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2017 UEA Legislative Summary

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2017 UEA Legislative Summary

Members of the Utah Public Education Coalition signed a letter thanking legislators for a successful session. The letter was read on the floor of the House and Senate.
It was a successful year for teachers at the legislature, due in large part to the hundreds of teachers who sent emails, made phone calls, attended Educator Day on the Hill and built personal relationships with their legislators.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the session was that, despite a great deal of talk generated by the Our Schools Now funding initiative, no significant new sources of education revenue were enacted. However, public education fared well given the resources available.

UEA Vice President Roger Donohoe and UEA President Heidi Matthews outside the Utah House of Representatives.
The final budget provided $64 million to fund new student growth and added 4 percent to the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU). Bills on their way to Governor Herbert include a requirement for school districts to address abusive conduct toward school employees by students and parents, improvements to the turnaround school law and repeal of the law banning teachers from talking to students about homosexuality.

“It is very clear to me that we couldn't be nearly as effective as we are without the support and activism of our teachers,” said UEA President Heidi Matthews. “Our influence comes from the strength of our members. Thanks to you, the voice of teachers was heard loud and clear this year.”

Educators played a significant role in influencing legislation in 2017:

  • Almost 400 educators participated in our Educator Day on the Hill events. The stories members shared with legislators built great support for our issues.
  • Thousands of UEA members made direct contact with their legislators.
  • More than 2,700 teachers responded to the UEA legislative survey, providing data and teacher comments that were shared with legislators.

More than 300 children participated in an event celebrating NEA’s Read Across America Day at the Capitol Building March 3.

Once again, some of the biggest wins for educators happened behind the scenes, with legislation that would have been detrimental to students and educators either dropped, voted down or significantly improved prior to passing. For example, a bill that could lead to voucher-like schemes failed in a House committee. A bill that would restrict the rights of certain employee groups to organize and collectively bargain was held in a Senate committee. In addition, a bill to weaken oversight of charter schools was not heard in the Senate.

“Your UEA Legislative Team worked diligently behind the scenes, gaining access to legislators and helping them understand the perspective of teachers,” said Matthews. “We also deepened our strong partnerships within the labor community and the education coalition, including the Utah PTA, the Utah School Boards Association, the Utah School Superintendents Association and many others.”

A few key issues:

Public Education Funding—

Several educators from Grand Education Association, here meeting with Rep. Christine Watkins, traveled all the way from Moab for UEA Educator Day on the Hill February 10.

By most accounts, public education fared well coming out of this year’s legislative session, considering the work done with the revenues available. Approximately 57 percent of new money available was allocated to public education.

Here are some budget highlights from House Bill 2, which provides new public education funding:

  • A 4 percent increase on the WPU ($116 million);
  • Full funding of student growth ($64 million);
  • Ongoing funding for teacher supply money reimbursement ($5 million);
  • Payment for educator licensing fees ($2.6 million ongoing);
  • Ongoing funding for the Regional Service Centers ($2 million dollars); and
  • Funding for a Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind building in Utah County ($10.5 million).

The education budget process started late in the fall of 2016 with various education groups making funding proposals to the Governor. The UEA’s proposal called for a 7.5 percent increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU), 2.5 percent just to remain even and 5 percent to make progress in public education funding. This request, while aggressive, recognized that the current Utah tax system is not meeting the needs of Utah’s public schools and students and additional sources of new revenue are needed. In his proposed budget released in December 2016, Governor Gary Herbert called for a 4 percent WPU increase.

Jordan Education Association President Vicki Olsen meets with Rep. Dan McCay during UEA Educator Day on the Hill.
During early weeks of the session, the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee met and made an original proposal for a 3 percent increase on the WPU. The 4 percent WPU increase was the result of tremendous effort by the legislators involved in the process and involvement by the UEA, local governance and staff, and educators contacting their legislators.

No new long-term revenues for education funding were passed this session despite a great deal of talk about education funding prompted by the proposed Our School Now ballot initiative. While many new funding options were discussed, only two actually made it to a vote. A proposal to raise income taxes on high-income earners (Senate Bill 141 by Senator Jim Dabakis) failed in the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee.

Senate Bill 255 by Senator Howard Stephenson would have generated about $20 million per year over five years by freezing the basic property tax rate. This proposal was later combined with Senate Bill 80 that would use the new money to equalize property tax funding. SB255 passed the Senate, but time ran out on the last day before the newly combined bill could be considered in the House.

With no major new funding, there is still work to be done to find a solution to the chronic underfunding of Utah’s public schools. Even Governor Herbert acknowledged this fact when he said the Our Schools Now initiative needs to go forward because it is causing people to talk about the school funding issue.

(See more about the Public Education Budget.)

