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UEA Report on the 2015 Utah Legislature General Session

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WEEK TWO: 

2015 LEGISLATURE WEEK TWO SUMMARY: February 2-6

During Week Two, about a dozen education-related bills of the nearly 70 currently being tracked by the UEA were heard. In addition, the Executive Appropriations Committee approved a base budget that funds the growth in new students, but cuts about 2% from last year’s overall budget.

Public Education Budget: The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee recommended and the Executive Appropriations Committee approved a base budget that cuts about 2% from last year’s overall budget. What the committee called a 2% budget cutting “exercise,” has created a great deal of angst in the education community, although committee members are quick to say they believe the final budget will provide a “significant” education budget increase.

The approved base budget includes line item cuts to USTAR ($6.2 million), To and From Transportation ($6 million), the K-3 Reading Program ($2.6 million) and in Concurrent Enrollment ($3,000,000). It also cuts the Flexible Allocation line item ($23,106,000), which is used to help school districts fund employee retirement and Social Security costs (see the full subcommittee recommendation).

Of particular concern to many education stakeholders was a cut to the line item for Charter School Replacement funding ($20.56 million). This not only diverts local property taxes away from districts to charter schools, it also marks a shift in policy done through a budget process rather than being vetted and discussed by the entire Legislature. This shift puts an increased share of taxpayer funds under the control of unelected charter school governing board members and out of the control and accountability of elected officials in districts.

On Friday, Feb. 6, UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh gave a moving presentation to the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee (listen to her comments). She first presented the UEA’s Issue Brief about the public education budget and provided members of the committee a brief to help explain “above the line” and “below the line” items in the budget and how they relate to local control. She then reviewed information from a survey of teachers conducted by the UEA asking them where the state should invest to have the most positive impact on student outcomes. “The most pressing need, identified as a top concern by more than 88 percent of teachers, was reducing class size. This was followed by increasing salaries and benefits to attract and retain quality teachers, which was identified by 78 percent as a priority,” she said.

Gallagher-Fishbaugh also shared selected stories from classroom teachers about how legislative decisions impact teachers, students and classrooms. Members of the committee were also provided with stories from educators in their respective districts. After sharing a few stories, she said, “The bottom line is that our teachers are feeling overworked and under-appreciated…our students are over-tested and under-served…and our classrooms are overcrowded and underfunded.” She concluded by asking the legislators to support Governor Herbert’s proposed budget and his requested 6.25% WPU increase.

Educator Day on the Hill: Teachers from Canyons, Nebo, Jordan, Granite and Davis School Districts, as well as members of UEA-Retired, met participated in UEA’s Educator Day on the Hill. Following a quick briefing, participants listened as UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh presented to the Public Education Appropriation Committee (see above).

Reps. Robert Spendlove and Norman Thurston addressed the group and answered questions. Rep. Spendove thanked educators for everything they do. He said he supports the Governor’s proposal of 6.25% on the WPU and hopes legislative leadership and the governor will negotiate a significant increase. Rep. Thurston said education is the No. 1 issue in his district. His constituents are asking that the legislature please get out of the way and let the teachers teach and stop all of the testing.

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

HB33: American Indian-Alaskan Native Education Amendments is designed to codify the Native American position at the State Office of Education and establish the American Indian and Alaskan Native committee to deal with Native American achievement gap. The bill passed Senate Education Committee on a vote of 3-1.

HB54 (1st sub.): Public Education Increased Funding would increase the state income tax from 5% to 5.5% and put the money in dedicated funds that would be used for teacher pay and digital learning. The bill failed in the House Education Committee with only two yes votes.

HB118: Public Education Human Resource Management Act Revisions opens up SB64 from 2012, further defining dismissal for cause. It was heard in the House Education Committee, but no action was taken. During the hearing, UEA Executive Director Lisa Nentl-Bloom said the UEA does not fully support the bill but wants to continue discussions with the sponsor to make improvements. No action was taken on the bill in the House Education Committee.

