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Veto: Utah parent panel won't review curriculum complaints

Published April 2, 2014 8:48 pm

SB257 vetoed • 11 of the 15 parents on the committee argued against the expanded duties.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Heeding calls from the State Board of Education, Utah PTA and parents on a statewide test question review committee, Gov. Gary Herbert on Wednesday vetoed SB257.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, passed the House by a single vote in the waning minutes of the legislative session last month.

The bill would have expanded the job of the 15 parents who volunteered last year to scrutinize thousands of possible questions for new standardized tests being used this spring in Utah schools.

Under the bill, the parents also would have to investigate parents' complaints throughout Utah about curriculum and learning materials.

"I'm just thrilled. The process worked," said LeAnn Wood of Kaysville, who on Tuesday gave the governor a letter signed by 11 of the 15 parents on the review committee, asking for a veto.

Wood said her argument to the governor was that curriculum decisions — and parents' complaints about them — should be handled at the school, district and charter school board level.

Dawn Davies, president-elect of the Utah Parent Teacher Association said she made the same point in that meeting with the governor. "It's a very nice day for many people in the state," Davies said, referring to the veto.

Herbert apparently agreed, and made the same argument as he explained his veto Wednesday afternoon at a press conference.

He also said he listened closely to the members of the parents committee who urged a veto. "They said 'This is not what we signed up for, not what we bargained for.'"

In a letter to Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, Herbert said he'll also work with the State Board of Education to ensure schools have processes to hear parents' objections about curriculum and materials.

"This opens the conversation to acknowledge the processes school districts have in place for parents to address their concerns about curriculum," Davies said.

The bill didn't spell it out, but Stephenson said later that the intent was for the committee to hear only the complaints not resolved by schools and their boards. Any recommended actions would go to the State Board of Education.

The idea, he said, was to ease some Utah parents' fears about the state's new academic standards for language arts and math, which are based on Common Core State Standards.

"The biggest reason for the bill was to restore confidence in what our children are being taught," Stephenson said last week. "I don't know any time in the history of this state when there has been more suspicion and less confidence in what is being taught in our state."

Stephenson did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment after the governor's veto.

Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, the bill's co-sponsor, said last week that he worried a veto would feed into conspiracy theories about the Common Core.

The sponsor of the bill that set up the parent review committee in the first place, Hughes said he saw SB257 as way for lawmakers to encourage transparency and give parents more confidence in curriculum.

Herbert signed another of Hughes' education bills — HB96 — in spite of a flood of calls by public pre-school opponents. The bill creates a school readiness account and board to negotiate contracts with private groups to fund some early childhood programs.

Utah Eagle Forum urged members to write to the governor, urging veto of what they described in an email as part of President Obama's radical education program.

The conservative group also found it troubling that the bill requires the state to track data on each child.

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @KristenMoulton