Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Happy to report back to you on the hard work of the Legislature this past session. This is the second of four 2021 General Session recaps where I cover our state budget, business and economic development, education, energy & air quality, health, higher education, taxes, transportation and water.
Please continue to reach out to me as you see issues of interest. Your perspective is very important to me. Enjoy!
This year, the budget 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.
As I mentioned, the Legislature passed historic state funding for education during the 2021 General Session. 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.
Parents and Students
The pandemic forced students across the country out of their in-person classrooms and into virtual learning environments. The shift to online learning, resulted in a record number of students failing. S.B. 107 In-person Instruction Prioritization, ensures students have the opportunity to learn in the classroom once again. Parents will be given the ability to determine what is best for their child, whether that be in-person or virtual learning. The primary objectives of the bill are to keep all Utah schools open at least four days a week, implement the “test to stay” program for schools that reach the two percent positivity rate to prevent soft closures and require higher education institutions to provide a certain amount of courses in-person.
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.
Access to Higher Education
Data shows that education can reduce the odds that incarcerated people 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.
Senator Ron Winterton
Utah Senate District 26