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

Shumway said the majority of the Board of Education's priorities received full or partial funding. He said it is the first time in several years that growth was fully funded and added that he would give lawmakers an "A-minus" for focusing on priorities and not special projects or "stocking-stuffers."

"We were pleased that the Legislature was able to restrain itself," he said. "Generally, given the resources that the Legislature had available, we feel very good."

Noticeably absent from the budget were salary increases for educators.

"We recognize our Legislature has a difficult task," Gallagher-Fishbaugh said. "We are encouraged by the fact that they did fund Social Security, retirement and growth."

She was disappointed, however, that a cost of living increase for state employees was not extended to teachers. She said, the education community had been promised salary increases if they came to the table with reform, as they did with SB64.

"We have millions of dollars out there going to specific vendors and meanwhile our teachers are here without a cost of living increase," she said.

Suicide prevention training for public school teachers passed both chambers with overwhelming majorities. Support fizzled, though, for an education reform bill that would have set a cap on kindergarten through third-grade class sizes after concerns mounted about the costs it would place on school districts.

Among the bills that alter school curriculum are HB156 — a reform bill that removes unnecessary code from the state statute and creates the option for high school students to take an opt-out test to satisfy the financial literacy graduation requirement — and SB178, which extends the life of the Electronic High School.

Gallagher-Fishbaugh specifically mentioned the Electronic High School changes as valuable legislation. She said those bills are positive steps by the legislature, but added that there are still bills being presented that limit options at the local level.

"We want local control," she said. "We want those districts who know their students to be making decisions."

Another bill, SB284, allows colleges and universities to charge high school students for concurrent enrollment credit — up to $30 per credit hour. Shumway expressed concern that the fee would limit opportunities for students, especially in rural areas where concurrent enrollment is a significant part of the curriculum.

Dave Buhler, associate commissioner of public affairs for the Utah System of Higher Education, said time will tell how much money higher education institutions receive from the fee but he added that the fee may also make students more purposeful in their pursuit of college credit.

Buhler said he is encouraged by the Legislature providing additional funding to higher education, for which funding had been cut 14 percent since 2008. Higher education will receive a 3 percent boost this year, totaling $19.6 million.

"We're happy they're addressing our top priorities," he said. "We hope they'll be able to do more in the future."

The University of Utah received some help in the form of $22 million for improvements to its infrastructure. It's less than half of the $50 million originally requested, but Buhler called it a "good start."

Email: benwood@desnews.com

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