School Accountability—

Grading Schools

Rep. Robert Spendlove addressed attendees at UEA Educator Day on the Hill February 17, one of six UEA educator events held in 2017.
The legislature changed the school accountability framework for the sixth year in a row by passing Senate Bill 220. The bill requires that a new school accountability model be based on academic achievement, academic growth, progress of English learners and progress of the lowest performing 25 percent of students. In high schools, a college-and-career-readiness indicator will also be required. These measures will be used to calculate a school grade, but there will also be a new “dashboard” reporting system in which schools can report other indicators not required in the accountability framework. SB220 will also replace SAGE tests with the ACT for high school students.

A similar bill, House Bill 241, would have accomplished everything that SB220 required, except that HB241 would have eliminated the requirement that schools receive a letter grade. While HB241 did not pass, an amendment to SB220 requires a one-year moratorium for reporting school grades. In September 2017, school grades will be reported using the current accountability system. In September 2018, no grades will be reported for any school as the new accountability system is implemented and high schools transition to the ACT in place of SAGE tests. In September 2019, school grades will again be reported, barring any further action to eliminate them.

School Turnaround

The legislature passed Senate Bill 234, which made several important modifications to the School Turnaround program. Some of these changes include: 1) a school will be designated a turnaround school if it is in the lowest performing 3 percent of schools in the state for two years in a row, instead of for a single year; 2) the consequences facing a school that fails to improve now allow for “other appropriate actions” determined by the State Board, giving the Board more flexibility beyond consequences such as state takeover or conversion to a charter school; and 3) the ability for a turnaround school to adopt a teacher recruitment and retention plan in place of the current “recognition and reward” plan that would go in to effect only once a school exits turnaround status.

Teacher Recruitment and Retention—

Those participating in UEA’s Read Across America celebration at the Capitol March 3 received a cat hat and had the opportunity for a photo with the Cat in the Hat.

Performance Pay

House Bill 212 also passed the legislature. It provides a $5,000 bonus to some teachers to encourage recruitment and retention in highly impacted schools. To be eligible, a teacher must teach a tested subject or grade (grades 4-6 in elementary schools and math, science and English in secondary schools), work in a high poverty school and achieve a specific level of student growth on a standardized test. The UEA had numerous concerns with the bill including that teachers are deemed “effective” based solely on student scores on a standardized test, districts must provide half of the $5,000 bonus and the vast majority of teachers will be ineligible because they don’t teach a tested subject or grade.


A bill that would require educators to pass a performance-based pedagogy assessment to receive a Level I license (Senate Bill 78) passed the Senate but was not heard in the House. This bill would have replaced the current paper-and-pencil Praxis PLT test with a vendor product such as edTPA. The UEA had numerous concerns with the bill including that the cost of a commercial assessment is estimated to be $300, creating an unfunded mandate to be paid by the educator. Also, the bill created a double standard with educators graduating from a university preparation program required to pass the assessment prior to being licensed and educators pursuing an alternate route to licensure given two years in the classroom before having to pass the assessment.


House Bill 231 maintains requirements for a statewide framework for educator evaluation – observation, student growth, parents/student input – but eliminates many of the requirements for the procedures for administering evaluation. For example, the state will no longer require a district to evaluate a provisional educator at least twice a year; an orientation for educators on the evaluation program; a copy of the written evaluation be given to the educator; or that there be a reasonable number of observation periods to ensure adequate reliability. Decisions about these and other procedural processes will be determined by each school district. The bill also eliminates the salary penalty for educators receiving the second lowest rating on an evaluation so that a “minimally effective” rating will no longer keep an educator from advancing on the salary schedule.

Governance and Elections—

Teachers from the Nebo Education Association meet with Rep. Francis Gibson outside the Utah House of Representatives during UEA Educator Day on the Hill.
Legislative leadership put a firm halt to any efforts to address issues related to the election of State Board of Education members. In the waning hours of the 2016 Legislative Session, legislators passed a bill to make state school board elections partisan beginning in 2018. Representative Ray Ward tried to change this with a bill this year (House Bill 151) that would return these to non-partisan elections. Unfortunately, this legislation was kept in the Rules Committee and never had a public hearing. This means unless there is a change in statute, the elections for members of the Utah State Board of Education will be partisan in the future.

Legislators continue to grapple with unintended consequences of the “Count My Vote” compromise (Senate Bill 54 from 2014). Legislation sponsored by Senator Curt Bramble (Senate Bill 114) intended to address issues related to the number of candidates on the ballot in primary elections. This bill also included efforts to change candidate filing deadlines and force candidates to choose either the caucus/convention system or the signature gathering route to the ballot. This legislation had six iterations in the form of substitutes. On the last night of the legislative session the House and Senate were unable to reach an agreement and the bill died. Although there is always room for improvement and issues related to plurality and filing deadline, logistics will continue to present challenges, going into the 2018 elections the UEA feels confident in its ability to utilize its collective voice to elect good candidates to public office in both major political parties.

