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
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