basis for the bonus.
Another bill creates scholarship opportunities for future educators. House Bill 381 provides scholarships to paraprofessionals and school counselor interns seeking to complete their education to become licensed teachers or licensed school counselors. The goal of the program is to help communities across Utah “grow their own” pipeline of educators to work in local schools.
House Bill 340, which would have restored the Mathematics and Science Opportunities for Students and Teachers (MOST) program for teachers and students and was defunded in the 2020 budget cuts, passed the House but was never voted on by the full Senate because it was not funded.
Legislators unsuccessfully sponsored bills to implement new curriculum in schools on a vast array of topics, including polarizing social issues such as firearm safety, sex education and sexual violence behavior prevention. House Bill 258 would have created a pilot program for schools to teach firearm safety. House Bill 177 and Senate Bill 229 would have repealed state code related to the prohibition of advocating contraception use and add new curriculum related to sex education, health education, sexual violence, refusal skills and consent. All three bills failed to pass the full Legislature as education stakeholders and legislators continue to debate the merit of legislating curriculum decisions to local school districts.
|In what was one of the few in-person meetings during the
session, UEA President Heidi Matthews (right) and
Government Relations Director Sara Jones met with Senate
President Stuart Adams at the Capitol on January 25.
Elections and Citizen Involvement
The Legislature continued to grapple with the political party nominating process. Senate Bill 205 would have essentially gutted the Count My Vote/SB54 compromise from 2014. This effort appeared to pick up steam in the Senate, but ultimately failed to pass.
The Legislature also continues to add burdensome requirements to citizen initiative/referenda criteria. House Bill 136 and House Bill 246 were efforts to micromanage and overcomplicate these citizen efforts. Although HB246 failed in the Senate, HB136 did pass the full Legislature after many amendments.
UEA member and Senator Kathleen Riebe sponsored legislation (Senate Bill 118) to lower the signature threshold for candidates for the Utah State Board of Education. Sen. Riebe argued that the signature requirement for USBE candidates is too high and discourages good candidates from running. This bill was tabled in a Senate committee.
Equity and Racial Justice
Lawmakers are starting to address racial and social inequities in our education system and in the state. Three resolutions attempted to make strong statements about racism in public schools. House Concurrent Resolution 3 would have recognized the harm done by using Native American mascots and encouraged schools in the public education system to consider retiring those mascots. It also would have encouraged the State Board of Education and local education agencies to provide instruction in Native American culture and history. This resolution failed on the House floor.
House Joint Resolution 13 affirms that differences in access to opportunities and resources according to race persist. It also highlights racial disparities in health measures including COVID-19 risks and describes calls by various organizations for racism to be addressed. In addition, it declares racism to be a moral and public health crisis and expresses the Legislature's commitment to identify and abolish state policies that are discriminatory and identify actions that may be taken by the state to help mitigate the impacts of any discriminatory policies of the past. This resolution was never heard on the House floor.
House Concurrent Resolution 22 recognizes the contributions of multilingual and multicultural families to Utah's schools and recognizes the state's previous support for Utah's multilingual and multicultural families. Although introduced late in the Session, HCR22 received unanimous votes in both the House and Senate.
Eleven educators were selected to become 2021 UEA Policy Ambassadors. These teachers received training from the UEA Legislative Team, participated in UEA legislative activities and engaged with their legislators. They then shared their experiences...read their messages here. The 2021 UEA Policy Ambassadors are:
|Eleven Utah educators were selected as 2021 UEA Policy
Ambassadors and received training from members of the
UEA Legislative Team. Read their reports.
- Ana Alcala – Jordan School District
- Brian Barnum – Granite School District
- Shandre Call – Salt Lake City School District
- Hunter Clapsadl – Granite School District
- Hillary Emmer – Jordan School District
- Kristine Martin – Grand School District
- Victoria Mauro – Salt Lake City School District
- Sarah Nichols- Salt Lake City School District
- Elliott Tupea – Granite School District
- Aaron Webb - Park City School District
- Tony Zani – Salt Lake City School District
Legislation of Note in the 2021 Legislative Session
The UEA tracked nearly 100 bills dealing directly or indirectly with education during the 2021 Legislative Session.
Here are a few bills of note and their final status:
J = Outcome favorable to the UEA position K = Outcome neutral L = Outcome unfavorable
2021 Legislative Archives
To view daily summaries...