- See the complete UEA Legislative Archive

Legislative News

Legislation of Note in the 2017 Legislative Session

The UEA tracked nearly 120 bills dealing directly or indirectly with education during the 2017 Legislative Session.
Here are a few bills of note and their final status:

J = Outcome favorable to the UEA position K = Outcome neutral L = Outcome unfavorable



Result (Yea-Nay)

HB2: Public Education Budget Amendments
(D. McKay)

Funds new student growth, provides 4% WPU increase, pays educator licensing fees, etc. (See “Public Ed Funding”)


Passed the Senate 29-0
and the House

HB62: Educator Rights Amendments
(K. Stratton)

Requires districts to adopt a definition of abusive conduct by students and parents toward school employees.


Passed the Senate 26-0
and the House 74-0

HB151: School Board Election Amendments
(R. Ward)

Would stop elections for members of the State Board of Education from becoming partisan races in 2018. (See “Governance and Elections”)


Never released from the House Rules Committee

HB168: Kindergarten Supplemental Enrichment Program (L. Snow)

Provides extended-day kindergarten programs for high poverty schools, funding from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).


Passed the House 61-10
and the Senate

HB212: Incentive for Effective Teachers in High Poverty Schools (M. Winder)

Provides a bonus in a few high-poverty schools to teachers who are deemed “effective” based on student test scores. (See “Performance Pay”)


Passed the House 51-23 and the Senate 24-0

HB223: Elementary School Counselor Program
(S. Eliason)

Awards grants to school districts to employ licensed school counselors in elementary schools.


Passed the House 71-2 but not heard in the Senate

HB226: Utah Charter School Profile Website
(E. Weight)

Requires charter schools to include online profile information similar to that required by district schools.


Failed in the House Education Committee 2-5

HB231: Educator Evaluation Amendments
(J. Moss)

Makes substantial changes to educator evaluation procedures, removing state requirements and giving flexibility to districts. (See “Evaluation”)


Passed the House 66-0 and the Senate 26-0

HB241: Accountability and Assessment Amendments (M. Poulson)


SB220: Student Assessment and School Accountability Amendments (A. Millner)

Competing bills would improve the school accountability system by reporting a “dashboard” of school indicators and requiring ACT assessment for high school. HB241 would eliminate letter grades for schools. SB220 was amended to skip grading schools for the 2017-18 year only. (See “Grading Schools”)


Passed the House 54-18 but tabled in the Senate.



Passed the House 56-18 and the Senate 25-3

HB413: Public School Membership in Associations (F. Gibson)

Defines guidelines for associations and prohibits public schools from belonging to associations that do not meet the guidelines. Targets the UHSAA.


Passed the Senate 22-4 and the House 62-13

HB414: Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind Referral Amendments (D. Owens)

Requires reporting results of a test for hearing loss to the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind and providing educational services.


Passed the House 70-0 and the Senate 27-0

SB49: Purpose of Minimum School Program
(L. Fillmore)

Changes the Minimum School Program Act to refer to "each child" rather than “all children,” which could lead to voucher-like schemes.


Passed the Senate 25-2 failed in House committee

SB78: Teacher Pedagogical Assessment
(A. Millner)

Requires a test before receiving a license – right away for a university grad or up to two years for alternate route. (See “Licensing”)


Passed the Senate 22-2 but not heard in the House

SB80: School Funding Amendments
(L. Filmore)

Attempts to equalize funding to qualifying school districts. (See SB255 below)


Passed the Senate 19-9 then combined with SB255

SB114: Election Law Amendments
(C. Bramble)

Shortens the period for filing a notice of intent to gather signatures to qualify for placement on the regular primary election ballot. (See “Elections”)


Senate did not concur with a House amendment

SB141: Income Tax Amendments
(J. Dabakis)

Increases the individual income tax rate for taxpayers with state taxable income above certain thresholds. (See “Public Ed Funding”)


Failed in a Senate committee 2-4

SB161: Bullying and Hazing Amendments
(L. Escamilla)

Requires school boards to update policy regarding bullying, cyber-bullying, hazing and retaliation.


Passed the Senate 21-1 but not heard in the House

SB176: Public Transit Authority Collective Bargaining (T. Weiler)

Restricts the rights of certain employee groups to organize and collectively bargain.


Held in Senate committee, no votes taken

SB196: Health Education Amendments
(S. Adams)

Repeals language prohibiting the advocacy of homosexuality in health instruction.


Passed the Senate 24-1 and the House 68-1

SB223: Modifications to Charter School Governance (D. Henderson)

Requires the Board to adopt quality standards for charter authorizing and to adopt rules for oversight of a charter school authorizer.


Passed Senate committee but not heard in Senate

SB234: School Turnaround Amendments
(A. Millner)

Continues public-private partnership for low-per-forming schools, but allows contracted specialists in specific areas. (See “School Turnaround”)


Passed the Senate 20-4 and the House 70-3

SB255: Funding for Education Systems
(H. Stephenson)

Increases property taxes by “freezing” the basic rate as values increase and uses the money for equalization. (See “Public Ed Funding”)


Passed the Senate 25-2 but not heard in the House

2017 Legislative Archives

To view daily summaries...