Your source for current updates on Utah public education issues at the Utah State Legislature...
UEA says ‘legislature has yet to make a case’ for drastic public education budget cuts – May 27, 2020
The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee met this morning to discuss plans for a new budget based on projected revenue shortfalls related to COVID-19 shutdowns. Legislative leadership has asked each state appropriations subcommittee to present budgets representing cuts of 2%, 5% or 10% from the current “base” budget.
The Legislative Fiscal Analyst, the Utah State Board of Education and the Utah School Boards Association/Utah School Superintendents Association each presented recommendations to the subcommittee for consideration. The Public Ed subcommittee reviewed these scenarios and will continue its work with an additional meeting anticipated Friday or Monday prior to making final recommendations to the Executive Appropriations Committee.
The UEA was invited to provide a list of recommended cuts but elected not to, believing instead that ANY cuts to public education are devastating to students and the legislature has yet to make a case such drastic cuts are necessary.
UEA President Heidi Matthews sent the following message to all Subcommittee members prior to the meeting:
Dear <Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee member>:
This is an extraordinary time and we understand that the legislature faces many difficult decisions in the weeks ahead. As you consider options, we ask you to remember that any cuts to the public education budget will be devastating to Utah’s students.
Following the recent 2020 General Legislative Session, Utah educators applauded state legislators and celebrated the largest public education budget increase in recent memory, up nearly 10% over the current year. Now, these same educators and their students face not only daunting new teaching challenges, but also the prospect of losing the 10% gained and up to 10% beyond that.
The UEA disputes the assumption that the discussion must begin with budget reduction scenarios of 2%, 5% and 10% from the base budget. No cuts should be considered until revenue projections are fully understood and every option for backfilling any budget shortfalls has been explored. Use of bonding, rainy day funds, federal CARES Act monies, non-lapsing balances, and any other potential revenue source or expense deferral must all be considered BEFORE making ANY cuts to public education.
We also ask for greater budget transparency in this critical time. If we really must make significant cuts, show us why. When you recommend cutting a program or expense, explain the reasons. As teachers, we call it “show your work.”
It is important to recognize that public education employs tens of thousands of professionals in every county of the state. Money spent on education jobs stays in local communities and has a multiplier effect especially impactful in rural areas. Cuts to education would further slow recovery and inhibit economic development.
Finally, the significant funding agreement noted above was a critical component in our support for changing the Utah Constitution. Any funding reductions should be coupled with consideration whether it is prudent to move forward with a constitutional change at this time.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the tremendous needs of Utah’s students and public schools. Education is continually a top priority for Utahns and we ask legislators to be forward thinking and fund our schools to meet the increased needs students will face this fall.
Heidi Matthews, President
Utah Education Association
Legislature asks state agencies to brace for budget cuts – May 20, 2020
Utah legislators are bracing for what they anticipate will be statewide budget crisis due to revenue shortfalls related COVID-19 closures. To prepare, Utah legislators have asked state agencies to anticipate reverting to “base budgets” from 2019-20 and to prepare to cut up to 10% beyond that.
Such a scenario would reverse the historic education funding passed during the 2020 General Legislative Session, which increased overall public education spending by nearly 10%. During a meeting on May 21, the Utah State Board of Education discussed budget scenarios to present to the legislature.
Still unknown are the depth of budget shortfalls, the amount of federal assistance the state will receive and how long the stagnation might last.
“We have far more questions than answers about the budget right now,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews. “Until we have a better understanding of the situation, it’s difficult for us to make any recommendations about moving forward. No matter the budget situation, the demands on public education continue. The children of a recession do not have fewer needs than the children of prosperity.”
The UEA Legislative Team is working closely with legislators to lessen the impact of the current crisis on students and teachers and preserve the historic gains in education investment and funding. A Special Session of the legislature to address budget concerns is anticipated in mid-June.
“Students and families, now more than ever, need support,” added Matthews.
The UEA launched a social media campaign to express appreciation to educators for their efforts since the COVID-19 crisis.
Legislature narrowly passes controversial scholarship bill – April 24, 2020
Despite UEA and classroom educators raising objections about the necessity of passing a voucher-like special needs scholarship bill during an online-only special session, the legislature passed HB4003: Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program by the narrowest of margins. More legislators actually voted in opposition to the “revised” bill than voted against the original HB332: Special Needs Scholarship Amendments, which was vetoed by the Governor. However, the House ended up passing the bill on a vote of 40-34 and the Senate on a vote of 15-14.
The approved bill is a compromise between the legislature and Governor Gary Herbert. While an improvement over House Bill 332, the UEA still opposed House Bill 4003. The Governor is expected to sign the bill.