HB119: Charter School Finance Amendments would require all school districts to allocate 25% of district per pupil revenues for students attending charter schools. The UEA opposes this bill. It passed House Education Committee with only two ‘no’ votes.

HB124: Education Background Check Amendments would impact both licensed and classified employees by clarifying background check provisions and procedures. There was no public comment and it passed the House Education Committee unanimously.

HB128: Maintenance of Student Records deals with student records and keeping those records. It will allow districts to have a single database instead of two databases for records. There was no public comment. The bill passed House Education Committee unanimously and was added to the consent calendar.

HB163: Student Data Breach Requirements requires a school district or charter school to notify the parent of a student if there is a release of a student’s personally identifiable information. The bill passed the House Education Committee unanimously.

SB104: Education Elections and Reporting Requirements would create a partisan election process for local and state school boards. The UEA opposes this bill and instead supports direct non-partisan elections of state school board members at both the local and state level. The bill passed the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee 5-1.

SB106: Class Size Reduction Program Amendments changes the way class size reduction funding is distributed. It passed Senate Education Committee unanimously.

SB107: Computer Science Initiative for Public Schools creates a computer science initiative that would be directed by the State Board of Education and the STEM Action Center. It allocates just over $2 million to select a vendor to operate the program. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.

SB114: Board of Education Compensation Amendments requires the Legislature to annually appropriate salary compensation for members of the State Board of Education. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously.

SB117: Interventions for Reading Difficulties Pilot Program would be used to start grant program for districts to apply for a proposed grant. It passed Senate Education Committee unanimously.


February 2, 2015

Public Education Appropriations Committee (reported by Jay Blain): Ben Leishman, legislative fiscal analyst, gave a report on charter school funding. Sen. Aaron Osmond stated he has heard that charters are below the district funding and vice versa from the districts. Leishman stated that it depends on location. Sen. Howard Stephenson stated that all of our schools are underfunded.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard asked questions about the movement of district and charter students during the school year and how the funding moves. Leishman and Bruce Williams from the Utah State Office of Education explained that districts are funding past year Average Daily Membership (ADM, an enrollment measurement) plus growth. Charter schools use an October 1 headcount.

Rep. Brad Last said that sometimes you just have to decide how much accounting you want to do in terms of students moving around and who gets paid. Maybe it is only a $3 to $4 million windfall to charters and that is nothing in a $3 billion budget, said Rep. Last. Rep. Norman Thurston says that districts are more concerned about the students coming back than money going out for students leaving. Rep. Kraig Powell asked how much it would cost to put traditional schools on a October 1 headcount program to match charter schools. Leishman indicated it would be about $66 million.

Sen. Stephenson stated that we need to equalize property tax before we increase the WPU.

Leishman also went through a short explanation of the Capital Foundation Guarantee and Capital Outlay programs. Sen. Osmond then explained his property equalization bill SB97: Property Tax Equalization Amendments.

The State School Board and Superintendent submitted their 98% base budget recommendations. Each committee member was asked to go through the base budget 98% exercise. Sen. Stephenson said the exercise can be a very constructive process and suggested it may be even better to look at a 90%-base process.

A report from the State Privatization Board about the Student Information System used by the USOE was presented.

House Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): HB54 (1st sub.): Public Education Increased Funding was the only bill on the committee’s agenda. It would increase the state income tax from 5% to 5.5% and put the money in dedicated funds that would be used for teacher pay and digital learning. The increased tax would raise about $429 million in new revenue. The bill would appropriate 25% of that revenue for teacher base pay, 50% for teacher performance pay and 25% for digital learning.

Rep. Jack Draxler said that the goal of the legislation is to fund two areas that will have the greatest impact on the quality of education: 1) attracting and retaining high-quality teachers through more competitive salaries and 2) the “proper use of technology” in schools. He said that the bill is written to dovetail with Sen. Osmond’s 2012 education reform legislation which created a more rigorous evaluation system. The performance pay bonus would be disbursed to those teachers receiving an “effective” or “highly effective” rating on the new evaluation system.

