Sunday, February 26, 2012

We Are Moving!

We will no longer be posting to this blog, but hope you will follow our legislative interns and our programs at our new site:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

More money for… Private schools? By Nick Ramos

Just when budgets cuts seem to be the norm for education in the state, legislators seemed to be aiming to decrease funding for public schools even more. Senator Howard Stephenson, R- Salt Lake , introduced SB 151, that would “let taxpayers claim an income tax credit for donations they make to… provide scholarships for qualifying students to attend a private school,” as explained in the Utah Education Association website. This bill may have intended to create a better learning environment for students, but in reality, it would have limited the resources of public schools and created a dilemma about government tax breaks and spending.

To qualify for such a scholarship, the student would’ve had to be between the ages of 5 and 19, come from a low income household (meaning that the child would qualify for a lunch discount at his/her public school), and score “below the proficient level on a statewide summative assessment of language arts, mathematics, science, or writing achievement,” among other requirements in the bill.

Such restrictions would have made it so that only poor-performing students can have the opportunity to attend a private school, creating a disparity among students and undermining the role of teachers in public schools. The disparity would be created by making parents think that their children would get a better education by attending a private school and promoting an "everybody-go-private" mindset for parents. It’s insulting to propose that private school teachers are better than public school teachers. The real issue is with the funding they receive to carry out their work, not with the quality of their teaching.

Taking money away from public schools in the form of tax credits, as SB 151 would have suggested, creates a disparity in the classrooms that “93 percent of all Utah students attend”, according to Public taxes need to be used to support and teach public students. By keeping such resources within public schools, Utah teachers are given the means they need to effectively educate our youth.

Luckily, Sen. Stephenson made the right decision before the Senate Education committee on Feb 17th. He realized that proposing such a bill was not appropriate and moved to substitute it with a new proposal which, “directs the Education Interim Committee in 2012 to study programs and initiatives in the state and other states to assist students who score below proficient on assessments of academic achievement or are economically disadvantaged.” There seemed to be a sigh of relief across the room when Sen. Stephenson took this step. Public schools dodged a big bullet.

Utah cannot risk allowing its legislature to take money away from public schools to put it into private schools. Privatization of school funding will lead to academic inequality and lower achievement.

HB 363 Abstinence Only Update: Rolling Backwards - by Logan Froerer

House Bill 363 blasted through the House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 45-28. All those in favor were Republican. All the Democrats and 11 Republicans opposed it.

The bill mandates that sex education in Utah schools can only be taught within an abstinence only frame. Instruction or discussion of contraceptives and homosexuality cannot take place in schools.

"It has to be abstinence only," said Bill Wright, the bill's sponsor.

For a legislature that has long beaten its chest to advertise how much it hates excessive government intervention, this level of censorship is hypocritical. Combined with the disturbing disregard for students’ needs and rights to be openly given information and then allowed to choose how to use that knowledge and act, it’s downright dangerous.

The bill will now move on for consideration in the Senate.

If you’re opposed to Utah students having their heads forcibly pushed into the sand by our legislators, rally your senators to help kill this bill.

The bill will have a public hearing in a Senate Committee, where the public will have a last chance to comment publicly. Senators can always be emailed, called, or spoken with at the capitol. Head to to find your senator’s contact information.

“We don't hear from people a whole lot,” House Minority Whip Jennifer Seelig told our Mestizo interns at the beginning of this session. “Most of who we hear from are people who don't live in our districts.”

This bill is a great opportunity to change that. If you’re opposed, make your voice heard. Call or email your senator today. Come speak in the committee meeting. And get your friends to do the same.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Driving and Cell phone Usage - by Sujey, Maricella, and Viri

SB128 ("Wireless telephone use restriction for minors in vehicles") is being sponsored by Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, who said he began working on S.B128 "after listening to young drivers express concern with the driving habits of other people their age. These teenagers said they had witnessed many of their friends drive while using cell phones, and expressed a desire for legislation to help eliminate this problem."

As teenagers who have to deal with this daily, we know such legislation is necessary.

This bill targets drivers under 18 who, if seen texting or making a call while driving, could get pulled over and face a fine of $50.00, but would not get docked points on their drivers license.

