Legislative report submitted by UEA Advanced Policy Ambassador Sarah Nichols, National Board Certified special education teacher at Highland High School in Salt Lake City School District
What do my dues do? I found myself asking that question when I first considered joining Salt Lake Education Association a few years ago and I find myself answering that question for potential members at my school. Until this year, I mentioned things like liability protection, increased wages through bargaining power and discounts that membership in UEA/NEA offer. It turns out I was missing one of the most important things that UEA does for me as a teacher—lobbying and advocacy at the state level.
This year, I got to see that in action at one of the UEA Educator Days on the Hill events. We started the morning with a meeting and received a packet of information specially tailored to our own representatives, prepared by UEA staff. We heard from Rep. Robert Spendlove, who is working closely with UEA to bring forward legislation to strengthen protections for educators against online harassment from students and parents. We talked as a group about the harm some potential legislation could do, with a special emphasis on HB234.
I met with my local representative, and he showed me the spreadsheet he maintains of UEA positions on bills, which he keeps as a guide because he respects the expertise of UEA. After that meeting, I learned that Rep. Jordan Teuscher was pulling HB234 (for now) after significant public pushback. Local news sites credited UEA’s involvement and their petition (signed by many of you!) for making that happen. When I went home for the day, the UEA Legislative Team was still in action, speaking to committees and meeting with powerful state lawmakers to represent the realities and needs of educators in Utah. They were working hard to help those who have the power to make changes (good or bad!) in our schools understand the current realities of our classrooms, since many of these lawmakers haven’t experienced that reality for 40+ years.
UEA’s Legislative Team stays busy throughout the legislative session and throughout the year. During the session, they send out a daily briefing of all of their activities to UEA members who subscribe. They also hold a weekly Zoom meeting to help members understand potential upcoming bills and the progress of bills already introduced. It’s hard to keep track of all the bills that could affect educators and students, but between their legislative tracking sheet, the Zoom meeting and the daily emails I feel more informed and empowered than ever before.
After the session, there are interim meetings for the legislature that require lobbying, commenting publicly in committees and maintaining relationships. It’s possible HB234 could come back during an interim session, and I know that they will be just as powerful in opposing any new version of those burdensome and redundant “curriculum transparency” bills that come back.
The Legislative Team also stays engaged in the State Board of Education rule-making process throughout the year, which is a relief since I know that I can’t reasonably attend a meeting during the school day on Thursdays or stay as informed as I would need to be to speak out against harmful proposed rules eloquently and powerfully. They keep track of how often each legislator casts a pro-education vote, and post that for members to reference as they make voting decisions. They coordinate with other states to stay current with national, regional and cultural policy agendas. They speak at rallies and speak up for educators in state and local media.
As UEA members, our schools, our needs and our opinions are diverse. This is a big state and there are very few issues that we all agree on. UEA finds those issues, takes a firm stance and is a strong and much needed voice for education up on the Hill. Even if that’s all my dues did, I would find my membership more than worth it.