Rep. Draxler also said “I hate taxes” but “the point is we have danced around this topic [funding] for years” and have not found adequate long-term solutions. He also said “I’m not sponsoring this bill as a trial balloon” but to address an urgent need.

There was significant discussion by the committee. Rep. Marie Poulson questioned why the bill was so prescriptive in how the money must be spent by districts. Rep. Dan McCay stated that he opposed the bill because it supplants the regular appropriations process. Rep. Steve Eliason asked whether this bill would be better as a voter referendum. There was also significant input from the public.

Sara Jones spoke on behalf of UEA. She thanked Rep. Draxler for his courage in bringing forward legislation which would generate significant new revenue for education. While UEA has not taken yet taken a position on the bill, she encouraged the committee to pass the bill out and allow for the full House to discuss and debate the merits of the legislation.

The bill failed with only two yes votes.


February 3, 2015

Senate Education Committee (reported by Jay Blain): SB114: Board of Education Compensation Amendments requires the Legislature to annually appropriate salary compensation for members of the State Board of Education. The Board’s compensation was set more than 20 years ago and has never been adjusted, according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Aaron Osmond. The bill passed the Committee unanimously.

SB106: Class Size Reduction Program Amendments changes the way class size reduction funding is distributed. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Wayne Harper, said 80% of money would be distributed according to the existing formula and 20% would be distributed on new formula based on school district enrollment. Eight districts would benefit from this program, he said.

Royce Van Tassel, director of the Utah Association of Charter Schools, against the bill, saying it would incrementally decrease the funding for charters. UEA Legislative Team member Jay Blain spoke in favor of reducing class sizes and expressed appreciation to Sen. Harper for exploring the a way to use these dollars wisely. He added that this line item is mostly a class size maintenance line item. The bill passed unanimously.

SB107: Computer Science Initiative for Public Schools creates a computer science initiative that would be directed by the State Board of Education and the STEM Action Center. It allocated just over $2 million to select a vendor to operate the program. Less than 1% of Utah high school students have taken a computer science class upon graduation, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Howard Stephenson. The bill provides a concrete approach to teaching computer science, he said.

Tami Pyfer, the Governor’s education advisor, expressed concerns about the vendor nature of the bill and wondered about the availability of free software to accomplish the same purpose. Many of the committee members asked question of Ms. Pyfer. Sen. Mark Madsen asked why didn’t district’s exercise local control and do more of these programs on their own.

Sen. Stephenson moved some amendments to the bill that changed some of the requirements regarding funding for software and professional development to make them more fungible.

Jay Blain expressed some of the same concerns about the vendor nature of the bill but expressed appreciation over the changes in the wording of the finances. He suggested perhaps funding could better be applied to the WPU to allow local flexibility for school districts and charter schools. Blain responded to Sen. Madsen by saying that because districts are in a scarcity world, they don’t have the resources to experiment on anything new because they struggle to meet necessities.

The bill passed the Committee unanimously.

Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee (reported by Chase Clyde): Sen. Al Jackson presented SB104: Education Elections and Reporting Requirements. This bill would create a partisan election process for local and state school boards. During Sen. Jackson’s presentation he criticized the current system as convoluted and lacking accountability and transparency. He said he wants more parents involved and believes the caucus system is the best way to vet school board candidates.

Sen. David Hinkins and Lyle Hillyard expressed concerns about having local school district elections in small counties partisan. They seemed to suggest that they plan to amend the bill on the floor of the Senate to leave smaller school districts as non-partisan. Sen. Luz Escamilla expressed great concern over bringing partisan politics into the school board at any level. Public testimony included several candidates from Utah and Davis County that ran for school board and felt their experience was not fair. Several Republican delegates spoke in favor of the bill suggesting that the party caucus system is the best way to vet school board candidates.