The only exceptions to this law would be talking on the phone to report a hazard, reporting to parents, or during a medical emergency. Enactment of this bill will cost the Courts $4,000 from the General Fund beginning in 2013, but would also generate $5,200 in ongoing revenue to the General Fund beginning in 2013.

So far the bill has moved pretty quickly, having already passed the senate and gone through its first reading in the house.
We had a few questions for Senator Romero which were answered by his intern Nicholas Dunn. Nicholas mentioned that Sen. Romero, "felt that removing additional dangerous distractions for drivers who already must take great care to refine their driving ability just made sense."

When asked why the bill only applies to drivers under 18 and younger, he said “the bill only targets drivers under 18 because drivers of that age are less experienced and still developing their driving skills.”

We also asked how it will be enforced and how could the police officers prove that the kids were calling their parents or calling about an emergency. He said; “The bill would simply be enforced by police officers on the roads. Further details of this answer would be better answered by law enforcement personnel, but essentially they could decide whether to pull over a driver if the driver appeared under 18 and was talking on a cell phone. If a teen driver is cited for talking on a cell phone when they were simply talking with a parent the parent can come into the authorities and confirm that the driver was speaking with the parent. If a teen driver was calling for an emergency, the circumstances of the emergency would likely be clear.”

The last question was one of our main concerns, since it seems impossible to know how they would be able to prove whether minors were telling the truth about reporting with a parent or not.

We believe a law such as this should not only be enforced to 18 years and younger, but for all ages. Teenagers are not the only ones who text and call while driving. For example, there have been times where we've yelled at our parents for doing it, especially when the weather is bad, yet they still do it. Also, another flaw with this bill is that whether the teenager is talking with a parent or not, they should not be allowed to make a call because that even one call can cause an accident. We believe that if we want to report a hazard or report with a parent we should pull over somewhere in order to talk.

In our U.S Government class we were able to discuss this bill and, after an intense debate among the students, 85% of the class agreed that the bill should be applied to all ages and there should be no exceptions on any cell phone usage while driving.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Update: Substitute for SB 25 Real ID Act - By Pamela Portacarrero

I decided to get some answers and clarifications from Senator Kevin Van Tassell (R-Vernal) on February 14th regarding SB 25, as the bill has been modified since my last post.

This bill would make Utah comply with the Federal Real ID Act of 2005, which requires all states to implement a uniform federal identification card. This law emerged as part of a larger piece of legislation dealing with national defense and anti-terrorism measures after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Legislators in Washington, along former president George W. Bush, saw the need for stricter guidelines when it came to identification documents, especially when used in federal buildings and airports. Having a national identification card that meets the same requirements and format throughout every state would make screenings at airports, and other federal public sites, less burdensome on travelers and TSA officials, and increase safety with a more precise and effective method of identifying someone's identity.

Overall, it is in the best interest of our State to implement this law because 1) it will increase security throughout states, 2) hindrances in honoring and validating other states' identification documents will cease to exist, and 3) it is federal law.

As for the recent amendments in Van Tassell's bill, the words Real ID Act have been removed, and there is no mention as to whether Utah will be complying with the federal mandate. However, Senator Van Tassell said that just because the wording was modified does not mean Utah is refusing to comply. He confirmed that Utah’s intent to follow federal law is implied in the other provision to the bill: prohibiting residents from carrying both a Utah driver’s license and state identification card.

Prohibiting the possession of both a Utah driver’s license and State Identification card at the same time is part of the steps to get Utah “on track” to full implementation of the Real ID Act, according to Van Tassell. Mandating that citizens can only possess one form of ID meets one of the requirements imposed by the federal government.

So far it looks like Utah is moving in the right direction, not with much rush or urgency, but with a steady pace nonetheless, or so it seems. So what would this mean for Utah residents if SB25 were to pass? Starting July 1st, 2012 all persons carrying a Utah identification card who wish to apply for a driver’s license would have to surrender or cancel their card. Also, persons who are currently carrying a driver’s license and wish to apply for an identification card would then have to either cancel or surrender their license. As for those who are currently carrying both, they can keep both until December 1st, 2014, but after that date, they would have to surrender one or the other.

