Utah Senate gives preliminary approval to resolution changing public education governance

The biggest news from the Utah Legislature today is the Senate’s preliminary approval of a resolution changing the governance of the state’s public education system. S.J.R. 9 Joint Resolution – Governance of Public and Higher Education, by Sen. Stuart Reid (R-Ogden), seeks an amendment to the state constitution, giving governance of public education to the governor, as provided by the Legislature in statute. The resolution passed its first test in the Senate with a 23-6 vote. The bill faces one more vote in this body before it heads to the House for consideration. The resolution needs to pass the Utah Legislature with a two-thirds majority before it can be put on the 2012 ballot for Utah voters to decide. The State Board of Education has passed a formal position opposing S.J.R. 9.

Also this morning, H.B. 262 Divided School District Assets and Liabilities, by Rep. Ken Sumsion (R-American Fork), passed the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee unanimously. It now heads to the House floor for consideration. The bill modifies provisions pertaining to the allocation of assets and liabilities of divided school districts.

On Friday, the Utah State Board of Education and the state’s teachers convinced Draper Republican Senator Howard Stephenson to hold his teacher tenure bill, S.B. 73 Public School Teacher Tenure Modifications. It aims to make it easier to fire low-performing teachers by taking away career status from teachers whose students continually score poorly on state standardized testing. Several concerns were aired during a lengthy public comment period, including whether the bill would create an “exodus” from schools in low-income areas, where student scores tend to be lowest, and how to determine performance for teachers of subjects that aren’t tested, like History, art or P.E. Stephenson said at the end of the Senate Education Committee hearing he understands he’ll need to address these concerns if the bill is to move forward this session. The State Board’s official position on S.B. 73 is that it is unnecessary.

Also on Friday, the Utah Legislature took action on these bills:

  • H.B. 152 School Community Councils Amendments, by Rep. Bill Wright (R-Holden), was substituted. The bill outlines elections for school community councils and penalties for failing to comply. The Utah State Board of Education opposed the original bill, which put enforcement in the hands of a legislative committee. However, the State Board voted to support the substitute, which gives enforcement to the Board. The substituted bill passed the House Education Committee unanimously and now moves to the House floor for consideration.
  • H.B. 191 Nonresident Tuition Waiver Amendments, by Rep. Carl Wimmer (R-Herriman), passed out of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on a 10-5 vote. The bill repeals the current in-state tuition waiver for certain undocumented students who graduate from a Utah high school. It now heads to the full House for consideration.
  • S.B. 53 Eligibility for Interscholastic Activities in Secondary Schools, by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Lehi), was held in the Senate Education Committee on a 5-1 vote. The bill allows students to participate in extracurricular and interscholastic activities after choosing to go to a different school.
  • S.B. 63 K-3 Reading Improvement Program Accountability, by Sen. Karen Morgan (D-Salt Lake City), passed the Senate on a 25-1 vote. It now heads to the House for consideration. The bill outlines how money allocated for the K-3 Reading Improvement Program may be used and requires the State Board of Education to report school district and charter school expenditures of the program funds.
  • S.B. 179 Math Education Initiative, by Sen. Howard Stephenson (R-Draper), passed the Senate Education Committee with a 4-2 vote. The bill requires the State Board to give grants to school districts and charter schools interested in implementing new math programs, including Singapore Math and other specific programs. The bill now goes to the Senate floor for a vote.
  • S.B. 206 Labor Organization Provisions in Teacher Contracts, by Sen. Howard Stephenson (R-Draper), passed out of the Senate Education Committee with a 5-1 vote. The bill requires employers to immediately stop deducting union dues from paychecks if an employee has submitted a written request to do so. The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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