UEA Director of Government Relations & Political Action Chase Clyde spoke against the bill. Clyde thanked Sen. Jackson for raising the issue and said that the UEA agrees that the current system is very flawed and lacks accountability and transparency. Clyde argued that making the system partisan will only create a worse system. Clyde said that the UEA supports direct non-partisan elections of state school board members at both the local and state level.

The bill passed out of Committee 5-1. Sen. Escamilla was the only no vote.


February 4, 2015

House Education Committee (reported by Sara Jones): HB163: Student Data Breach Requirements requires a school district or charter school to notify the parent of a student if there is a release of a student’s personally identifiable information. The bill passed the committee unanimously.

HB124: Education Background Check Amendments was presented by Rep. Stephen Handy. This bill would impact both licensed and classified employees by clarifying background check provisions and procedures. The bill included an amendment to require an audit reporting whether the program is working the way it is intended. There was no public comment and the bill passed unanimously.

HB119: Charter School Finance Amendments would require all school districts to allocate 25% of district per pupil revenues for students attending charter schools. Rep. Brad Last said that currently districts are participating at different levels and this would be “a minor attempt at equalization,” bringing all districts to the same level. He acknowledged that “we do have a number of issues with charter school funding” that should be addressed. But he raised the question of ‘what should be the funding solutions going forward?’ He said that while this bill corrects one problem it does not solve all funding problems. Several legislators questioned how districts would replace the money that would be required to go to the local replacement costs. When clarifying that some districts will receive less revenue as a result of this change Rep. Mike Noel said “that doesn’t sound like a very good horse trade.” Sara Jones, speaking on behalf of UEA, opposed the bill because of the loss of revenue to districts and the resulting impact to district programs. The bill passed with only two ‘no’ votes.

Public Education Appropriations Committee (reported by Jay Blain): The first order of business was to approve the base budget motions. The first motion establishes a new basic rate at 0.001415 as a preliminary estimate. Other motions approved various line items in SB1: Public Education Base Budget Amendments, the base budget bill for public education.

The committee reviewed its recommendations to reduce public education spending by 2%, as requested by the Executive Appropriations Committee. The recommended budget cuts public education spending by $63 million. Their recommendation includes cutting the following:

  • $23 million in Flexible Allocation (money traditionally used to help pay employee Social Security and retirement costs),
  • $6.2 million for USTAR Centers,
  • $6 million from student to/from school transportation,
  • $3 million from Concurrent Enrollment,
  • $1.1 million from Adult Education, and
  • $2 million from the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program.

The recommendation also permanently shifts $20.6 million from the Charter School Local Replacement line item, which would require school districts to make up that difference locally. Each district would be affected differently as shown on a district-by-district breakdown (use the 50% column to see what was approved).

Rep. Steve Eliason stated that the intention of the co-chairs isn’t to place any line item money into the WPU. The motion was made to support the chair recommendations from the above mention committee sheet. Rep. Marie Poulson noted her objection to the line referencing the Local Replacement funding change and the great effect on the districts she represents. She continued that it is not just a funding change but also a big policy change. Sen. Jani Iwamoto echoed the concern. Rep. Bruce Cutler added his concern that people are being taxed and it is being sent elsewhere.

Sen. Aaron Osmond raised the issue of transparency in relation to spending on charter schools, specifically referring to the Local Replacement money. State Board of Education Chair Dave Crandall responded that there have been suggestions about it, including line items on tax notices, but the State Board has not discussed it. State Superintendent Brad Smith said as a local superintendent that it was a bitter pill to levy the tax and ship it off to an entity with no public accountability.

The motion to approve the recommended cuts passed the committee 15-4. The recommended cuts will be reflected in the base budget bill.

Legislative Fiscal Analyst Ben Leishman provided a short history of enrollment growth and the WPU. Phil Dean from the Governor’s Budget office presented the Governor’s budget proposal including the recommendation for a 6.25% increase on the WPU and fully funding growth. UEA supports the Governor’s budget.

Rep. Eliason made the motion to fully fund growth at $54.4 million dollars. The motion passed with one ‘no’ vote.


