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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would provide computer programs to English and writing teachers to help them give more timely feedback on their students' work was approved by the House on Tuesday.
HB69 passed with a 39-33 vote and now goes to the Senate.
The bill asks for $1 million to provide schools with supplemental computer programs capable of giving students immediate feedback on technical components of language arts and writing, such as vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar. Those programs would be available to schools and teachers through a competitive grant process and not a mandatory statewide implementation.
Bill sponsor Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, said HB69 would help address "the bane of every English teacher's existence" — not being able to provide immediate feedback to students.
"As a former English and writing teacher, the worst thing I could ever hear — I heard it more than once — was a student saying as I passed back a set of essays, 'I can't even remember writing this,'" Moss said.
Since the program is voluntary and supplementary to existing English and writing programs, the $1 million appropriation would be enough to benefit roughly half of Utah's 420,000 students in fourth through 12th grades, Moss said.
Teachers who choose to use the program could apply the funds in whatever capacity is most needed — helping students who are falling behind, or to giving excelling students more challenging coursework.
Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, raised the concern that some schools may wish to participate in the program but wouldn't be able to because of insufficient computer resources or other hardware.
"I think we can have all kinds of great software licenses, but if we don't have the hardware in the schools for the students to actually access that and use it on a regular basis, then it's of no value," Anderson said. "That's one of the concerns is there's such a limited amount of access to the hardware that exists that adding more and more software licenses could essentially throw money out the window."
Moss said hardware implementations are becoming more common among school districts, whether they be computer labs or tablet devices. She said bringing more hardware into schools will be a key component of public education appropriations during the legislative session.
"I think (it) will have a lot to do with appropriations this year through the public education committee, what this Legislature does because that's the big piece — to get the infrastructure in place," Moss said. "I think we've made strides that way, and I hope we continue to do that."
The Utah State Board of Education has requested $50 million in one-time funds to implement a statewide technology program, with $25 million in ongoing funds. The allocation would enable schools to provide a technology device, such as an iPad or a laptop, for each student.