UPDATE: On April 28, UEA President Heidi Matthews sent a letter to Governor Gary Herbert requesting a veto of HB4003. "During this time of economic uncertainty, it is irresponsible to create a six-million dollar tax credit program before it is clear how state budgets will be impacted by the COVID-19 crisis," she wrote. "We know that there will be unprecedented levels of student learning and emotional needs when school resumes in the Fall, and it is critical that funding remain in place to support students. The creation of a new tax credit during an economic crisis leads us to conclude that the historic education budget passed during the 2020 General Session remains, rightfully, in place." View Heidi's veto request letter.
Legislature introduces new voucher-like scholarship bill in Special Session – April 22, 2020
The Utah legislature won’t quit in attempts to create a scholarship program that shuffles public funding to private schools, similar to a school voucher. During the 2020 General Session, the legislature passed House Bill 332: Special Needs Scholarship Amendments. That bill was vetoed by Governor Herbert, largely in response to opposition from the UEA and other education stakeholders.
Rather than attempt a veto override, legislative leaders worked with the governor to create an entirely new bill. House Bill 4003: Special Needs Opportunity Scholarship Program will be considered during a Special Session of the legislature on Thursday, April 23. While an improvement over House Bill 332, the UEA still opposes House Bill 4003.
UEA President Heidi Matthews expressed opposition to the new bill in a letter to Utah legislators. “At this moment of economic uncertainty, it would be irresponsible for the Legislature to create a multi-million dollar tax credit program without knowing how state budgets will be impacted by the COVID-19 crisis,” she wrote. “A special needs scholarship is neither related to the effective state management of the COVID-19 crisis, nor is the creation of such a program an emergency that must be addressed during a special session. If the Legislature wishes to pursue the creation of a special needs scholarship, it should be addressed during the 2021 General Session.”
Legislature okays bill to waive employee evaluation and student testing requirements – April 17, 2020
The Utah Legislature convened Thursday morning, with just a few glitches, in an historic online, virtual Special Session to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. The work began in the House, as the Senate and House took turns being online. Most of the session work so far has dealt with statutory updates required to accommodate date changes and deadlines that will be missed because of social distancing measures.
SB3005 (1st sub.): Education Modifications passed the Senate unanimously and the House with only 1 'no' vote. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the bill addresses a number of provisions the State Board of Education previously waived in administrative rules and which also required statutory waivers. Specifically, the bill:
- Waives the requirement for school districts to conduct and report employee evaluations for the 2019-20 school year.
- Waives the requirement to pass the civics test as a condition for graduation for a senior who has not already passed the exam and who will not be able to access the test because of current school closures. However, the waiver does not eliminate the civics test as a graduation requirement going forward.
- Waives the requirement for schools to administer statewide standardized assessments.
- Requires the State Board of Education to report to the Legislature’s Education Interim Committee by October 2020 how any programs, reports or accountability measures were impacted by the assessment waiver.
Emergency Special Session of the Legislature to deal with COVID-19 issues – April 15, 2020
The Legislature will begin an historic online-only special session to deal with the impacts of COVID-19 beginning April 16 at 9 a.m. You can watch the proceedings on their website. The session could go up to 10 days and for the first time will be held entirely online. This also marks the first time the Legislature has called itself into Special Session.
The Call for Special Legislative Session issued by the House and Senate leadership outlines items to be considered during the session. While the majority of items to be considered relate directly to the COVID-19 emergency, Legislators also included “creating a program to provide scholarships for students with disabilities to help cover certain costs to attend qualifying private schools” (item #17). This is essentially a veto override for the voucher program proposed by House Bill 332, which was vetoed by the Governor.
View bills being considered during the Special Session here. To comment directly on a bill, click the bill number and then go to the "Comment" tab as pictured below.
This article from the Salt Lake Tribune provides a nice overview of what you need to know about the session.
Governor vetoes voucher-like bill – April 2, 2020
In a letter to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, UEA President Heidi Matthews called House Bill 332, “a bill that we believe is poor policy for public education.” The Utah School Boards Association, the Utah Superintendents Association, the Utah PTA and the Utah State Board of Education all opposed the bill.
Late on April 1, the last day to either sign or veto bills, Gov. Herbert vetoed the bill.
“I am concerned that the narrative surrounding this bill was about removing students with special needs out of the public education system, rather than supporting our students within their community schools,” Herbert wrote. “While it is helpful to provide options for students with special needs, special education federal law and best practice require that children with special needs be served whenever possible in an inclusive environment, alongside their typically developing peers.”
