The bad and good
There were times during the legislative session when it looked as if public education would be steamrolled by the Republican right wing. But in the end, the most egregious bills died quietly. Here's hoping measures to eliminate the State Board of Education, to make election of board members partisan and to eliminate tenure at universities will never again see the light of day.
Perhaps the worst of the worst were two joint resolutions to amend the Utah Constitution. SJR009 would have given the governor and state Senate total control over education, eliminating the State Board of Education. HJR15 would have made state board members appointees of the governor.
The original writers of the state constitution were right to separate education from the Legislature and the executive. The move in this session to put education under the thumb of elected officials was simply an undisguised and unconstitutional usurpation of power. Thankfully, neither was passed, although SJR009 did win approval in the Senate.
The bill to abolish tenure at public colleges and universities died in committee. Its diehard proponents are threatening to resurrect it later, but it deserves no return from the grave. It would seriously compromise the work being done at the state's two research universities, endangering the jobs and economic vitality they provide.
Another salvo at public education, SB224, which would have made state school board elections partisan, essentially cementing Republican control of the board, passed the Senate but fortunately went no further.
Some unfortunate measures did survive. SB59 requires the State Office of Education to set up a system for grading schools based on students' test scores, graduation rates and readiness for college or careers. It does nothing, however, to provide help that struggling schools may need to deal with growing enrollments of immigrant and minority children.
A bill that wasted a good deal of legislators' time will force schools to teach that the United States is a republic, not a democracy. The reasons behind this bit of legislative micromanaging remain unclear except to the far-right fringe.
SB97, requiring that state funding for Utah's eight colleges and universities be allocated based on each school's stated mission, was supported by higher-education officials and was passed. We are interested to see how this one plays out.
The decision to fund the expected influx of more than 14,000 new students is a bright spot, overshadowed by the fact that for the past two years, growth went unfunded and that shortfall was never made up. So Utah's investment per-student will remain the country's lowest, by far.