Education: Everyone’s “bag”

Education is always a hot topic in the Legislature and this year is no exception.  Issues such as how to keep our students safe, how to best educate them with the funding provided, what and what not to teach them, class size…..the list is overwhelming.  The education of our children is and should be high on the list of  priorities.  Here is a look at what’s shaking in Utah’s Education Legislation:

HB72 Utah School Seismic Hazard Inventory addresses the big safety issue – earthquake-proofing school buildings because it’s just a matter of time before the “Big One” hits.  To that end, experts say a “to-do” list is imperative.

An informal survey four years ago found that 58 percent of about 800 school buildings were constructed before the modern seismic standards started being used in the mid-1970’s. With about 560,000 students in public and charter school buildings, assessing earthquake-worthiness and tackling a statewide to-do list is urgent, earthquake experts say.

“It’s critical,” said Roger Evans, chairman of the Utah Seismic Safety Commission, “because you can see what happened in Haiti and Chile can happen on the Wasatch Front someday when we have the Big One. It’s a real issue for all our school kids.”

The possibility that an earthquake could kill Utah schoolchildren has always been on the radar for commission members, but it became grimly real when members studied video of schools crumbling in the Sichuan Province earthquake of 2008.

(Salt Lake Tribune)

The bill did not pass the House last week because some lawmakers are hesitant to spend the extra money, even though it has been pointed out that funds were used recently to upgrade the State Capitol Building to seismic standards.

Salt Lake Tribune Columnist Paul Rolley highlights the provision in HB355 Legal Guardianship Amendments which addresses a school’s rights to challenge a guardianship of students:

During a year when public schools face tens of millions of dollars in shortfalls, the Utah House of Representatives passed a bill that helps ensure out-of-state youth hockey players get a free education here at an estimated cost to Utah taxpayers of $500,000 to $1 million.

HB355, which would make it more difficult for a school district to challenge a legal guardianship in court, was sponsored by Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, whose son is a member of the Chadders Hockey Club, a main backer of the bill.

With the benign title of “Guardianship Amendments,” it moved stealthily through the House and now is in the Senate.

Read the rest of his post here.

Utah Moms Care, a blog dedicated to civil discourse on issues that affect Utah families, has a post on the Education Budget here, where they have this to say about HB166 Reductions to Education Mandates:

HB 166 Reduction to Education Mandates by Rep. Dougall is a mixed bag. The bill gives local school boards and charter schools more options to consider by making some education mandates optional for the next two years. For example, school districts will be exempt from administering the 10th grade basic skills competency test for the next 2 years. This is also the bill that pushes the busing boundaries out to 3 miles for a secondary school. That does not mean that if you live within the 3 mile radius that all bus service will be stopped, it only dictates that state money cannot be spent on routes within a 3 mile range – school districts will have to cover the cost of areas closer to the school.

The Utah Association of Public Charter Schools has posted a list of bills its members are supporting:

HB0081: School Employee Criminal Background Check
Increases the frequency by which districts can require employees to get criminal background checks, allows the school to charge the employee for the check, and also allows the State Board to require teachers to get a new background check when “reasonable cause” exists.

HB0129: Amendments to Education Financing
Would repeal a school district’s ability to tax the “basic levy” and replaces that with a statewide levy, which would then be distributed statewide to schools and districts based on enrollment.

HB0149: School Finance Amendments
Would allow charters and district to combine program funds and spend them without restriction for certain funding streams under $10,000.

HB0246: Retirement Benefits for Charter School Employees
Would allow charter employees and schools to “purchase service credit” in the state retirement system for time spent working at a charter school that doesn’t participate in URS, if the employee gives up whatever retirement benefits from that school.

HB0268: Public School Innovations
Would allow public district schools to develop plans to innovate in exchange for freedom from certain regulations.

SB0055: Authorization of Charter Schools by Higher Education Institutions
Would allow colleges and universities to authorize charter schools, subject to approval of the State Board of Education.  This increases the number of state charter authorizers.

SB0056: School Reporting Amendments
Would require schools to report teacher-student ratios by counting the number of teachers and dividing by the number of students, rather than reporting adult-student ratios, which also include janitors and secretaries. Would also create a new report.

SB0188: Charter School Amendments
Would do several things: 1)place a charter board member as a non-voting member of the SBE (higher ed already has one); 2)removes the legislative enrollment cap on charters; 3)Requires newly approved charters to get legislative approval for funding before being “authorized”; 4)Allows lotteries for new schools to be held earlier and requires districts to report enrollment numbers to charters, just like we do for them; 5) Changes independent contractor relationships to be similar to employee relationships at charters; and 6) Gives the SCSB more control over the revolving loan committee.

(cross-posted to Utah Legislature Watch)

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