HB332 (3rd sub): Special Needs Scholarship Amendments shifts public money to private schools and providers through a voucher-like scholarship program using income tax credits and with little accountability to taxpayers. The legislation also ignores students in rural areas where private schools do not exist while subsidizing urban and suburban families.
“We opposed the original bill and substitutes,” wrote Matthews in the letter to Gov. Herbert. “Although substitutes improved the substance of the bill, they did not address the fundamental problem of funding private schools and private providers with public dollars. Voters resoundingly defeated vouchers in 2007 and we believe that the bipartisan opposition to HB332 in both the House and the Senate indicate the divisive nature of this program.”
2020 UEA Legislative Summary
Schools to see biggest funding bump in more than a decade
Utah public schools can expect the largest funding increase since 2006, thanks in large part to engagement by Utah educators on Capitol Hill. Teachers played a huge role in legislative efforts this year. About 500 teachers representing nearly every Utah school district volunteered their time to meet with legislators and share stories about their classroom during UEA Educator Day on the Hill events held each Friday. An estimated 2,000 participated in the UEA 'Education Day of Action' and the 'Walk for Students' sponsored by the Salt Lake Education Association on February 28.
In total, more than 500 educators participated in the six
Educator Day on the Hill events held in 2020.
“Education funding increases approved by the legislature this year are a clear win for all the educators who shared stories of how the budget impacts their students and their schools,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews. “Educators talked with legislators, attended town hall meetings, participated in Educator Day on the Hill events, marched for students, signed our funding petition and much more. It all made a difference!”
The UEA tracked 92 education-related bills moving through the process, including bills to create a new voucher-like private school income tax credit, to expand early learning programs (OEK), to suspend school grades for two years and to add first-, second- and third-grade teachers to an existing salary bonus program.
|An estimated 2,000 educators, parents, students and public education supporters gathered at
the State Capitol on February 28 as part of Salt Lake Education Association's 'Walk for Students.'
Here are a few results from this legislative session:
Public Education Budget—
Legislators approved a 9.7% overall increase for public schools starting next fiscal year or about $331 million in new funding. Budget highlights include:
Activities at Education Day of Action included a
photo booth for sharing on social media.
- A 6% increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU);
- $50.6 million to fully fund student enrollment growth;
- $20.6 million added to the Teacher and Student Success Account to fund the Teacher and Student Success Program started in 2019;
- $200,000 increase in the T.H. Bell teacher scholarship program to attract new teachers; and
- $30 million one-time money to “meet school level priorities, first to address one-time student and school safety priorities and second to meet other one-time school level priorities.”
In addition, a few individual bills passed that impact district budgets. Among those are House Bill 107, which expands to grades 1-3 and increases the amount of the test-based Effective Teachers in High Poverty Schools Incentive Program and Senate Bill 104, which increases the guarantee for local property tax levies that certain districts receive.
Education Funding Reform—
On March 11, the UEA joined legislative leadership, the governor and other education stakeholders at a press event announcing an historic education funding agreement. The agreement includes moving forward with a bill to assure student-enrollment growth and inflation are included in future public education funding and a vote to include services for children and the disabled in income tax funding.
UEA President Heidi Matthews joined the governor, legislative
leadership and other education stakeholders at a March 11
press event announcing a new education funding agreement.
As a show of good faith, the legislature also committed to a 6% increase in the WPU this year (see Budget above). One news outlet said of the agreement, “As far as politics goes, this (is) one of the great coming together/compromises in recent legislative history -- and that is not an exaggeration.”
Two bills are at the heart of the education funding reform:
Senate Joint Resolution 9 allows income tax revenue to be used to provide services for children and the disabled in addition to education.
House Bill 357 statutorily obligates legislators to invest in public education and provides a safety net to protect education funding from situations such as the recession in 2008 when there was not enough revenue to even fund student enrollment growth.
“All along we’ve said that a guarantee of FUNDING is much more beneficial than a guarantee of REVENUE,” wrote Matthews in an email to all UEA members prior to the announcement. “The constitutional guarantee that all income tax goes to education assures revenue, but not funding. Under the compromise reached, we get both…the constitutional revenue guarantee remains AND the legislature has committed to a guarantee of public education funding…House Bill 357 is a step in that direction and, I believe, will change the conversation around education funding for the foreseeable future,” she wrote.
Other Bills of Note—
OEK Expansion: House Bill 99 provides opportunities for more at-risk students to participate in optional extended-day kindergarten (OEK) programs. It adds $10 million to existing OEK funds and, while less than the initial $18 million request that would have provided for every at-risk kindergartener, the bill goes a long way toward enhancing student equity and access to quality education.
