Graduation requirement part of education reform bill

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 28 2012 6:29 p.m. MST

The Utah State Capitol, Monday, Jan. 23, 2012.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The House Standing Education Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to advance a bill that seeks to remove unnecessary state statutes regarding public education.

Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, sponsored HB156, which would alter the financial literacy requirement for high school graduates as well as discontinue a number of education programs in the state.

"Each year we add several sections to the public education code," Newbold said before the committee. "This bill is an attempt to clean up the statute and eliminate unnecessary language and allow for more local control."

Originally, HB156 called for the elimination of the financial literacy requirement but the bill was amended to instead allow students the option of satisfying the requirement by taking a general financial literacy test. The bill does not include a fiscal note, but Newbold suggested that existing online tests from the Electronic High School could be used to provide the test-out option at minimal costs.

"If they can demonstrate knowledge and competency in the subject they would be able to opt-out of the class," Newbold said.

State Superintendent Larry Shumway spoke positively of the requirement change and said the State Office of Education would work quickly to have the test-out option available as soon as possible.

The bill was also amended at the committee level to preserve the Quality Teaching Block Grant Program and existing statutes regarding Social Security pay and the assigning of a mentor for educators. Newbold said those areas were targeted because they had either become unfunded or, in the case of Social Security, were redundant to other statutory and federal laws. 

"This block grant was created almost a decade ago," she said. "It has been unfunded for four years."

The block grant allows for professional development of educators and Shumway said at one point it reached $80 million. He said decisions made during the recession were difficult but necessary and hoped the program would be preserved in hopes of being funded again in the future.

Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, agreed, suggesting that action on the programs be delayed for the time being.

"I would probably be more comfortable seeing how those work out for the next year or two before we remove a program, a section, like this," he said.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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