Herbert says veto of sex-ed bill hinges on whether it's good or bad policy

Educators praise collaborative effort of 2012 session

Published: Thursday, March 8 2012 11:00 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Compromise and collaboration made for a quiet legislative session on big-picture issues for education.

But overshadowing what many saw as a turning point in cooperation among educators and lawmakers was a controversial bill dealing with sex education.

Generally along party lines, both chambers dominated by Republicans passed HB363, which mandates Utah sex education courses teach an abstinence-only curriculum and bans instruction on contraceptives. Opponents called it "big government" interfering with parental rights and ignoring the consequences of teen pregnancy, while supporters said the topics of contraception and sexual intercourse should be taught in the home — not the school room.

Deon Turley, education commissioner for the Utah Parent Teacher Association, said the PTA is planning to write a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert, urging him to veto the sex education changes. An online petition to veto the measure also began circulating shortly after the bill's passage and by press time had collected more than 13,000 signatures.

Herbert said he would not be swayed by mass email efforts or other campaigns. He said his decision would be based on what is "good policy for the state of Utah."

"This is an important issue," he said. "We want to work through it carefully before we make a decision."

The State Board of Education had not taken an official position on the bill, but State Superintendent Larry Shumway added that decisions on topics like sex education are best made at the district level.

Approximately 130 bills dealing with public and higher education in Utah were introduced, affecting everything from professional development to classroom curriculum. The bill that garnered widespread praise from lawmakers and education stakeholders was SB64, which establishes performance-based pay and evaluations for public education employees. The bill was sponsored by freshman Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan.

Utah Education Association President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh described the bill as a milestone, commending Osmond for his efforts in conducting hundreds of interviews with teachers and parents before drafting the bill. She said Osmond's bill set the tone for a year of unprecedented collaboration.

"I think we're turning a corner," she said.

Turley had similar remarks, saying the PTA had a generally positive reaction to the session. He also spoke favorably of the collaborative efforts of Osmond and other lawmakers.

"We're hoping that will become a trend and more legislators will do their homework beforehand," she said.

Turley disagreed with some bills, specifically a Senate resolution urging the State Board of Education to reconsider adoption of the common core curriculum standards. She said the resolution was poorly written and gave credence to misleading statements, such as language that implies the state may be giving up its educational autonomy.

Shumway also commented on the common core standards, reasserting the commitment of the State School Board and dismissing many of the concerns of lawmakers.

"I have read these standards," he said. "I think they're right for Utah students."

But educators were generally pleased with the funding lawmakers approved for education in Utah, typically ranked among the lowest in the nation for per pupil funding. Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, estimated between $110 million and $115 million would be added to the $3.5 billion base education budget signed by the governor in February, including a $6.7 million expense for statewide adaptive testing and $800,000 for an expansion of the dual immersion program.