Grading Schools: Rep. Marie Poulson fought hard for a third straight year to eliminate single-letter school grades. House Bill 175 passed the House unanimously but never had a vote in the Senate. Senate Bill 119, however, did pass. This bill halts school letter grades for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years as a result of the testing fiasco from last spring. Single letter grades will return in 2020-21 unless the Legislature passes new legislation.
Private School Scholarships: After the statewide rejection of vouchers in 2007, several proposals have surfaced attempting to divert public money to private schools. This year it was House Bill 332. It creates a scholarship program where companies and individuals can receive tax credits for contributions up to $6 million. Students with Individual Education Plans (IEP) would then qualify to receive a scholarship, generally equal to the value of 2 WPU’s, to be used for private school tuition, private tutoring and therapies, and other expenses. Parents must acknowledge they are signing away their rights under federal special education law when they accept the scholarship.
Rep. Rex. Shipp meets with Iron Education Association
members outside the House of Representatives.
Reduced Graduation Standards: House Bill 355 would have reduced the graduation requirement that students must “exceed” three units of English Language Arts, and two units each of math and science, and instead required that students “meet or exceed” those requirements. Lowering the standard would create more opportunity for elective courses, according to the sponsor. The proposal passed the House Education Committee but failed on the House floor.
Civics Education: House Bill 152 would have eliminated the requirement that all students pass a civics test to graduate. The sponsor argued that a “bubble test” doesn’t teach authentic civics learning or engagement and can be a barrier to graduation. Currently, the civics test is the only statewide standardized test for which parents cannot opt-out their child because it is required for graduation. The bill passed the House Education Committee but failed on the House floor. However, another civics bill, House Bill 334, passed. This bill creates a “civics engagement” pilot program. Districts electing to participate will work with the State Board of Education for three years to determine the benefits of and methods for implementing a civic engagement “project” for students. If the pilot is successful, the Board may recommend such a project as a requirement for high school graduation.
Mental Health: House Bill 323 funds an optional program for districts to implement a “mental health screening tool” for students. Based on an existing program used by some districts, parents must choose to opt-in their child, the screening tool must be age appropriate and results must be shared with parents. The goal is to help identify student mental health needs that would benefit from intervention either in a school-based setting or through community resources.
Charter School Accountability: One major charter school bill passed this session. House Bill 242 was a response to the recent closure of schools and some mismanagement of funds. This bill creates an initial review period before a charter school receives ongoing approval and requires a charter school to use the same accounting methods as district schools.
State Board Governance: The Legislature again dealt with the issue of governance for the Utah State Board of Education. The UEA supports direct non-partisan elections for State Board members. In 2016, legislation was passed that transitioned these to partisan elections. The UEA was involved in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of partisan State Board elections. Unfortunately, the lawsuit was unsuccessful and the court validated partisan elections. House Joint Resolution 13 would have put a constitutional question to the voters to allow the Governor to appoint members of the State Board and eliminate the elections altogether. The bill was held in committee. This means Utah State Board of Education elections will be partisan in 2020. Expect this issue to be back at the Legislature next year.
School Breakfast: House Bill 222 requires public schools to participate in an alternative breakfast model if a certain percentage of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. The bill failed to pass in a Senate committee a few senator comments received considerable media attention. The bill was brought back a week later and passed the committee, then later passed the full Senate and House.
Vaping and E-cigarettes: Educators see and understand the negative effects of electronic cigarettes by minors in schools. These devices are addictive and a distraction from teaching and learning. House Bill 58 addresses these issues. UEA originally had concerns about the prescriptive nature of the language and the role educators might play in the confiscation and destruction of these devices. UEA worked with the sponsor to make several educator-friendly amendments. The improved bill requires each school to develop a plan to address the causes of student use of these electronic devices and provides for a stipend for a specialist to administer the plan.
Nineteen teachers volunteered to become 2020 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 Lori Buhr, Tooele; Annette Croucher, Washington; Ashlyn Drew, Tooele; CJ Gebhardt, Granite; Carol Gregory, Nebo; Sarah Jones, Davis; Taylor Layton, Granite; Katharine McGinn, Park City; Courtney Miller, Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind; Beth Niederman, Granite; Alexis Redford, Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind; Lauren Rich, Davis; Jacob Rollins, Jordan; Megan Ruff, Jordan; Justin Shaw, Weber; Patricia Shay, Granite; Alexandra Smith, Weber; Hilary Ward, Salt Lake City; and Angela Wickel, Duchesne.
Nineteen educators volunteered as 2020 UEA Policy Ambassadors.
Legislation of Note in the 2020 Legislative Session
The UEA tracked nearly 100 bills dealing directly or indirectly with education during the 2020 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
2020 Legislative Archives
To view daily summaries...