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Senate approves symbolic bill letting state school board ask for money

First Published      Last Updated Mar 09 2017 02:40 pm

Education » State could compensate funds lost for ignoring federal mandates.

The Utah Board of Education's ability to request state funding to cover the cost of ignoring federal mandates would be enshrined in law under a bill approved by the Utah Senate on Tuesday.

Senators voted 20-8 for HB136, which directs the state board to review federal programs and determine whether those programs comport with state goals.

Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork and the Senate sponsor, said federal funding often has "strings attached" that can be onerous to local schools. She gave the hypothetical example of the federal Department of Education requiring schools to adopt comprehensive sex education or face sanctions.

"The state [school] board might choose to come to the Legislature to ask the state to backfill those lost funds," she said.

But Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, questioned the need for the bill. Members of the school board already can, and frequently do, meet with lawmakers about policy and advocate for public school resources.

And in 2015, school board members considered abandoning Utah's No Child Left Behind waiver, which freed schools from sanctions under federal law. Part of that discussion included the possibility that Utah lawmakers would compensate the education system for lost federal funds.

"What do we need a new law for, doing what probably they can do anyway?" Dabakis said.

Henderson said the bill would provide "backup" if the school board were looking to part ways with federal requirements.

"We don't have to fund the request but we may," she said. "And we're putting that in statute."

HB136 was amended by a Senate committee and requires another vote of the House prior to final passage. The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, said in January that he would abandon the bill if it did not receive the support of the Utah Board of Education.

But after the school board voted to oppose the bill last month, Kennedy broke that pledge, drawing some criticism online. He said he was told in private by board members that he has their support, despite their formal vote of opposition.


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