Your source for current updates on Utah public education issues at the Utah State Legislature...
UEA Urges Legislators to Oppose a Special Session on Tax Reform – December 4, 2019
The UEA Legislative Team sent the following email to all state legislators on December 4, 2019:
On behalf of Utah’s dedicated public school teachers and their students, the Utah Education Association asks that you please oppose a special session on Utah tax reform until a firm plan for addressing the critical funding needs of public education can be publicly presented, openly discussed and fully vetted.
Teachers have looked to the tax reform process with great anticipation and hope for their students. In many ways, they see this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity, through this official tax reform process, to do something truly visionary for the students of Utah.
Our teachers have heard the promise that as the economy grows, so will investments in education. Unfortunately, current proposals do not keep that promise. They do little to GROW education investments and allow us to address critical student needs such as reducing class sizes, providing high-quality early learning opportunities and addressing our severe teacher shortage, just to name a few.
While we appreciate recognition that student enrollment growth and inflation must be a given in order to maintain status quo and we applaud efforts to ease legislative barriers our local school boards face in raising funds locally, no current plan ensures the sustainable, long-term, equitable and growing education resources our students so desperately need.
We urge you to oppose a special session to enact tax reform and continue the work to develop a plan that supports our students, our teachers and our schools.
The UEA Legislative Team
UEA President calls tax reform plan “wrong for Utah” - November 22, 2019
‘Tough time’ predicted for Utah lawmakers’ funding plan for schools in tax reform package
Deseret News, Nov. 22, 2019
“The overall tax proposal, plus the education piece, cuts hundreds of millions of dollars from our schools. That’s not good for kids. It’s wrong for our teachers. It’s wrong for our schools. It’s wrong for our students and it’s wrong for Utah,” Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews said Thursday.
…Matthews, who was in Florida Thursday for an education association meeting, said teachers are already raising their own concerns about the plan.
“My email is blowing up on an hourly basis,” she said
The funding in the plan is “very insufficient,” Matthews said, in terms of making up for the estimated $651 million cut in income taxes being proposed from dropping the state income tax rate from 4.95% to 4.56% and adding new exemptions and credits aimed at helping families along with the poor and elderly.
“It does not grow the investment in public education. While it does lay a baseline foundation for growth and inflation, it is simply not sufficient to address the needs of our students,” she said, warning those guarantees “would all but solidify our position as the lowest funded schools” in the nation per pupil.
A special session on tax reform, especially if it does not include an education funding plan, is premature, Matthews said.
“This has been such a confusing message from the beginning,” she said of the tax reform effort that started with a failed bill last session. The proposal then would have added sales taxes to many services to deal with a structural imbalance in the budget caused by lagging growth in sales taxes as consumer spending shifts from goods to services.
“Now we’ve gone from taxing services to gutting the fund that is constitutionally designated for public education. It’s complicated. It feels very rushed,” Matthews said. “Our members within the Utah Education Association are having such a hard time tracking this ... they want to know, ‘How is this going to affect my classroom?”
Teachers “absolutely” will campaign against amending the Utah Constitution to remove the restriction on spending income taxes only for schools, she said. Asked if their opposition could result in teacher walkouts or similar actions, Matthews said, “anything is possible. We care deeply.”
19 educators train as UEA Policy Ambassadors – November 11, 2019
The 2020 UEA Policy Ambassador program launched with a Fall Retreat on Saturday, November 9. Led by members of the UEA Legislative Team, the retreat focused on logistics of the legislative process and lobbying, developing leadership and advocacy skills, effective communication and messaging, as well as team building and networking.
The 19 educators selected as 2020 Policy Ambassadors will engage in a series of activities related to the 2020 legislative session. In addition to training at the Fall Retreat, Ambassadors will speak with their elected representative and senator, participate in UEA Educator Day on the Hill, attend legislative committee meetings, study a policy issue of interest, write about their experience on UEA Under the Dome and present at the UEA Summer Leadership Academy…more
Draft tax reform bill calls for income tax cuts but gives no details on plan for education – November 7, 2019
(Reported by Jay Blain)
Dozens of teachers dressed in #RedForEd filled the hearing room as the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force unveiled a draft bill for comprehensive tax reform. In his opening comments, task force chair Lyle Hillyard explained that the gas tax only generates enough to cover about one-third of road construction costs. He also said revenue is not growing as fast as the state’s population.
