Opinion: Utah lawmakers want to email my fellow teachers, but they don’t want to listen

As an educator, I am acutely aware of all the work lawmakers are doing to undermine public education, so some open dialogue would be welcome.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Candace Pierucci (R-Riverton) presents HB331 during a meeting of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee at the Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. The bill would introduce school vouchers to Utah students to attend non-public schooling.

HB82 is heading to Governor Cox’s desk to be signed into law. The bill includes a provision that will allow lawmakers to contact educators via their work email addresses and inform them of the work they are doing on their behalf.

As an educator, I am acutely aware of all the work lawmakers are doing to undermine public education, so some open dialogue would be welcome.

If certain lawmakers would like to explain the incongruity of their words and actions, I would love to read it.

For example, in 2007, the citizens of Utah voiced their lack of support for school voucher programs both to their representatives and also via citizens referendum. Perhaps Rep. Candace Pierucci would like to explain why she tied a popular idea, a raise in teacher salaries, to a wildly unpopular diversion of public funds to private schools? Maybe she can expound on her reasoning for wanting to divert millions more taxpayers dollars to unaccountable private schools before the voucher program has even launched. Coincidentally, the budget item that did pass allocated an additional $40 million dollars to the voucher program which almost matched the $43 million in discretionary funds allocated to increase the WPU for all public school students in Utah. I don’t know for sure, but perhaps this is our legislature’s attempt to fund a separate but equal private vs. public education system, a lá Plessy Vs Ferguson. Maybe they can send me an email to clarify.

While I am on the subject of taxpayer funds, perhaps a lawmaker could reach out to the education community and answer this for us: Why is an income tax cut that directly removes funds earmarked for education easily heading for the governor’s pen, but removing the sales tax on food must be tied to a ballot initiative that changes the Utah constitution to remove the income tax earmark for education? I am unsure, but is it a coincidence that the people that benefit the most from the proposed tax cut, the top 1% of Utahns, are the individuals that are most able to already afford a private school education?

I do appreciate when the lawmakers focus their efforts on teacher retention, but it has also resulted in some curious details. Perhaps Rep. Lincoln Fillmore can reveal why, when offering additional salary funds for high performing teachers in SB173, the bill specifically prioritizes charter schools teachers ahead of public school teachers. I hope it has nothing to do with the fact that Fillmore was president of Charter Solutions, a business that relies on the success of charter schools. That conflict of interest would appear to be a bit of self dealing on his part. Maybe he can email us and provide edification as to why this is not self enrichment.

Communicating our needs as educators to the legislature is challenging as the session runs in direct conflict with the hours we spend in the classroom. That is one of the reasons many educators, such as myself, rely on our union to make our voices heard during the session. I am in the classroom, and I trust them to speak for me and my students. I would imagine as elected representatives, lawmakers would want to hear from teachers and their advocates. That is why it is so curious that Rep. Jordan Teuscher put forth HB285. This bill, in its original version, seemed to specifically target teachers’ unions. It is almost as if Rep. Teuscher only wants to listen to people who tell him what he wants to hear. If I am wrong, he can clear that up with a quick email.

[Are you a Utah teacher who has considered leaving the profession? Tell us why or why not.]

While I am on the subject of free speech, could our legislators let educators know where they stand on defamation and libel? Some credit is due to lawmakers for wagging their fingers at Natalie Cline after she targeted a minor with her trolling. This slap on the wrist might be understandable — if this was her only offense. However, Cline has been vocally defaming educators for months prior to her most recent transgression. Is it a free speech issue? Are her repellant comments the price we must pay because we value freedom of expression so much? If so, how can educators reconcile the value legislators place on free expression while at the same time proposing the criminalization of everything from books to diversity? Feel free to reach out and help us unravel this enigma.

So go ahead, please send out a newsletter from the Republican majority. I imagine it will be filled with the usual platitudes about the care and respect they have for the work of school teachers. I don’t think any amount of insincere treacle will ever fill the canyon that separates the words from the actions of these lawmakers.

So thanks, but no thanks. We are good.

(Photo courtesy of David Vala) David Vala

David Vala is a first generation American with a profound love for Utah. His work as an educator has only deepened his love for this state and citizens. That is why he seeks to sound a warning when hypocrisy threatens to tarnish our potential.

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