Update on S.B31 By Maricela Hernandez, Luisa Rodriguez, Viridiana Najera

Update on S.B 31
Class Size Amendments
  • This bill would cap classroom size from kindergarten to third grade.
  • S.B 31 has arrived to the house rules committee, after it goes through the House Committee it will be sent to a Sub Committee, where you would go to state your opinion.
  • They have substituted this bill but it has not been adopted, it was however amended into the following class caps.
20 students for a kindergarten class
22 students for a first grade class;
22 students for a second grade class
24 students for a third grade class.
  • If passed, this bill will take place on July 1, 2012 and apply to all future school years.
  • The bill was last updated on February 12.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

HB 363: Abstinence only proposal is dangerously disconnected - By Logan Froerer

House Bill 363 would strictly limit Utah’s sex health education by restraining discussion of contraception, sex health resources, or homosexuality in Utah schools. Only abstinence could be openly talked about. Districts could even opt out of offering sex health classes altogether if the bill passed.

That type of policy is troubling on its own. More troubling was the fact that teachers and students, those who will be directly affected by this legislation, are not being listened to.

"There's inappropriate curriculum we are teaching," said Bill Wright (R-Holden), the bill’s sponsor, during the committee hearing. “This [sex-ed] is not an important part of our curriculum.”

That belief is terrifyingly out of touch with the reality students face. Human sexuality and health are brutally pertinent and important, and ceasing to talk about them will not make them disappear. Sexuality is so often misrepresented and misunderstood, and preventing teachers from speaking openly about the issues creates a culture of misinformation and secrecy in schools.

The purpose of education should be to expose students to information and ideas, and let them act based on their own personal values. Not to limit information based on our ideologies.

"I think you're silencing and putting fear into teachers," said Representative Carol Spackman Moss (D-Salt Lake City). She was a professional teacher before running for office.

She argued and voted against the bill. So did the other teacher on the House Standing Committee on Education, Marie Poulson (D-Salt Lake City).

“Why is it ok for us to supersede the elected school board officials and dictate curriculum in their area?” she asked. “What about high school counselors? Would we limit discussion? That's the language in the bill.”

From the student perspective, one student from West High spoke alongside her mother against the bill and in favor of much more in depth sexual education even than we have right now.

She was the only person under the age of twenty whose voice was heard as part of the decision making process.

Lest you think that those students and teachers who lobbied in committee are simply partisan ideologues, other teachers felt exactly the same way.

“Kids need to know what their options are,” said Patti Hendricks, a teacher from Sunset Bridge Middle School in West Jordan, who was at the capitol last week with the Utah Education Association.

Allowing districts to opt out entirely of sex education classes would mean thousands of kids would have no idea what type of options and advice are available to them.

“It should be the school’s job to present facts,” added Kathryn Welch, a former teacher from Jordan School District, also at the capitol with the UEA. “The family can take their values and apply them,” she noted, “but it’s not the place of schools to indoctrinate kids on what’s right and what isn’t.”

Let’s summarize what we’ve learned.

This bill will affect teachers and students, and most teachers and students oppose it.

In a sane and rational world, the bill would die based on that alone.

But a Legislature where the voices of the Eagle Forum, the Sutherland Institute, and entrenched ideologies drown out the voices that will actually be affected is hardly sane and rational.

On a good day, it's hypocritical and disconnected. Right now it's threatening students’ well being.

Legislators who have so often preached about the need for less government control have no problem mandating what cannot be talked about. Our leaders clearly do not trust students or teachers enough decide what discussions should happen.

And that contradicts the painfully obvious need for complete open discussion.

49 percent of teenage mothers aged 15-17 in Utah thought that they could not get pregnant when they conceived, and a shocking 24 percent thought that they or their partner was sterile, according to a study conducted for the Center for Disease Control and reported by The Salt Lake Tribune.

22 percent of those mothers stated that they had a hard time getting birth control.

Yet Governor Gary Herbert was quoted in The Tribune before the first committee meeting on the bill as saying "I think how we have it right now works pretty well."

If that's our state's definition of education that "works pretty well," we're in serious trouble.