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Shorter school year for Utah kids?

Published February 22, 2014 12:30 pm

Bill would let schools replace class time with teacher training.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The school year in Utah would get shorter for some students so their teachers could have more time to train under a bill advancing in the Legislature.

The House Education Committee approved SB103 by 11-4 Friday morning. The plan, already approved by the Senate, would allow school districts and charter schools to replace as many as four instructional days each year with teacher-training days. It would be up to each local school board whether to do so.

Utah teachers used to get state-paid training days each year, on top of the 180 days they taught, but lawmakers cut that funding during the recession. It has never been restored.

Bill sponsor Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, said he'd like to see the money that was cut restored over time. But until it is restored, his bill is needed, he said. Originally, he was going to let districts reallocate up to eight days, but cut that down to four on Friday after hearing concerns that was too many.

"Knowing the political realities of our environment I felt that we cannot afford to wait for a solution to happen," Osmond said. "We know that when a teacher has adequate training and time to prepare for the classroom, that has a direct impact on academic outcomes."

Several lawmakers, however, said they struggled with the idea of giving teachers additional training time at the expense of classroom time for kids.

"I've been hearing a lot out there, that there's money out there, lots of it, for education for certain purposes," said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay. "I think it's a matter of will."

A $200 million proposal by House Speaker Becky Lockhart to put technology in every Utah student's hands has been a topic of serious discussion at the Capitol for weeks.

Patti Harrington, with the Utah School Boards and Utah School Superintendents associations, opposed SB103, saying, "It's a sad day in a state as strong as Utah when we are giving teachers time only by balancing it on the backs of students."

Sara Jones, with the Utah Education Association, also called the bill "problematic," saying the UEA would instead like to see money restored for additional teacher-training days. And Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, opposed the bill, saying it seems that countries with the most successful education systems have longer school years, not shorter ones.

But Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, said whether to restore the teacher-training money is a different discussion. He said it's not practical to wait for that to happen. Gibson is sponsoring the $200 million one-on-one technology proposal, HB131.

Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, also said he supported SB103, saying it should be up to districts how to spend state dollars.

In 2011, the state school board voted to allow Utah school districts to replace up to two instructional days with teacher-training days. State Superintendent Martell Menlove said less than half of the state's school districts and charter schools have opted to do that.

The bill needs to pass the full House before it goes to the governor.