Sen. Curt Bramble commented that is not good process to see a bill reported in the media before the committee even sees it. He is frustrated about getting phone calls from constituents about reports in the media about contents of the bill when he hasn’t even seen it.
Legislative staff then presented an executive summary of the bill. The bill reduces the income tax rate from 4.95% to 4.58%. According to the summary, income taxes would be cut by $650 million, while sales tax revenues would increase by about $570 million, for an overall net tax reduction of about $80 million. A family of four earning $60,000 annually would see an estimated tax reduction of more than $320 under the proposal.
During public comment, UEA President Heidi Matthews read a statement endorsed by the Utah Public Education Coalition supporting principles for education reform. She also expressed concerns about draft bill. “The bill includes massive cuts to the Constitutionally dedicated revenue source for public education in Utah. This bill proposes no vision for the schools we want for our state and more importantly no public plan for demonstrating sustained increases in growing education funding for our students’ future. How can we even begin to make decisions about this proposal in the absence of a new funding plan for education?”
Matthews said the time frame for approving and implementing massive statewide tax changes is also problematic. “The Legislature has failed to make a case that warrants a special session in the next few weeks. Decisions of such magnitude require significant discussion. Without those discussions, holding any special session is premature.”
Michael McDonough, Granite Education Association president and a teacher at Woodstock Elementary School, said cutting education funding without resolving how that money would be replaced is like demolishing an old school that needs replacing while the kids are still in it instead of waiting for a new building to be completed.
Caren Burns, a teacher at Beehive Elementary in Kearns became emotional as she described the impact raising the sales tax on food and adding new taxes to services will have on the low-income students she serves.
Many others spoke to the bill, including advocates for the poor sharing concerns about increasing the food tax and service providers who object to increased taxes on their services.
The task force took no action during the meeting but plans to meet again on Nov. 21.
UEA delivers tax reform concerns to legislators – October 14, 2019
The UEA Legislative Team sent the following email to all state legislators on October 14, 2019:
On behalf of Utah’s dedicated public school teachers and their students, the Utah Education Association respectfully requests you keep the following in mind as you develop and consider tax reform proposals:
- Education powers our economy.
Tax policies must deliver sustainable and growing education investments in individualized student attention, the state’s critical teacher shortage, student health and safety, and equitable opportunities for every student no matter where they live. Besides providing a better education for our children, each dollar invested in education provides greater economic returns than equal investments in corporate subsidies or tax cuts.
- Any cut to income tax hurts students.
The income tax that is constitutionally guaranteed to fund public education has not kept pace with student needs. Just a .05% reduction in the income tax rate, as we saw in 2018, means about $55 million less available for our students each year. We simply can’t afford to leave any child’s potential unrealized.
- Transportation shortfalls require a transportation fix.
General Fund revenue gaps exist largely because the state has been unable to keep up with growing transportation demands. Don’t attempt to solve a transportation funding problem on the backs of school children.
- The state has a revenue problem.
The needs of Utah’s citizens are growing while tax burdens are falling. There is clearly a need to continue to grow education investment, adjust sales tax collection for a 21st century economy and increase transportation revenue for a growing population.
It is not enough to simply maintain or “hold harmless” education funding. Our students need secure sustainable and growing education revenue sources.
Please feel free to reach out to any member of the UEA Legislative Team if you would like to discuss our concerns.
The UEA Legislative Team
Education a hot topic at tax townhall meetings – August 6, 2019
Teachers were out in force over the summer as the Utah Legislature conducted townhall meetings to discuss tax reform. The Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force held a series of eight revenue restructure meetings across the state, beginning June 25 in Brigham City and concluding July 30 in Orem.
“It is not an exaggeration to say the decisions resulting from the tax reform process have the potential to impact education funding for generations,” said UEA Government Relations Director Chase Clyde. “The Legislature needs to hear that tax decisions are important because ensuring sustainable growth in education funding is important. It is critical that the voices of educators are heard.”
Indeed, teachers were heard. Teachers wearing #RedForEd took the microphone in many of the meetings to express the need for protecting and growing education funding.
“Current funding of education is not meeting the needs of our students,” said Grand High School teacher Hank Postma at the Moab townhall meeting. “We’ve been told the last decade plus to be patient and let the economy grow and that growth will fund the needs of our students. Well, the economy has grown and rather than taking the opportunity to invest in our children, we are now looking at moving that money elsewhere.”
During the Davis County meeting, Weber School District teacher Maddie Williams said, “I’m here for the students, that’s why I teach.” She described the difficulties in teaching classes with a large number of students. “Those kids deserve to have a comfortable place to learn and without funding in the right places, we can’t do our jobs.”
