Week in Review – March 7-10, 2016

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Legislative Update: Week #7

2016 Education Highlights

As always, education was one of the top legislative priorities this year and dominated much of the discussion, as well as the funding. A number of bills to improve our public education system were considered and are well on their way to being signed by the governor.

They include HB 277, sponsored by Rep. John Knotwell, establishes a framework for the implementation of technology in our public school instruction. Within this framework, any Local Education Agency, or LEA, would be eligible to apply for a grant to fund technology-based programs in their schools. These grants are available for those who want them, but no districts will be required to implement new technology solutions and no programs are prescribed. This approach is wholly LEA-driven and includes benchmarks for measuring success and ensuring accountability.

HB 42, sponsored by Rep. Lowry Snow, provides grants for early childhood programs for at-risk children. It will support certain kindergarten student academic improvement programs and allow for the use of early interactive reading software for some young students. Early childhood education has been shown to play an important role in preparing students for school and for achieving long-term success.

Two bills, HB 182 and HB 379, both sponsored by Rep. Val Peterson, simplify various aspects of public education/higher education. HB 182 creates a single, statewide application for concurrent enrollment, allows for higher education supervision of teachers in the program and implements concurrent enrollment for some dual immersion courses. HB 379 streamlines the process for Utah schools of offering online, distance education programs throughout the United States.

Rep. Val Peterson is also sponsoring HB 45, which works to ensure that the STEM Action Center aligns schools with the needs of business and industry in the state and makes changes to the board that will better provide that guidance. It also allows for consideration of STEM education endorsements when determining teacher salaries.

Education will likely see a total new funding package of more than $440 million – $18 million more than originally recommended by the governor. Estimates include:

  • $94 million appropriated to public education for growth to fund an estimated 9,700 new students this fall;
  • 3% increase, nearly $74 million, in Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU)
  • $20.4 million in ongoing funding for equalization
  • $15 million to improve technology in the schools

Higher education is also front and center in the 2016 budget, receiving $23.8 million for compensation increases for instructors. This money is meant to help offset potential tuition increases based on recommendations from the various public universities and colleges across the state.

Campus building construction is another big-ticket item, featuring:

  • $41.5 million for a Technology Education Center at Salt Lake Community College’s West Point campus
  • $39 million commitment for a new biological sciences building at Utah State University
  • $33 million commitment for a new performing arts center at Utah Valley University

House Honors Colonel Walter Travis Stewart

March 3, the Utah House of Representatives honored the family of Colonel Walter Travis Stewart for his service to our country. He was a member of the U.S. Air Force during WWII, served 32 missions and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Stewart was born in Benjamin, Utah on November 8, 1917 and passed away peacefully on January 9 surrounded by his family. All those in attendance were touched to learn of his life, courage, sacrifice and honor.

Girl Scouts of America

This week we received a visit from some of our local Utah Girl Scouts and were able to recognize them on the floor of the House on the afternoon of March 3.  71

The mission of the Girl Scouts of America is to help every girl discover her strengths, passions and talents as she works to build her confidence and character. The organization serve74s 1.9 million girls and relies on the services of 800,000 adult volunteers. We enjoyed their visit to the Hill — especially the cookies — and hope they had a great experience.