Our 2021 General Legislative Session is concluded and over 500 bills were passed this year. We also passed a budget, which is the most important work that we do every year. This newsletter is a summary of some of the legislation that passed regarding education in Utah.
As was mentioned last week, the budget we passed provided historic levels of education funding, with over half our state funds appropriated solely for public and higher education. This funding included providing $121 million for teacher and staff COVID-19 stipends, restoring a 6 percent (WPU) increase in per student funding and allocating $127 million for future education spending to ensure we keep our commitment to fund public education enrollment growth and inflation. After all is said and done, we will have put aside nearly half a billion dollars for public education ongoing funds. That’s half a billion dollars each year, every year, from now on.
In addition, we passed S.B. 142 Public Education Funding Amendments, which seeks to ensure Utah students receive equal funding by assessing our public education revenue and current funding structure. S.B. 142 would allow the legislative Public Education Appropriations Committee to make recommendations to better distribute funds throughout the state.
Teachers and Counselors
Utah is currently experiencing a shortage of teachers and school counselors in public schools. Several school districts are working on innovative approaches to meet teacher needs. H.B. 381 Grow Your Own Teacher and School Counselor Pipeline Program, creates a grant program to assist Utah paraprofessionals, school counselor assistants and school counselor interns in obtaining licenses to become teachers or school counselors and provides a scholarship to certain school employees.
In a continued effort to address learning losses due to the pandemic, the Legislature passed S.B. 148 Public Education Modifications, providing transparency for parents and educators to address any learning loss students may have experienced during the pandemic. Schools will allow students to access information regarding performance reports and standards. This bill will facilitate a positive relationship between parents and teachers as they work to address learning losses.
S.B. 226 Online Education Program Revisions, allows online course providers authorized by the Board of Education to offer classes for students through the Statewide Online Education Program. In 2011, Utah was recognized for allowing students access to free and online courses. This bill will ensure students have additional options to courses that best fit their needs and learning styles.
In some cases, students in higher education institutions with religious beliefs are expected to participate in activities that interfere with their beliefs and may infringe on their fundamental rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. S.B. 244 Student Religious Accommodations Amendments, requires the Utah System of Higher Education to reasonably accommodate student absences from exams or other academic requirements due to a student’s sincerely held religious beliefs.
Another area of concern is broad and ambiguous anti-harassment policies that lead universities to censor free speech. While higher education institutions are responsible for addressing harassment on campus, they also have a constitutional obligation to do it without infringing on students’ free speech rights. H.B. 159 Higher Education Speech, sets a standard all state universities can follow to protect free speech on campus.
Access to Higher Education
Data shows that education can reduce the odds that incarcerated individuals will reoffend once they are released. H.B. 279 Higher Education for Incarcerated Youth, provides students in custody with concurrent enrollment credits through a virtual learning program administered by Dixie State University.
In another effort to expand higher education accessibility in Utah, the Legislature passed S.B. 45 Higher Education Classes for Veterans, allowing veterans to audit courses offered at state institutions of higher education for a nominal fee.
I Look Forward to Hearing From You!
I'll try to continually keep you informed about my work on the Hill – likewise, please keep in touch – I’d love to hear your insights and opinions.
I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’re also welcome to join me at the Capitol and if you’d like to meet with me in person outside of interim or the legislative session, you can reach Jason Gould at email@example.com. He’ll help us get in touch.
I’m truly grateful for the opportunity you’ve given me to serve in this capacity. We live in a unique and special place. Thank you for all you do to make Utah the best state in the nation – and thanks for paying attention.
Until next time,
Senator Dan McCay
Senate District 11