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Families better served by quality education than tax breaks, school board member says

Published: Thursday, Feb. 13 2014 4:52 p.m. MST

Jordan Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to fund schools by limiting tax exemptions for large families picked up the support of the State School Board on Thursday, with the addendum that board members worry about the impact on low-income families.

But board member Leslie Castle argued that what really hurts low-income families is a bad education and lack of access to the learning opportunities their wealthy peers enjoy.

"When the rubber hits the road, this board needs to vote to fund education," she said. "And the way we fund education is by the citizens of this state stepping forward and paying to have their children educated."

Castle said educators have been talking for years about the need to increase funding for schools and suggested her colleagues were being "sissies" by continuing to debate when a proposal to increase funding is on the table.

She said SB118, which would allow up to two personal exemptions on state income tax, is a bill that applies to both liberal and conservative fiscal ideology. While Castle supports increasing taxes to fund schools, she said the bill could also be viewed as doing away with a system that sees parents with the greatest number of children contributing the least amount of tax revenue to support schools.

"You can look at it as an increase in taxes, or you can look at it as an end to an entitlement," Castle said. "It's been an entitlement for people to have tax breaks and not pay for their children's education."

The State School Board reviewed several pieces of proposed legislation during its meeting Thursday, including a bill by Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, that would give parents advanced access to high-stakes test materials.

The bill has raised concerns that the state's computer adaptive testing — which cost roughly $30 million to develop — could be compromised by allowing access to any parent. Board members asked State Superintendent of Public Instruction Martell Menlove whether he felt that scenario would be likely if the bill becomes law.

"I think there's a strong possibility for that to happen," Menlove said.

Lawmakers made a series of amendments to the bill aimed at increasing security, such as the requirement for parents to sign nondisclosure agreements and review test materials at the State Office of Education. It has also been suggested that a $1,000 fine be added to the bill for parents who disclose test materials.

Despite those changes, the State School Board voted to oppose the bill. Board member Mark Openshaw also asked rhetorically whether the size of the fine should be increased to further dissuade parents from compromising the test.

"Could we change the fine from $1,000 to $30 million?" Openshaw said.

The board also voted to support HB292, which would exclude students with an individualized education program, or IEP, from the calculations used for school grading. It voted to oppose SJR12, which would give the Utah Senate confirmation power over the board's selection of a state superintendent.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood

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