With two weeks left in the Legislature, lawmakers, who gnawed the middle-school emphasis out of a class-size reduction bill, have yet to sink their teeth into newly introduced school choice and truancy legislation.
Meanwhile, education budget subcommittees are expected to wrap up this week as bills addressing issues from tuition waivers to a new college campus continue through the legislative process.It's a full plate.
Charter schools, studied by a legislative task force and opposed by some local school boards and the Utah Eagle Forum, will surface this week in a Schools for the 21st Century bill, sponsored by Rep. Brian Allen, R-Cottonwood Heights. Eight such schools could exist on a pilot basis, sharing $500,000 in proposed start-up funds, proposed in the governor's education budget.
Charter schools provide for more parental involvement, choice and autonomy from state control. The public schools, now in nearly 30 states, emphasize a variety of curricula, except religion, in addition to the basics.
Another school choice bill has been introduced by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. The measure proposes an income tax credit for private school tuition. A similar measure was killed last year.
Lawmakers have yet to hear HB320, which would fine parents up to $250 for habitually truant children. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Duane Bourdeaux, D-Salt Lake, also contains intricacies on schools' responses to unexcused absences and parent notification.
After three weeks of hearings, budget committees this week will distill their requests and forward recommendations to the powerful Executive Appropriations Committee, which makes final budget recommendations to the Legislature.
In public education, the appropriations subcommittee will hash out increases in the weighted pupil unit, which is the funding formula that drives the education budget. Public education consumes nearly half of the state budget.
The State Office of Education and governor recommend a 4 percent WPU increase. The legislative fiscal analyst recommends a 3 percent hike in the WPU's value; however, public education also has a $25 million cache set aside by Executive Appropriations that could provide a more generous increase.
In higher education, the budget subcommittee sifts through recommendations from the state's nine colleges and universities.
College presidents want more money to maintain buildings and comply with federal laws on hazardous waste and access issues for people with disabilities.
In higher education, enrollment drives budget increases. Enrollment figures were established last fall.
Education standing committees have forwarded bills seeking tuition relief.
HB291, sponsored by Rep. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, would extend resident tuition prices to non-Utah residents honorably discharged from the armed forces within 180 days of enrollment. The bill has been forwarded to the House.
HB135 seeks $100,000 to establish the Utah Higher Education Tuition Assistance Program Trust Fund, giving community colleges incentive to raise more scholarship funds.
Funds made available under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Keele Johnson, R-Blanding, would benefit students in need attending community and junior colleges and Utah State extension campuses.
The House will debate a bill that would give higher education officials access to employment information to garnishee wages for delinquent student loans. HB250 is sponsored by Rep. Orville Carnahan, R-Salt Lake. Utah last year had the nation's sixth lowest default rate.
While opposed by labor interests, the bill is supported by the Utah Attorney General's Office, which is barred by federal regulations from bringing delinquent borrowers to court.
The House also will wrestle with a proposal to create Snow College South. HB114 would transform Richfield's Sevier Valley Applied Technology Center into a Snow College satellite campus.
Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas, expects House debate to be a "blood bath."
Meanwhile, the Senate will address class-size reduction.
Rep. Jeff Alexander, R-Orem, amended a bill intended to provide $13.6 million for class-size reduction in the seventh and eighth grades to permit school districts to cut class sizes in any grade. Alexander argued the Legislature shouldn't tell school districts how to use the money.
In other action:
- Utah Valley State College could lease 100 acres owned by the Utah State Developmental Center under a bill forwarded by the Senate Education Standing Committee. The lease would help the quickly growing college to establish a land bank.
- The House Education Standing Committee forwarded two bills addressing criminal background checks for teachers.
HB300 would allow the State Office of Education to consider all criminal matters for certification purposes, not just convictions.
HB165 would allow the Professional Practices Commission, which hears teacher certification issues, to check the criminal background of certified teachers for cause.
The measures were opposed as overreaching by the Utah Education Association.