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Pricey education tech bill gets Senate approval, moves to House

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 31 2012 10:45 p.m. MST

Spectators watch from the gallery on the Senate chambers during the opening day of the Utah State Legislature Monday, Jan. 23, 2012 in the Utah State Capitol.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would provide technology grants to schools so the state can move forward with a computer adaptive testing program passed the Senate Tuesday.

Freshman Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, is sponsoring the bill, that would provide grants to schools so they can purchase computers, software and fund teacher training. While many schools have all the computers they need, others lack the infrastructure to operate the new exams.

Under the bill, SB97, schools would be required to match or exceed the technology grants they receive from the state. It has a $20 million price tag, $5 million of which is ongoing. A separate bill would provide funding for the actual tests.

Some lawmakers took issue with the bill's language, as it referenced the Common Core State Standards initiative — an effort of states nationwide to develop uniform curriculum standards. Utah is part of the effort, but Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said she didn't like the fact a national program would be referenced in Utah code.

"We are not capitalizing and connecting in anyway with a federal program," Dayton said.

State educators have been quick to point out the Common Core was not created nor implemented by the federal government. But some lawmakers have cited a connection between the Common Core and the fed's competitive Race To the Top grants to states. States applying for the federal grants are more likely to get the grants if they have implemented the Common Core standards.

Dayton's amendment changed all references to the Common Core read "Utah's common core."

"This gives a comfort level to me," she said. "We are not capitalizing and connecting in anyway with a federal program. … Utah needs to be in charge of our own most important natural resource."

With Dayton's amendment, the bill passed unanimously. It now moves to the House.

Osmond's bill is in conjunction with a piece of legislation sponsored by Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, that would appropriate $6.7 million toward the development and implementation of the new computer-based assessments.

Educators and lawmakers believe the new assessment system would more accurately show the areas where students struggle, so teachers can give targeted help. The bill passed the House on Monday and it if becomes law the state's Criterion Referenced-Tests would be eliminated in favor of the new tests.

E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com Twitter: mollyfarmer

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