2019 UEA Legislative Summary
Session ends with modest funding increase, new programs to address teacher shortage
The 2019 Legislative Session started off with an announcement of a large budget surplus, proclamations from the Speaker of the House and the Governor to deliver a record-breaking tax cut and the UEA calling for the largest education funding increase in the state’s history. While none of these materialized, there was progress on several key issues impacting public education.
Salt Lake teachers met with Rep. Sandra Hollins
during UEA Educator Day on the Hill
“Given the overall budget situation, education was clearly prioritized by our legislature, and we’re grateful for that” said UEA President Heidi Matthews. “Education fared better than most other departments and agencies.” She went on to thank lawmakers for their commitment to study Utah’s tax structure rather than pass last-minute legislation without full public discussion. “We look forward to working with legislators in coming months to devise a solution that stabilizes state funding and grows investment in public education.”
A few public education highlights include:
- Full funding of student enrollment growth
- 4% increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit
- More than $60 million (the equivalent of about 2% on the WPU) in additional new money that can be used for school mental health professionals, teacher salaries or directed at the school level.
- New programs to address the teacher shortage
- Blocks on proposals to cut the Education Fund
The 2019 Legislature debated fewer education bills this session than in recent years. One big disappointment was the failure to eliminate the law assigning a letter grade to schools. House Bill 198, which would have ended school grading, passed overwhelmingly in the House but didn’t even get a hearing in the Senate.
Teachers played a huge role in legislative efforts this year. More educators participated at UEA Educator Day on the Hill in 2019 than in any previous year. About 450 teachers representing nearly every Utah school district volunteered their time to meet with legislators and share stories about their classroom.
In all more than 450 educators participated in UEA
Educator Day on the Hill events during 2019
Here are a few results from this legislative session:
Public Education Funding—
The news leading up to the 2019 session was all about a very large revenue surplus, somewhere near $1 billion. As the session moved forward, new revenue numbers came in and those projections were revised downward. Next came a big push for tax reform that included a $300 million proposed cut to the Education Fund (see ‘Tax Reform,’ below). This was met with resistance, so the legislature decided to deal with tax reform later. The end result was a decent funding year but not what many originally hoped for. New education funding includes:
Cat in the Hat was presented in the Senate
and the House on March 1 in celebration of
NEA Read Across America Day
- 4% increase on the WPU;
- Student enrollment growth fully funded at a cost of $35.7 million;
- $15 million in the TSSA Account, in addition to $18.8 million of property tax money (see below);
- $27.3 million in ongoing money for mental health professionals in schools (see ‘Health and Safety,’ below); and
- $300,000 for conversion of the T.H. Bell loan program to a scholarship program for students pursuing education as a career.
The legislature created a new funding mechanism called the Teacher and Student Success Account (TSSA). The UEA originally supported creation this concept as part of a compromise with the 2018 Legislature to deliver significant new funding to education. Integral to the compromise was an agreement to direct more than $800 million in new, ongoing revenue to the TSSA account. Without that funding the UEA opposed the creation of TSSA as prescriptive and redundant.
For 2019, TSSA will have $33.8 million, plus $65.1 million from last session, for a total of nearly $99 million of ongoing funding. Up to 25 percent can be used by the school district for teacher salaries. The rest will be spent according to an outcome-based plan developed by the school principal in consultation with teachers, parents and others at the school. School success is judged by a one-percent annual increase in points on the state accountability system. Now that the bill has passed, local teachers and school district bargaining teams are encouraged to learn more and collaborate with administration in determining how this money is directed.
Lt. Governor Spencer Cox thanked teachers for
their service during Educator Day on the Hill Feb. 22
One of the major efforts started during the 2019 session was tax reform. The need for this effort is due to the decline in revenue in the sales tax, which is the primary source of funding for all state government services outside of education. House Bill 441 was designed to lower sales and income tax rates and expand the number of services to which sales tax is applied. The response was very swift and mostly negative. This opposition led legislators to drop the bill and instead form a task force (House Bill 495) to study tax reform over the summer. About $330 million in sales tax money was moved to one-time funding to incentivize working towards a solution.
The Senate proposed one possible tax reform solution that was somewhat troubling to education stakeholders. Senate Joint Resolution 3 would have allowed money from the Education Fund to be used for social services. This proposal passed the Senate but was not heard in the House.
It will be both interesting and important to follow what happens in the interim before the 2020 Legislative session regarding tax policy.
One of UEA’s key legislative priorities for the past few years has been to encourage legislation to address recruiting and retaining teachers. The legislature passed several bills this year that could have a positive impact on the teacher shortage.
|An apple for the teacher.,,Sen. Jerry
Stevenson and Heidi Matthews
share a light moment at the Capitol.
House Bill 130 requires the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) to create a model exit survey for educators leaving employment and requires districts to administer an exit survey and report results. The goal is to gather statewide data on why teachers leave employment in a district or leave the profession to help address retention.
House Bill 188 changes the existing T.H. Bell loan forgiveness program to a scholarship program for students pursuing a degree in teaching. The scholarship prioritizes first-generation college students and students interested in teaching in high needs areas to encourage more student to pursue the teaching profession.
House Bill 236 expands the Teacher Salary Supplement Program (TSSP) slightly so that math, science, computer science and special education teachers who have been teaching those subjects in a Utah public school for at least 10 years are eligible for the stipend. These would be teachers who previously did not meet qualifying criteria for educational background. It is expected about 500 more teachers will be eligible.
Senate Bill 115 creates a new grant program to hire first-year teachers in high needs schools and cap their class size at 20 students. The goal is to help attract and retain first year teachers to high needs schools by offering a lower class size.
Senate Bill 208 increases the existing stipend for National Board-certified teachers to $1,000 for any certified teacher and $2,000 for a certified teacher in a Title I school. The bill also creates a new program for educators pursuing certification to have the cost of each component paid for upfront replacing the current process of being reimbursed after certification is completed.
Health and Safety—
Student and school safety issues have been a frequent legislative discussion for the last few years. House Bill 120 went through six different versions before finally passing. The final version is significantly pared down from the original proposal. The bill requires the Utah State Board of Education to create model policies for student safety and support, provide training to schools and develop a student support team pilot program. House Bill 373 creates a $27 million matching grant program for districts to hire or contract with school counselors, psychologists, social workers or nurses to support student health. House Bill 71 provides clarification that health curriculum can include information about contraception.
This year, the UEA tried something new at the legislature. Seven teachers volunteered to become UEA Policy Ambassadors. These teachers received training from the UEA Legislative Team, participated in UEA Educator Day on the Hill and engaged with their legislators. They then shared their experiences. These policy ambassadors are Sam Dixon, Fairfield Jr. High School, Davis School District; Warren Brodhead, retired, Salt Lake City School District; Isac Ernest, Ogden High School, Ogden School District; Bianca Mittendorf, North Davis Jr. High School, Davis School District; Renee Pinkney, Park City High School, Park City School District; Joanna Pace, Amelia Earhart Elementary School, Provo School District; and Joshua Thayne, Roy Jr. High School, Weber School District.
Park City educator Renee Pinkney (center),
pictured here with her students at the Utah
State Capitol, was one of seven educators who
volunteered to be 2019 UEA Policy Ambassadors
Legislation of Note in the 2019 Legislative Session
The UEA tracked nearly 100 bills dealing directly or indirectly with education during the 2019 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
2019 Legislative Archives
To view daily summaries...