Education Reform Bill Unveiled

Education Reform Bill Unveiled

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The long-awaited omnibus education reform bill, largely mirroring a business executives panel's take on student advancement and curriculum, has finally been unveiled.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Thomas Hatch, R-Panguitch, proposes $30 million in new funding. It has not been revealed where the money would come from.

Chief among the changes are switching to a competency-based system of student advancement, emphasizing core curriculum over electives, adding more business expertise to the state Board of Education and easing licensing standards for teachers, principals and superintendents.

State education officials were still digesting the bill's nuts and bolts late Thursday and planned to meet with Hatch Friday to clarify the details.

"It's overwhelming," said state schools Superintendent Steven Laing. "There are substantial issues that seem contrary to what we're getting as directive from the federal Department of Education."

Utah Education Association President Pat Rusk said she was disturbed the bill was drafted in secret and includes several significant reforms in a single package.

"If all those recommendations are so valuable and so necessary, they should be able to stand on their own merit," she said.

The bill follows many of the recommendations of Gov. Mike Leavitt's Employers' Education Coalition.

Coalition Chairman Fraser Bullock maintains the recommendations should be implemented as a package to achieve effective reform.

One portion of the bill that was not part of the coalition's recommendations would shift more control over education policy to the Legislature itself. Among other things, it would have an appropriations subcommittee study whether to reassign teachers of noncore electives to teach math and English.

The bill also would create a new council to monitor block-grant expenditures and advise state and local boards on how to implement a competency system.

"It seems like there's creation of several bodies to meet responsibilities that I have always thought belonged to the state Board of Education," Laing said.

The coalition had recommended increasing education funding by $90 million.

"Our position is still $90 million of new money this year, but $30 million would still be significant," Bullock said. "We don't believe it's enough, though."

The bill does not include the coalition's tuition tax-credit recommendation, but the sponsor of the Senate tuition tax-credit bill says the two proposals will be merged on the Senate floor.

Leavitt has threatened to veto the tuition tax-credit bill, and his spokeswoman, Natalie Gochnour, said it would be a mistake to mix a highly controversial issue with education reforms that have broad support.

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

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