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Utah House gives final passage to Teacher and Student Success Act

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Mar. 8, 2019 at 9:36 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — SB149, the Teacher and Student Success Act, won final passage in the Utah House of Representatives Thursday, creating a mechanism to send millions of dollars directly to Utah schools to create and execute local plans intended to improve student achievement.

The bill creates a mechanism to disburse some $100 million in funding that will go to local school boards or charter boards for distribution to schools. Local boards must approve and monitor school-level plans.

SB149, sponsored by Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, helps facilitate the 2018 compromise struck with supporters of Our Schools Now, a citizen group that backed a ballot initiative to raise $700 million-plus for education through increases in income tax and sales taxes. The group agreed not to place the initiative on the statewide ballot.

The 2018 legislation appropriated $65.1 million into the restricted Teacher and Student Success Account as part of compromise.

Recently, the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee recommended $35 million in ongoing funding for the program in the fiscal year 2020 budget. The Executive Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take final budget actions Friday. The budget will be voted on by both bodies next week.

Rep. Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs, the bill's floor sponsor in the House, said school administrators, local school board and educators look forward to developing programs that are unique to their schools and target their particular goals and needs.

"When asked if they'd be willing to take on the challenge … the feedback was 'Bring it on. We're excited for the challenge,'" Moss said.

While the bill passed by a vote of 61-11, some representatives expressed concern whether the funding is sustainable.

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake, said moving forward, the Teacher and Student Success Act would compete for the weighted pupil unit funding, the basic building block of public education funding.

"I don't believe it's the intent of Our Schools Now to have something that competes with the WPU but they've set something up that will," he said.

Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, said using year-end testing as an accountability measure is troubling. Schools are expected to improve 1 percent each year.

"I do have some concerns that basing this money on our standardized tests may be detrimental to some of our schools that need it the most," she said.

Moss said no school will lose funding if it does not improve. However, local school leaders will work with schools that don't make progress to alter how they use their funds.

Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan, said the state's accountability system has improved beyond end of year tests.

The new high school report cards, for instance, include indicators of students' readiness for college or other postsecondary education, school graduation rates, ACT test scores and numbers of students who take advanced courses.

"It's a pretty remarkable thing. We're getting better at it," Johnson said.

He described the Teacher and Student Success Act as a "pretty neat experiment. I really encourage the body to vote in favor of this."

Schools can use at least 25 percent of the funding for personnel. It allows smaller school districts and those with teacher salaries below the statewide averages to spend up to 40 percent of the funding for personnel.

The bill also allows a school to use up to 5 percent of its allocation to help retain school personnel at the principal's discretion.

The funding cannot be used for school buildings or school administration.

Austin Cox of Our School Now said passage of SB149 will give teachers an opportunity to improve student achievement.

"Whether it's teacher mentoring or professional development or technology or teacher aides, schools will now be able to choose how they want invest additional funding and we'll be able to see what works and what's leading to better outcomes," Cox said.

Marjorie Cortez

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