Senate Guts Beginning Teacher Pay Bill

Senate Guts Beginning Teacher Pay Bill

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Despite House approval, a bill to bump up salaries for beginning teachers was gutted by a Senate committee after a senator said there wasn't enough money.

The original bill would have set aside $22 million from the Uniform School Fund to pad salaries in the first five years of a teacher's career in an effort to make the salaries more competitive with other professions, said Rep. Bradley Johnson, R-Aurora. The bill would also have funded a full-time mentor in each district to support new teachers.

The bill passed the House by a single vote last week, but its $22 million price tag was not a priority for the Senate, said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, on Monday as the bill was heard by an education committee.

Stephenson replaced the bill with one that continues the sunsetting Public Education Job Enhancement Program, which pays $2.5 million in first-time signing bonuses and master's degree-level scholarships for math, science or information technology teachers.

The $2.5 million for the program was listed as an education budget priority, Stephenson said. The funding would be a one-time budget appropriation, he said.

The committee passed Stephenson's substitute bill 6-1. If it passes the full Senate, it goes to the House.

Stephenson complemented Johnson on bringing attention to teacher pay, but that without funding Johnson's bill was likely to stall. Giving math, science and technology teachers a boost, meanwhile, will help put students "in the pipeline" for the technology higher education initiative started by former Gov. Mike Leavitt, Stephenson said.

"The way to do that is to have qualified, inspiring teachers in the classroom," he said.

Johnson expressed dismay at Stephenson's substitute, but recognized the funding problem he faced.

"I guess you take what you can get," he said.

Utah Education Association President Pat Rusk said her organization could support the bill. UEA had concerns about Johnson's bill because studies have shown that of the two-thirds of teachers that leave the field within the first five years of their careers do so for reasons unrelated to salaries, Rusk said.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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