David Rodeback's Blog
Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Selected Education Bills at the Utah Legislature
Here is brief discussion of several bills proposed in the Utah Legislature on the subject of education, with links to bill texts, status reports, etc.
I haven't said much lately about the Utah Legislature's current session; I've devoted my writing time largely to local matters instead. Meanwhile, our elected representatives in Salt Lake City are playing their little games with liquor laws (relax them! tighten them! relax them! tighten them! where's lunch?), and state Senator Chris Buttars continues to expose the shallowness both of his own political sensibilities and of a few opponents' selective commitment to free speech, and to challenge -- we may hope -- his constituents' patience, not just his party's.
And there are some education bills, five of which we'll examine briefly here.
(Note: SB denotes a bill that begins in the Senate. HB denotes a bill that begins in the House. HJR is House Joint Resolution, a special kind of house bill. A "substitute" bill is one that has been substituted for an earlier bill on the same subject, using the same number.)
First, SB 199, "Equal Recognition of School Parent Groups," is Senator Curt Bramble's fairly blatant attack on the PTA, in reprisal for the voucher defeat in 2007. I'm not surprised that some in the Legislature want to knock the PTA down a peg or two, especially after it largely (and not entirely legally) sold out to defeat vouchers last year, but here we have a senior legislator wasting precious time with what looks like a bad, poorly-thought-through bill.
It's quite short; take a moment to read it. (See the links above.) I'll wait.
SB 199 would require public schools to provide equal access and support to "all legally organized parent or parent/teacher groups, associations, or organizations on a local, district, or state level," but would exclude groups that require the payment of dues, unless -- in the bill's amended form -- a dues waiver is available for the asking.
We could quibble about the importance of dues to an organization, and whether it's even possible to measure membership in any meaningful way without dues, but what caught my eye was the fact that there is no other limitation on the groups -- not size, not mission, not nonprofit status. There are no limitations at all, if they are legally organized and willing to waive dues on request. I leave it to your imagination to ponder what bizarre little groups would demand their rights under this bill, and how bitter and duplicitous the competition for members and resources might be among some groups at a given school -- and how quickly commercial groups would form and demand their own equal access to schools.
If the problem is the PTA's radical left-wing agenda at the national and state levels, then this bill is not the solution. Lots of folks who don't like that agenda should join the PTA and vote to unaffiliate themselves with the national and state PTAs. They can be a PTO instead. ("O" is for Organization.)
If the problem is the PTA's servile eagerness to promote the educational establishment's local and state agenda, such as opposing vouchers (especially on premises that are largely false), then this bill is not the solution. Local PTAs or PTOs need to elect some leaders who are less prone to manipulation and more inclined to independent judgment and institutional neutrality.
Or we could pass this bill and open our institutional arms to any right- or left-wing group with an agenda, and to every pair or trio of kooks who can get together, think up a name, and do a little paperwork to establish themselves legally. That's not Senator Bramble's intent, I'm sure, but there's nothing in this bill to stop it.
I doubt this bill will pass.
HB 210 (first substitute)
This bill, which is also quite short, would require school districts and charter schools to post at their Web sites complete copies of their current collective bargaining agreements -- that is, the agreements between union and management as to salaries and other matter.
Since we, the taxpayers, are paying the bill, it seems appropriate that we should have easy access to the entire agreement. Transparency in government is a good thing in nearly every case.
HJR 8 (first substitute)
This is another short bill; I suggest you read it.
This joint resolution, which would have to be adopted by two-thirds votes of both houses of the legislature, would submit the the voters a proposed amendment to the state constitution, requiring that
I know, I know. This seems self-evident. Why would we need a law? Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, there is a serious effort to repeal just such a law. Originally intended to protect against management intimidation in union-related votes, it should be repealed, some argue, to allow unions to intimidate workers in union-related votes.
This bill is working its way through the House calendar toward a final vote. I hope it passes. Since the federal effort is to repeal just such a law, not -- so far as I know -- to mandate non-secret ballots, I hope that a state law to this effect will insulate Utah from the effects of repealing the federal law.
Why, you wonder, do I call this an education bill? To be sure, it's not just an education bill. But what is the largest, most influential, and best funded union in Utah? You guessed it. The NEA -- or the UEA, at the state level.
SB 159 (first substitute)
This bill attempts to upgrade math education in Utah, using more of a carrot than a stick, by helping school districts who want to implement a superior math curriculum, Singapore Math, to fund the change, train teachers, and evaluate results. It passed the Senate yesterday, 23-3 -- meaning a number of Democrats voted for it -- and now moves to the House, where its floor sponsor is Rep. John Dougall, my very own, well-liked representative. If the Senate didn't somehow scuttle it, I doubt the House will.
If passed, this will be one battle won in the war for effective math education in Utah.
It's a longer bill, three or four pages, but reasonably readable.
This bill failed in committee. It would have required a majority vote of an entire school district to approve one part of that district withdrawing to form its own district or join another. The effect would be to make it harder to break up school districts. For example, if Orem decided that it had finally had enough of the Alpine School District and wanted to withdraw to form its own district, a majority of voters from north Lehi to Eagle Mountain to Orem to Alpine would have to agree, or they couldn't do it. That hardly seems right, except to those with vested interests in highly centralized school districts, I suppose.
The state PTA Web site has two lists of high-priority bills, with positions. There is the shorter Utah PTA Priority Bills list, and the longer PTA Commission Priority Bills list. and the state PTA's position on them. Among the bills I've listed, only SB 199 makes the both lists; the PTA opposes it, of course. The now-defunct SB 123 makes the Commissioner's List, with support.
The Utah State Legislature home page is a good place to start if you want further information about contacting your own representatives, how the legislature works, or the text and status of bills.
Copyright 2009 by David Rodeback.