By Salt Lake City Tribune
Utah legislators should quit seeming to emulate their counterparts in Washington, D.C., who can’t agree to act on much of anything. Gov. Gary Herbert is waiting for members of the Legislature to write an agenda for a special legislative session to fix an education-budget shortfall.
They should put two things on the agenda: allocate $25 million to public education to make up for a miscalculation in the number of students expected this fall, and pass a bill so that secondary-school students can take tests that help them prepare for college.
And they should do it soon.
School districts have to write budgets for the coming year, and they should know they have enough to meet the needs of the students who show up for school in August. Two top Utah State Office of Education finance officials lost their jobs over the miscalculation due to a spreadsheet error.
House Majority Leader Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, and other House leaders are rightly pushing to hold the session as early as next month. But Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, says some senators want to wait until later in the year when budget numbers and projections will be more accurate.
There is no good reason to wait, unless those senators believe the Legislature would appropriate even more money to schools, and, while that would be a smart move, it’s not likely.
Schools are counting on enough money to pay for educating all the students in their schools, and the Legislature agreed on a per-pupil amount for the base education budget. The money is available, Dee said, from education-fund money traditionally left over at the end of each school year.
The second item is also important. The Legislature should pass a bill to pay for adopting two helpful, relevant tests to replace the old state high school graduation exam, the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test, that was discarded two years ago. The legislation, SB10, died without a final vote, when the clock ran out on this year’s legislative session.
The hangup on SB10 is that some legislators see a federal-government conspiracy in every effort to better prepare Utah children for college. The bugaboo here is they fear the tests have some connection to Common Core Standards, a standard of achievement adopted by a group of states, including Utah, to make curriculum goals consistent.
The Common Core is not a federal program but offers real benefits to Utah students. Legislators say they support better preparation for college. They can show that commitment by passing SB10.
Salt Lake City Tribune