SALT LAKE CITY — Representatives in the House approved a bill Thursday that encourages educators to develop competency-based educational programs.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said HB393 does not require anything of school districts and is intended as a jumping-off point for discussion and planning for the implementation of competency-based funding models.

"What I'm trying to do with this bill is begin the discussion," Hughes said.

Competency-based education is a system in which a student receives course credit after demonstrating appropriate mastery of a subject rather than at the end of an academic year or grade level.

The State Office of Education already has a number of policies in place that award credit for competency and allow motivated students to accelerate their learning. The bill would require education officials to begin looking at funding models that would provide money to schools based on a student achieving mastery of a subject rather than a student occupying a seat in a classroom.

Some lawmakers expressed concern that the bill was premature. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, said she supports the philosophy of competency-based education but that such a program would require a high level of individualized learning, which would mean smaller class sizes.

"It requires a lot of money to do this kind of individualized instruction, to create a curriculum, a program where kids can take tests, prove their competency and move on," Moss said. "I don't think we can really afford to do this when we're still trying to address funding just the new students that come into the classroom."

Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, echoed those concerns and said that until the Legislature can determine how to adequately fund education, decisions on competency-based education should be left to the local school districts and school boards who are already taking steps toward individualized and adaptive education.

"I know that we are doing so many of these programs already, and successfully," Poulson said.

Hughes reiterated that his bill is not a mandate to alter the state's educational curriculum. He said the idea of competency-based education is one that has been talked about with little action for years, and the bill is an attempt to begin moving in that direction.

"This is my 11th session, and we started talking about this in my first," he said. "If it's too hasty, what is the timeline to talk about this?"

The House approved the bill by a 43-26 vote. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.