Feb. 11 Senate Education Committee Notes

A happy birthday to Representative Moss who joined the Committee to explain her bill HB69, English Language Arts Instruction Tool, before heading off to celebrate with her family!  Moss’s bill provides for the selection of a web-based interactive tool for Language Arts students that would give immediate feedback and allow the student to work at his/her own pace.  The bill passed out of Committee unanimously.

Senator Osmond’s SB34, Charter School Authorization Amendments was not so fortunate.  Even with the substitute language, the bill which allows a municipality to authorize a charter school failed in a 3-3 vote.  Robust discussion turned to the bigger philosophical question regarding charter schools in general:  are they effective?  Do we want/need more of them?  Should they require the oversight of other schools?  Are they getting that oversight?  Senator Osmond was clear in stating his bill did not address those big issues; it simply provided that a municipality be deemed a charter school authorizer, like the other 4 authorizers currently in statute.  Senator Millner questioned Senator Osmond about the practicality of having a city or town council be in the business of authorizing schools while Senator Stephenson adamantly defended the proposal, asserting school districts are not responsive to a municipality’s needs and municipalities who desire to have more control over education in their jurisdiction should have the opportunity to decide to start a school of its own.

The Governor’s office, through Tami Pyfer, expressed concern about the plan of expanding charter authorizers where charter funding is currently in flux and where the Governor is working on a ten year comprehensive plan that may address some of the concerns the bill is addressing. Ms. Pyfer also expressed concern that as a former local city council member, she does not believe city councils have the time to deal with a school on top of all other council responsibilities.  UEA opposed the bill pointing out that all other authorizers have some level of education expertise and a municipality has none, to which UAPCS representative Royce VanTassel replied, “no right-thinking city says I’m going to authorize a charter and doesn’t simultaneously go out and hire an education expert.”  One has to wonder where that right-thinking city will get the funds to hire an education expert considering budgetary constraints on municipalities.  Senator Madsen threw his support behind the bill stating, “This gives those officials in a new community a growing community—it gives them a vehicle to respond and say we want to do this—we’re going to take a stake in this…[This bill provides for] the ability of locals to respond to the request of their constituents, and respond, not depending on school districts.”

The bill failed in a 3-3 vote, Senators Dabakis, Millner, and Urquhart–who was silent during the discussion–voting against the bill and Senators Osmond, Stephenson, and Madsen voting in favor.

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