February 5, 2015

House Education Committee (reported by Tom Nedreberg): HB128: Maintenance of Student Records deals with student records and keeping those records. An amendment to the bill passed that allows a student or former student to request a record under certain circumstances and to expunge that record under certain circumstances. Last year a similar bill passed the House but didn’t make it through the Senate. The bill will allow districts to have a single database instead of two databases for records. There was no public comment. The bill passed unanimously and was added to the consent agenda.

Rep. Brad Last thanked Lyle Cox, HR Director for Washington School District and the UEA for their input on HB118: Public Education Human Resource Management Act Revisions. Cox then addressed the bill which opens up SB64 from 2012. There have been some consequences to the bill that have been problematic, he said. In the existing law, poor conduct would result in a verbal and written warning and then moving towards dismissal. But there was also need for a plan for remediation. This bill further defines dismissal for cause. He stated that 95% of conduct problems have associated performance problems.

This bill deals with the conduct problem to be preemptive with the performance problems. If someone refuses to deal with conduct issues they would then be terminated. If they dealt with the conduct, then they could have a plan of assistance for any performance problems.

Rep. Marie Poulson asked for other examples of conduct besides coming late. Cox noted things like teachers leaving a class, failure to follow IEP and disregarding it and disruptive behavior. She then asked if this would allow a teacher go without proper due process. He stated it would not because it would require district to provide teacher notice, warning and teacher disregarded it. There would still be hearings in place but would take away the layer of a performance plan.

Rep. Justin Fawson asked if someone could be let go for poor attitude. Cox said ultimately yes, if it affected conduct, or was a conduct related behavior was disruptive, and effected performance. If the person just didn’t understand there would be a plan of assistance to deal with the attitude. There is still due process, he said.

UEA Executive Director Lisa Nentl-Bloom spoke to the bill. She thanked Rep. Last for his conversations on the bill to compromise with HR Directors and teacher interests. She talked about the history with SB64 in having a quality teacher in every classroom. She then discussed evaluations and remediation to allow an educator to improve. One of UEA’s top goal is to elevate the profession but we also have a goal to protect employee rights, she said. This bill can do both. She then talked about the Evaluation Toolkit and evaluation training UEA has provided to teachers to improve educator quality. At this point in time UEA does not fully support the bill but wants to continue discussions with the sponsor to make improvements.

No action was taken on the bill.

Senate Education Committee (reported by Tom Nedreberg): SB117: Interventions for Reading Difficulties Pilot Program would be used to start grant program for districts to apply for a proposed grant. Sen. Aaron Osmond talked about how many students in Utah that have Dyslexia and how Utah deals with it mostly by not responding soon enough. The issue is being dealt with many states but Utah is going in the opposite directions. Utah has a growing problem with Dyslexia and it is consuming.

Most public comments were in support of the bill. It passed unanimously.

HB33: American Indian-Alaskan Native Education Amendments is designed to codify the Native American position at the State Office of Education and establish the American Indian and Alaskan Native committee to deal with Native American achievement gap and then sets a date to abolish the committee on Dec. 31, 2015. Rep. Jack Draxler talked about the problems Native Americans face in school with their achievement gap, attendance and other problems. The bill passed on a vote of 3-1.

Executive Appropriations Committee (reported by Lisa Nentl-Bloom): Sen. Howard Stephenson and Rep. Steve Eliason presented the base budget that was approved by the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee after giving great praise to the State School Board for participating in this budget cutting exercise. The committee tried to improve equity, improve standards for buses reimbursement, and support the State Board priorities and local control.

In addition to the report, they discussed theories moving forward. If monies are added back in, they should put it into the Flexible Allocation line, which would be similar to WPU, he said. Charter school replacement changes from 25-50% but the same amount would be added to the Flexible Allocation ($32/student) to make many districts whole. They also hope to provide a large WPU increase and fully fund growth.

Sen. Stephenson stated that they hope the exercise is continued next year because the exercise forces departments to look for areas for inefficiency and equity. He also thanked the State School Board leaders for attending so faithfully.

