Utah lawmakers hope to reboot a pricey proposal next year to put mobile devices in the hands of all Utah students despite the measure’s failure this past legislative session.
The Legislature’s Education Task Force spent Tuesday morning discussing the failed bill, HB131, and why it’s still important moving forward.
"It creates a better learning environment, and it gives every student access to new and emerging technologies," said outgoing House Speaker Becky Lockhart, who was behind the earlier push. "This actually has an incredible equalizing power for our students."
Lockhart’s proposal went down last session amid concerns about its $200 million to $300 million price tag and whether such devices would actually improve education.
The Senate had offered to fund the bill at $26 million, but Lockhart rejected that offer, saying, "The only thing worse than not doing it at all is doing it wrong."
Lockhart, R-Provo, said Tuesday that legislative fiscal analysts plan to examine the cost again before next session, including how to possibly spread it out over several years.
As for how the state might pay for such a proposal, she said: "You’ve got to make priorities. That’s what we do in the Legislature."
Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said Tuesday she agrees that technology in the classroom is critical but she also cautioned that "nothing takes the place" of a high-quality teacher. She said she’d like to see more money put into teacher training.
"My feeling is they ought to have at least equal weight if not more weight put in professional development than technology," Jones said.
Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, who sponsored the bill, said it was never intended to try to replace teachers.
Lockhart also said that much of the money would go toward educating teachers on how to use the devices. She criticized the state’s universities and colleges, saying there is a current lack of technology training for teachers and calling the gap "horrific."
The money would also go toward improving technology infrastructure in schools.
Lockhart also discussed a number of studies Tuesday showing how technology can improve education. Others, however, say results of putting devices in schools across the country have been somewhat of a mixed bag.
Lockhart said Tuesday it’s too early to say which lawmaker might sponsor a new version of the bill.
But she said it’s important lawmakers keep the vision alive even in her absence. Lockhart has decided not to run for re-election to the Legislature.
"We will go there because we have to go there," Lockhart said. "It is where education is headed. The question for Utah is, ‘Will we lead or will we follow?’ "
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