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. A highlight of the week was UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh’s testimony before the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
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. 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.