Lawmakers Balk at $393 Million for Competency-Based Education

Lawmakers Balk at $393 Million for Competency-Based Education

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- State school officials say it will cost $393 million to accomplish competency-based education and other reforms mandated by new state and federal laws.

Some legislators don't think so.

State Office of Education officials told the Public Education Appropriation Subcommittee on Monday that they could devote $190 million of existing education funding to help all students meet the new standards.

But some subcommittee members disputed that another $150 million in new annual funding and $53 million in one-time money would be necessary to expand classroom testing, teacher training and services for struggling students.

"We already have good things going on," said Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper. "There are lots of grass-roots reports (of successful programs) that would shrink the dollars here."

The subcommittee is to submit an initial cost analysis to Gov. Mike Leavitt by Friday.

The subcommittee plans to acknowledge receiving the projections and say that the state office's proposals for complying with the reforms enacted by the Legislature in Senate Bill 154 would require another $202 million in state funding.

The report will outline possible strategies for dealing with the funding requirements, including raising income or property taxes, shifting money from other state budgets, changing priorities in the existing public education budget and eliminating the need for the new programs by repealing SB154.

"SB154 is on track and you need to come up to the plate," Rep. Judy Ann Buffmire, D-Millcreek, told her colleagues on the subcommittee. "This is why some of us didn't vote for SB154. You can't vote things in and not follow through."

The legislation requires the state Board of Education increase graduation requirements, emphasize core classes and shift to a system in which students advance through school based on their competencies rather than time spent in a class.

The board is proposing that middle and high school students pass year-end standardized tests and earn at least a C to earn a unit of credit for each core class. Statewide, more than 80,000 students are reading below grade level and need additional help, state Superintendent Steve Laing said.

"I don't think members of the subcommittee have a good appreciation of what it's going to cost," he said. "Without sufficient funding, a reform effort of this size isn't possible."

Subcommittee members argued over what to include in their report and whether to support the state office's recommendations for helping students achieve the higher standards required under SB154.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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