SALT LAKE CITY — The Teacher and Student Success Act advanced to the House Monday by a vote of 7-4 by the House Education Committee.
SB149, sponsored by Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, was part of the 2018 compromise between lawmakers and backers of the Our Schools Now citizen initiative.
The bill creates a process for disbursing funds set aside at the end of the 2018 legislative session. Money will go directly to schools based on enrollment and at least 25 percent can be used for educator salaries, but very small schools can use more.
The rest of the money is to be used by a plan created at the school level and approved by the local school board or charter school board that is intended to improve student achievement at the school level.
While SB149 received the unanimous approval of the Senate Education Committee and passed unanimously in the Senate, committee members and members of the public alike questioned using standardized testing as a measurement of school improvement.
Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, urged lawmakers to add the funding for the act to the value of the weighted pupil unit instead appropriating it under the act.
"You have options. Study this further. Don't move this bill forward until you are absolutely certain that it will bring the results we want for all of our students. Trust those of us closest to the students and instead, add this additional funding to the WPU, which provides the greatest local control and flexibility," Matthews said.
According to the bill's fiscal note, $65.1 million placed in a restricted account by the 2018 Legislature will shift to the Minimum School Program to fund these efforts. The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee also recommended a $35 million appropriations.
Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, urged the committee to adopt the bill.
"We appreciate, as charter schools, accountability and we appreciate flexibility. SB149 provides both of those. Perfect doesn't exist. There are things we need to improve our assessment system but this is a step forward," Van Tassell said.
According to the bill, if a school does not demonstrate at least a 1 percent increase in the number of points earned on the statewide school accountability system, local school boards must work with the school's principal to modify the schools plans.
No one will take money from schools that don't meet the threshold, Millner said, but school boards and administrators will recommend changing how the funding is being used.
The organizations representing school boards and superintendents supported the legislation.
The state accountability system, passed by lawmakers, considers many factors such as graduation rates, academic growth and student achievement, among others, Millner said.
"This is about local control. This money is going directly to our school districts and our charter schools. It is allowing us to give money directly to the school level. This is not to be used for capital. It is not to be used for administration. It's really to be used in making a difference for our teachers our students at the school level," Millner said.
The bill moves to the House for further consideration.