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Bill passes allowing schools to be penalized for accepting unapproved federal grants

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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill allowing the State School Board to sanction school districts for going behind its back to the federal government passed the House on Monday.

HB425, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, would empower the State School Board to restrict state funds allocated to a local school or school district for failing to receive board approval before entering into a funding agreement with the U.S. Department of Education.

Eliason said the bill allows state education officials to "repel any unwanted federal intrusion." He said there have been instances in other states where federal officials have circumvented the wishes of state leadership to contract with local school administrators.

During his presentation of the bill, Eliason provided lawmakers with a letter from Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, in which the congressman warned of federal intrusion in local matters. Eliason said his bill remedies many of Bishop's concerns by putting Utah in a position to restrict federal activities.

"California didn’t think they had a problem either, and they weren’t proactive in passing legislation," he said. "They wish they would have had a law like this."

But Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, questioned why Bishop would encourage Utah lawmakers to enact law rather than using his position to address the problems in Washington, D.C.

"He seems to be critical of the states for taking federal money, yet it is Congress that is in a first position to restrain the administration from going around the law," he said.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, suggested that the Legislature's time would be better spent solving existing issues rather than enacting legislation to prevent hypothetical scenarios.

"At some point you have to trust your local school boards. You have to trust your State Office (of Education)," she said. "When we don’t have an issue, I don’t see a reason to pass one more law."

Eliason said that although rare, the federal government has already demonstrated a willingness to bypass local control. By passing the bill, he said, control and supervision of education in the state would be squarely placed on the State Board of Education.

The bill passed the House in a 42-31 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

Benjamin Wood


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