While revenues for education are up (Education Fund), the state has experienced much slower growth in revenues for other services (General Fund). Failed attempts to address General Fund shortfalls led the 2019 Legislature to pass HB495, creating the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force charged to “study state and local revenue systems with the purpose of making recommendations to address structural imbalances among revenue sources.”
Next steps in the process are yet to be publicly announced. Check here at UEA Under the Dome regularly for the most recent information, links and updated meeting details.
UEA: Utah tax policy should ‘grow public education investments in student success’ – May 30, 2019
The UEA released the following Issue Brief outlining its recommendations for tax policy solutions…
UEA Issue Brief: Utah State Tax Restructuring and Equalization
While revenues for education are up (Education Fund), the state has experienced much slower growth in revenues for other services (General Fund). Failed attempts to address General Fund shortfalls led the 2019 Legislature to pass HB495, creating a “Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force” charged to “study state and local revenue systems with the purpose of making recommendations to address structural imbalances among revenue sources.” The Task Force will hold town hall meetings around the state to solicit public engagement and ideas.
The UEA SUPPORTS tax policy solutions that…
1. Grow public education investments in student success
- It is not enough to simply maintain or “hold harmless” education funding. Our students need secure sustainable and growing education revenue sources.
- We must safeguard and expand long-term resources available for public education such as provided by the Utah constitutional guarantee directing income tax to education
- Policymakers should rely on teachers as experts when identifying what is needed to ensure student success.
2. Provide equitable resources for ALL students to learn and thrive
- All students, regardless of zip code, deserve learning opportunities in safe schools, classes small enough for one-on-one attention and up-to-date learning materials/tools.
- Students cannot learn when they are hungry, stressed or in pain. Families in need should be provided support services like nutrition, counseling and health care.
3. Allow the state to attract and retain qualified teachers and other school staff
- We must invest in the root causes of the teacher shortage and support teaching as a sustainable profession.
- We must ensure that every educator has the resources, mentoring and support they need to ensure student success.
- Salary is critical, but resources must be provided to address other stress factors driving teachers from the profession such as:
- class sizes well beyond recommended norms for optimal student learning;
- over-focus on standardized tests that take up valuable learning time;
- lack of classroom support (counselors, librarians, paraeducators, etc.);
- increasing student social, emotional and behavior issues; and
- insufficient mentoring support for educators entering the profession.
- Printable version of the UEA Issue Brief: Utah State Tax Restructuring and Equalization (pdf)
- "Telling Your Story" about education funding (pdf)
Task force charged with tax restructuring holds first meeting, announces townhall dates – May 30, 2019
Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force (reported by Jay Blain): The first meeting of the Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force included a discussion of the process and announcement of tentative town hall meeting dates and locations, but included no public comment, policy action or discussion. Several teachers were in attendance wearing their #RedForEd.
After introductions, Rep. Mike Schultz gave a recap of the 2019 Legislature’s HB441. The bill would have reduced the income tax and expanded sales tax to many services. His summary was that there was not enough time to address all the concerns raised. He said the process worked.
Jonathan Ball, legislative fiscal analyst, gave a presentation to review the definition of the problem. They also shared a document explaining the vision and principles for the task force and a process graphic about public input.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard explained that the purpose of the town halls is not to debate but to get public input on options. He also said legislative staff will be developing a website for the task force where the public can enter comments, get information about the data and other items.
The tentative town hall dates, times and locations announced during the meeting are as follows, with specific venues to be named later (handout provided at the meeting):
- Tuesday, June 25, Brigham City, 6 p.m.
- Thursday, June 27, Salt Lake County, 6 p.m.
- Friday, June 28, Richfield, 6 p.m.
- Saturday, June 29, St George, mid-day (no specific time given)
- Monday, July 8, Davis/Weber County, 6 p.m.
- Tuesday, July 9, Roosevelt, 6 p.m.
- Saturday, July 20, Moab, mid-day (no specific time given)
- Tuesday, July 30, Utah County, 6 p.m.
2019 UEA Legislative Summary – March 18, 2019
Session ends with modest funding increase, new programs to address teacher shortage
Salt Lake teachers met with Rep. Sandra Hollins
during UEA Educator Day on the Hill
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.
“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; and
- 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 single 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 can 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 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 – March 18, 2019
The UEA tracked nearly 100 education-related bills in 2019. 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 Session Postings