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Science ed bill sees defeat

Senate OKs bill to allow cities to create school districts

Published: Thursday, March 2 2006 9:23 a.m. MST

A handful of controversial education bills, from student-club amendments to evolution-teaching restrictions, were held up at press time shortly before midnight Wednesday or otherwise didn't fare too well in the 2006 Legislature.

On the other hand, a bill allowing city residents to vote to create their own school districts was amended and passed in the Senate, though the House had yet to agree to the changes at press time.

• The House voted to gut and kill the "origins of life" bill, which evolved from opening the door to schools teaching "intelligent design" as an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution to stating it's not indisputably proven that humans and apes share a common ancestor. That after SB96 passed the Senate in a debate full of religious references.

"A number of Mormon legislators believe we evolved. I don't," sponsoring Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said Wednesday. "I believe I'm a child of God."

But the defeat was cheered by those who believe curriculum creation is best kept to the experts.

"Just because you went to school and to back-to-school night doesn't mean you know . . . the appropriate set of curriculum for a science course," said Carol Lear, director of school law and legislation for the State Office of Education.

The national Campaign to Defend the Constitution, an online movement to "combat the threat posed by the religious right to American democracy," also celebrated the bill's death, noting its members sent more than 455,000 bill-decrying e-mails to the Utah House, crashing its server.

• The House by press time had not debated the controversial student clubs bill, SB97, also carried by Buttars.

The bill sought to give school boards permission to deny gay-straight alliances and be defended by the Attorney General's Office in the event of a lawsuit.

Senate debates surrounding the bill, and a House committee deliberation of the similar HB393, sponsored by Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, focused on the merits of gay-straight alliances. Some called the alliances a safe place for homosexual students that foster tolerance in schools. Bill supporters called them homosexual recruitment tools inappropriate for public schools.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. last week threatened to veto the bill, and another regarding the origins of life that failed in the House Monday, "if they look and feel like they did in earlier incarnations."

Buttars declined comment at press time.

• The House also failed to vote on a perennial "school choice" bill — this time, vouchers for private school tuition instead of the more commonly sought tuition tax credits. HB184 remained on the House's to-do list; sponsoring Rep. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he wouldn't bring it out without needed votes in the bag. He said the bill's movement was crippled by political promises for the upcoming election by voucher backers Parents for Choice in Education and the anti-voucher Utah Education Association.

The bill also was relatively late in coming, as it changed hands mid-session from Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, to Adams, whose bill sought to give only partial state funding, instead of full dollars like Dee's bill had, to schools losing students under the voucher program.

"Since that all took so long, it just became a victim of time and other pressing issues that consumed the end of the legislative session," Parents for Choice executive director Elisa Clements Peterson said.

• Meanwhile, Second Substitute HB77, sponsored by Rep. Dave Cox, R-Lehi, was amended and passed in the Senate as of press time. It would let a first- or second-class city's residents vote to create their own school districts. The idea is to create smaller districts more responsive to patrons. It would also require a feasibility test.

"The voice of the people was heard, which is huge," said Laura Pinnock, who lives in Holladay in the Granite School District, which last November voted to close two east-side elementary schools in a process that angered area parents. She said residents of Holladay — so long as the House agreed to changes by midnight Wednesday — now could start talking about next steps. People in West Valley and South Salt Lake cities also have tinkered with the idea of seceding from Granite District.

But attorney and assistant to the Granite superintendent Martin Bates said the bill is a bad idea, because it lets residents in first- and second-class cities, rather than the whole district, vote to go on their own.

"What this bill does in its heart is allow one group of people to affect education and taxes of other people without their input," Bates said.


Contributing: Peter Nagy

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com

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