2012 Legislature: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
This week marks the midpoint of the 2012 Utah Legislative Session. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, legislators are working hard to make the changes they believe will make a difference for Utah’s students. So far, the UEA is tracking more than 120 education-related bills. Follow all the current education-related Legislative news at UEA Under the Dome.
UEA Supports Positive Legislation
To some working in public education, it may feel like every education proposal on Utah’s Capitol Hill is somehow targeted at making teachers' jobs more difficult. While there are several bills educators oppose, many other proposals are the result of educators and lawmakers working together to come up with solutions for public education.
“The UEA has lots of friends in the Legislature who are very supportive of teachers and the jobs we do,” said UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh. “Some come to us and ask what teachers would think about one proposal or another. Others are willing to listen to our concerns and draft bills that will help educators address those concerns.”
Here are a few examples of bills the UEA supports as originally proposed. Bills are often modified and changed as they move forward, which may impact the UEA’s position:
- HB62: Provisions Regarding School Supplies, sponsored by Rep. Kraig Powell, would allow K-8 teachers to request, but not require, that parents who are able to provide school supplies be allowed to do so. Current law does not clearly allow such a request.
- HB115: Peer Assistance and Review Pilot Program, sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, creates a pilot program for peer assistance, where educators assist other educators in improving teaching practice. In places where similar programs have been implemented around the country, the responsibility for teacher evaluation has become a shared and collaborative responsibility between districts and associations.
- HB213: School Community Council Member Qualifications, sponsored by Rep. Lee Perry, would allow school district employees to be parent members of a School Community Council in a school where they do not work. It fixes a problem created last year when the makeup of School Community Councils was changed.
- SB64: Public Education Employment Reform, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, is the result of the intensive collaborative efforts of the Senator working with many education stakeholders to create substantive legislation to improve education quality and accountability. The bill clarifies the way educators are evaluated, remediated and terminated. The UEA supports the process and the proposed legislation as originally drafted. (See more about this issue)
Potentially Harmful Bills Introduced
While there are many proposals educators can support, several bills being discussed at the Utah Legislature this year have the potential, in the view of most educators, to negatively impact the state’s system of public education.
“Just about every legislator seems to have an idea about what will work and what won’t in public education,” said UEA Director of Government Relations Kory Holdaway. “We’ve worked very hard over the past several months to educate our legislators about public education and the harmful repercussions and unintended consequences some ideas may have if implemented statewide.
“In many cases, we’re successful in convincing legislators to change or drop their proposals,” said Holdaway. Still, some of these ideas make it into proposed legislation that is opposed by the UEA. Here are a few examples of bills the UEA is fighting to stop this year:
- HB106: Limitation on Collective Bargaining, sponsored by Rep. Keith Grover, would prohibit collective bargaining by public employees for anything but salary and health benefits. Under the proposed bill, teachers couldn’t negotiate on workplace issues, like safety for themselves and the children, or reforms that could improve student achievement. The same restrictions would apply to other public employee groups such as police and firefighters. (See more about this issue)
- HB123: Education Savings Accounts, sponsored by Rep. John Dougall, is being called by some the “high school credit card bill.” It would take money from the Minimum School Program to create spending accounts for high school students that the students could use for any public school class or program. The bill proposes an amount of about $6,200 per student. Rather than having a set budget to work with, districts and schools would be required to compete for the students’ course selections. The cost is estimated at about $15 million ongoing from the Education Fund.
- HB324: Provisional Teaching Modifications, sponsored by Rep. Chris Herrod, would prohibit school districts from granting “career status” to employees. It would essentially make all new teachers “at will” employees who can be fired at any time for any reason. HB376: Performance Based Retention of Teachers, sponsored by Rep. Keith Grover, has not yet been made public, but it is anticipated this bill would attempt to accomplish a similar objective. (See more about this issue)
- HB350: Payroll Deduction Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw, allows school districts to decide whether or not they would allow payroll deduction of employee union dues. (See more about this issue)
- SB151: Student Opportunity Scholarships, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, lets taxpayers claim an income tax credit for donations they make to “scholarship organizations” that provide scholarships for qualifying students to attend a private school. These “Tuition Tax Credits” are very similar to the voucher scheme rejected by voters in 2007, except that rather than giving the money directly to students’ families, the money would pass through a “scholarship organization” which could take up to 10 percent of the money for administrative purposes. (See more about this issue)
- SJR6: Joint Resolution Amending State Taxing, sponsored by Sen. Casey Anderson, and SJR22: Joint Resolution on State Spending, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Reid, are similar in that they would limit state spending. SJR6 would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature to enact any tax or fee increase. SJR22 would limit spending to the prior year’s budget, adjusted by inflation and population change. It would require any future surplus revenues to be held in reserve or refunded to taxpayers unless voted otherwise by a three-fifths majority. (See more about this issue)