Rep. Joel Briscoe expressed concerns about the transferring of costs from state to local school districts. He also asked about concurrent enrollment cuts. Sen. Stephenson stated that there are strong concerns about the quality of the courses and that colleges are not accepting the credits. These cuts allow for a rich conversation in the committee about these concerns.

Sen. Gene Davis expressed concern that not only did the committee make 2% cuts but also changed public policy to get to that point.

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser thanked the committee and reminded all that this was just the first step. He guaranteed there would be more money going into education. Action on the report is anticipated to take place in the next meeting.


February 6, 2015

Educator Day on the Hill (reported by Tom Nedreberg): Teachers from Canyons, Nebo, Jordan, Granite and Davis School Districts, as well as members of UEA-Retired, met at 7 a.m. to talk about legislative issues at UEA’s Educator Day on the Hill. There wasn’t much time to talk about bills in the morning because at 8 a.m. UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh was making a presentation to the Education Appropriation Committee (listen to her comments).

After a short discussion on the budget and how to follow the UEA Legislative Tracking Sheet, the group attended the Education Appropriations meeting. Teachers were moved during Sharon’s presentation and many tweeted out her words as she spoke.

Afterwards teachers talked with their own legislators during or after the House and Senate Floor Time. During lunch, teachers reported back the conversations they had. Some of the teachers were able to speak to reach out to legislators the UEA Legislative Team has not been able to have a conversation with yet this session, which was very valuable for the team to hear.

Reps. Robert Spendlove and Norman Thurston addressed the group and answered questions. They also posed for pictures with teachers from their legislative districts. Rep. Spendove thanked educators for everything they do. He said he supports the Governor’s proposal of 6.25% on the WPU and hopes legislative leadership and the governor will negotiate a significant increase. Rep. Thurston said education is the No. 1 issue in his district. His constituents are asking that the legislature please get out of the way and let the teachers teach and stop all of the testing.

Public Education Appropriations Committee (reported by Jay Blain): Moya Kessig from the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) spoke about Concurrent Enrollment. All of the general education credits are fully transferrable within the Utah System of Higher Education, she said in response to a comment made earlier. She responded to several questions from the committee.

Bruce Williams, USOE assistant superintendent, described how student transportation works. He explained that buses are often operating with few students at the beginning or end of a route, which may give the impression of inefficiency, especially in a rural area. Other items regarding the transportation budget were explained.

UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh gave a moving presentation to the committee (listen to her comments). She first presented the UEA’s Issue Brief about the public education budget and provided members of the committee a brief to help explain “above the line” and “below the line” items in the budget and how they relate to local control. She then reviewed information from a survey of teachers conducted by the UEA asking them where the state should invest to have the most positive impact on student outcomes. “The most pressing need, identified as a top concern by more than 88 percent of teachers, was reducing class size. This was followed by increasing salaries and benefits to attract and retain quality teachers, which was identified by 78 percent as a priority,” she said.

Gallagher-Fishbaugh also shared selected stories from classroom teachers about how legislative decisions impact teachers, students and classrooms. Members of the committee were also provided with stories from educators in their respective districts. After sharing a few stories, she said, “The bottom line is that our teachers are feeling overworked and under-appreciated…our students are over-tested and under-served…and our classrooms are overcrowded and underfunded.” She concluded by asking the legislators to support Governor Herbert’s proposed budget and his requested 6.25% WPU increase.

Pinnacle Canyon academy presented on the need for transportation funds for charters. Pinnacle is in Carbon County and spends $250,000 from their operating funds to transport students. They say they have 30% of their students with IEPs.

Tim Beagley, chair of the Utah State Charter School Board, presented their budget request to the committee. The request included:

  • $225,000 for a dedicated attorney,
  • $2.47 million one-time and $1 million on-going start-up money, and
  • $4 million one-time revolving loan fund

Sheryl Smith presented on the needs of the Library and Media materials line item. The committee was provided with a history of the expenditures of this line item.