Utah state school board asks governor to veto parent panel
Bill would ask group that reviews test questions to also field curriculum complaints.
Published: March 21, 2014 10:44PM
Updated: March 21, 2014 10:18PM

The state school board joined a growing chorus of voices on Friday asking the governor to veto an education bill that squeaked through the House during the last minutes of this year’s legislative session.

The bill, SB257, would ask a panel of parent volunteers already tasked with reviewing state test questions to also field complaints about curriculum and instructional materials. It passed shortly before midnight on the last night of the session by 38-37 in the House.

Marty Carpenter, a spokesman for Gov. Gary Herbert, said the office received SB257 Friday and “consistent with our standard practice for all bills, it will be reviewed before the governor makes any decision on it.”

The governor has until April 2 to sign or veto bills.

Bill sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, has said the idea is to help address concerns related to the state’s new academic standards, which outline the skills students in each grade should learn.

But members of the panel say complaints should be handled at the local level, and they’re being asked to do a job for which they didn’t sign up. Members of that group met with the governor’s education adviser earlier this week to ask for a veto. The Utah PTA has also asked for a veto.

On Friday, the state school board voted 10-1 to recommend the governor skip signing the measure.

“I really searched high and low to find someone that was supportive [of the bill], but I couldn’t,” said board member Heather Groom, also noting she’s concerned the bill could mean less local control.

Stephenson, contacted after the board’s vote Friday, said he anticipates the parent panel would hear complaints only after they had already passed through local school boards.

He said he’d still like to see his bill signed into law, but if he could do it over, he would have written the bill differently to avoid confusion. He said he purposefully kept the bill simple so the state school board could decide on specifics.

He said there’s a misconception that the bill would require the parent committee to review all instructional materials in the state, when really they would review only complaints.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time when there’s been more mistrust of our education curriculum associated with, first of all No Child Left Behind, and then more recently the Common Core,” Stephenson said referring to new core academic standards adopted by Utah and many other states, “and I truly believe that parents have a right to be comfortable with what their children are being taught, and currently that’s not the case.”

Some Utah parents have expressed concern with the Common Core in recent years. State education leaders have tried to assure parents, with varying degrees of success, that the core is more rigorous than Utah’s old standards and is nothing to fear.

Stephenson feels the parent review panel could investigate complaints much as it weeded through state test questions after some parents expressed worry over the content. He said if he were to write the bill over again, he’d specify the panel would hear only complaints related to the core standards.

Board member Jennifer Johnson was the lone vote against asking for a veto Friday. She said she didn’t feel asking the committee to review complaints would be overly onerous, and she likes encouraging parental involvement.

A majority of review committee members, however, are still hoping for a veto, said LeAnn Wood, who serves on the panel.

Wood, of Kaysville, said there’s no need for the panel to review complaints when processes are already in place to address parents’ concerns. She said it’s also an issue of local control.

“Why would you send it up the line to someone just so we can go, ‘Why don’t you talk to your district about that?’ ” Wood asked. “It seems like a convoluted process when what we really need to do is get information out to parents about what the [current] process is.”

The Utah PTA also wrote in a letter to the governor this week, “This bill will allow an unelected and unvetted parent review committee to review complaints on curriculum and instructional materials.”

The bill would also require the state school board to publish the complaints on its website, along with any actions taken by the board, a school district or school.