Of the 88 education-related bills the Utah Legislature is considering this session to address an array of concerns, student and school safety is one of the most anticipated issues.
The bill seeks $30 million to hire and contract mental health professionals for Utah schools.
The proposed law also calls for $66 million to add or update security features at older schools such as door locks and cameras and incorporate safety into the designs of new schools.
But the bill has raised concerns for some, said Ward, R-Bountiful, including the number of school resource officers on campuses and a proposed database that State Board of Education would create and maintain for school safety purposes.
“So I hope I’ll get support, but there have just been so many people who want to change this,” he said. “There’s been a lot of edits to this, but hopefully the next change will satisfy everyone.
Other bills that have been introduced this session touch on the structure of the Utah State Board of Education, the school rating system and what information teachers can give on contraceptives.
State School Board
Currently, the state education board has 15 members — including Shawn Newell, newly appointed by the governor — who are typically elected by voters.
Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-North Salt Lake has introduced two bills that would shrink the board to nine members who are appointed by the governor. Those changes would be made by amending the state Constitution.
“Right now, the state school board really acts like a fourth branch of government. They don’t have anyone overseeing and tracking what they are doing,” Ballard said.
If Ballard’s bills pass, the constitutional change will be added as a question on the ballot in 2020. Last week, the state education board voted to opposes Ballard’s bills.
“There’s nothing more near and dear to people’s hearts than how their children are spending their days,” said board member Carol Lear. “And the board that oversees that work — the curriculum, the various services that are provided in schools — I believe, should be an elected board that represents the people through election.”
Ward is pushing another bill that would clarify what teachers can educate about contraceptives, including how they work, their effectiveness and their limitations.
“To me that’s just part of the tool kit that adults would be better off if they started out knowing that as they start forming their families,” Ward said.
The current statute on health education can be confusing to some teachers, he said. Some have told Ward that they skip that part of the curriculum because they are not sure what is allowed, and they want to avoid getting in trouble.
“Hopefully that makes it clear to everyone that the basic science is OK to teach,” Ward said.
Utah teachers would still be prohibited from advocating for the use of contraceptives, Ward said.
His bill will be heard in the House Education Committee on Wednesday.
School Report Cards
Every year, the State Board of Education grades public schools based on student performance and achievement. The schools are typically rated on an A through F grading scale. For this year, that system was replaced by a detailed dashboard that breaks down student achievement, growth, progress of English learner students and post-readiness for high schools.
Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, called this year’s report cards “a breath of fresh air after several years of having an inversion.”
“It’s been my experience that it’s really demoralized teachers and has been one of the things that has driven them out of the classroom and I would hate to see us go back to that,” Poulson said.
Poulson is pushing a bill that would get rid of letter grades on Utah school accountability reports. As a retired teacher, Poulson said she thinks the current system pits schools against one another.
By changing school report cards, Poulson hopes it will help attract and retain teachers, especially those working in special education and impoverished schools.
Other bills include:
- A bill for a public education exit survey by Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay. The survey would ask outgoing teachers why they are leaving the profession.
- A bill for incentives for statewide assessments by Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City. The proposed law would allow teachers to give extra credit or a grade boost for students who do well on standardized tests.
- A bill on open carry near schools amendments by Rep. Joel K. Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City. The bill would prohibit carrying a “dangerous weapon” within 500 feet of an elementary or secondary school.