Feb. 3 wrap-up

Several bills were discussed yesterday, February 3, up on the Hill.  Rep. Moss’s English Language and Instructional Tool passed out of the House in a narrow 39-33 vote; Rep. Cutler’s nepotism amendments were held in the House Judiciary Committee, and Senator Jackson’s Education Elections and Reporting Amendments was replaced by a substitute in the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee but the committee took no further action.

The Senate Education Committee favorably recommended all three of the bills it discussed:  Senator Harper’s Class Size Reduction, Senator Stephenson’s Computer Science Initiative, and Senator Osmond’s Board of Education Compensation Amendments.  Senator Osmond’s bill received much support from the Committee, particularly from Senator Stephenson who suggested the bill, which would evaluate and set compensation for State Board of Education Members through legislative appropriations, should immediately set the compensation at 3 times what Senator Osmond was initially asking:  $9,000.  Senator Stephenson was concerned that only those with the financial means are currently able to run for State Education Board and increasing the compensation immediately would address the problem now without having to wait a year.  Senator Osmond and Senator Stephenson agreed to vote on the bill as is and consider an amendment or substitute to change the compensation spelled out in the bill before it goes to the floor.

Senator Harper’s bill to reduce class sizes would add $10,000,000 in new money to the Class Size Reduction Program, with 80% of that money distributed according to existing formulas and another 20% allocated to districts with high enrollment and a high property tax base (charter schools would not see any of this last 20%).  UEA supports the bill.  UAPCS spokesperson expressed concern from charter school that the bill might increase the difference in funding between the district and charter schools but otherwise UAPCS supports the bill.  Stephenson stated he can support the funding increase if class size is set in the bill, specifically limiting class sizes in K-3.

Senator Stephenson presented his Computer Science Initiative for Public Schools, SB107, by explaining the shortage of computer science employees, coders, etc., which means new tools are not invented for lack of employees with the right skill sets.  Tammy Pfeifer from the Governor’s office stated she appreciates Senator Stephenson’s focus in this area but has concerns about favoring a particular vendor.  Instead, she would encourage a survey of schools to see what their needs are prior to authorizing something like this that would favor one or more vendors and would positively impact only a small number of schools. In the meantime, schools should make use of free resources.  Senator Stephenson denied the bill is a vendor bill and stated he’s amenable to making more clear the language that LEAs may choose a vendor not identified in the bill.  After more discussion about the importance of first surveying the needs of the LEAs, Stephenson concluded by stating he’s spent 25 years trying to improve education through strategic plans and he has “frankly given up on that.”  So he is now putting efforts into areas he believes there is a need.  No more strategic planning from Senator Stephenson?

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