Utah 2017 legislative session includes wins and losses for N. Utah schools

Sunday , March 12, 2017 - 5:00 AM

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

Sex Education

Ben Lomond High School health and physical education teacher Alan Schultz said he doesn't see a change in Utah's sex education laws affecting classroom instruction at all.

Utah's Senate and House passed a bill striking language in the state's sex education law that bans the "advocacy of homosexuality."

"We do not teach about personal sexuality choices, but safe behaviors when it comes to relationships and disease,” Schultz said. “We want students to be safe and develop behaviors that will help them keep long-lasting relationships.”

In an emailed statement from spokeswoman Emilie Wheeler, the Utah State Board of Education said the board will change policy to comply with the law change once Gov. Gary Herbert signs it.

“The Utah State Board of Education has supported the process that has gone into Senate Bill 196 and appreciates legislative leadership’s role in addressing these issues in statute," the statement said.

Board spokesman Mark Peterson said the board will have to rewrite policy to match the new law, which could begin as soon as the board's next scheduled meeting in May.

It will take at least two months to pass the rule change because the process requires three policy readings.

Weber School District spokesman Lane Findlay said he thinks teachers have shied away from talking about homosexuality at all because the law's language leaves it open to interpretation.

"We discussed this a few months ago, and there have never been any teachers in our district who have been accused and/or disciplined for violating this provision of the law," Findlay said. "Our health education teachers are given explicit instructions and training on teaching human sexuality, and so if there are changes to the law, that will be incorporated into the curriculum."

Our Schools Now and school funding

This winter, Ogden, Weber and Davis school district superintendents said they supported putting more money into education whether it came from the business-led Our Schools Now initiative or not.

Our Schools Now would have increased the state's income tax rate from 5 percent to 5.875 percent and was slated to generate about $750 million in public education funding in its first year. Ogden School District would have received $11.8 million, Weber School District would have received $30.5 million and Davis School District would have received $69.8 million.

However, lawmakers ended up leaving the idea on the table. Our Schools Now is now working toward a ballot initiative to let voters decide in 2018.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported the Legislature put $120 million of the state's budget into education, which included a 4 percent increase in per-student education spending and $68 million to cover projected enrollment growth.

Even without Our Schools Now, Weber School District Superintendent Jeff Stephens is very happy with the 4 percent increase. He said that funding mechanism will allow his district to support critical local needs, like additional support for technology and mental health services for students.

“To support these children who are just experiencing and demonstrating some serious social and emotional kinds of needs is really crucial for us right now,” Stephens said.

Stephens commended lawmakers for their educational funding decisions, calling this the “most positive and most supportive” legislative session he has experienced in the last six years.

“People were genuinely trying to resolve problems and work with us,” he said. “We felt like when there was a bill maybe we had a concern about, I can’t think of one instance where the sponsor of that bill wasn’t willing to work with us and amend and substitute.”

School Grading

Administrators with the Ogden and Davis school districts said it’s not fair to assign Utah’s schools a simple letter grade because it doesn’t convey the intricacies of how that grade is earned. They also expressed a desire for continuity, as the grading system has been changed several times.

Senate Bill 220 was passed, which assigns grades using multiple assessment measures. The bill was amended to include a one-year moratorium on assigning letter grades.

Adam McMickell of Ogden School District Assessment and Instructional Technology said the one-year break is good because it will allow for an adjustment period. McMickell was also in favor of the bill’s removal of the sliding scale that was put in place in fall 2016.

“We have a clear, established grading criteria,” he said. “We can train them as what that means and train teachers about how that will impact schools, and it will be based on performance.”

Weber State University

The Utah Legislature appropriated $14 million now and $15 million next year to renovate Weber State University’s Social Science Building, which — thanks to a $5 million donation from John E. Lindquist — will be renamed Lindquist Hall when it’s finished in 2018.

“You never know until the Legislature acts, so it’s really exciting and we’re looking forward to the fall of next year having a splendid new renovated building,” College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Dean Frank Harrold said.

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/BurlesonReports.

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