Legislative Updates

2/2/2022: Update Summary of SB 127 1st Substitution


Subject: Summary of SB 127, 1st. Sub    Early literacy outcomes improvement

To whom it may concern:

 SB 127, 1st Sub. (Early literacy outcomes improvement) is Sen. Millner’s attempt at pushing Utah’s public schools to have 70% of students at grade level in literacy by the end of 3rd grade. Her target date for achieving that 70% threshold is July 1, 2027. At present Utah schools stand at about 44%, so this is an ambitious goal.

 The bill proposes several simultaneous efforts to achieve that goal. First, a statewide literacy panel[1] will be the research base LEAs and the State Board will turn to for effective learning modules, curricula and other teacher resources.[2] The 1st Sub requires LEAs to select early literacy curricula and intervention programs[3] that are based around the science of reading, as advised by the statewide literacy panel.[4]

Second, all elementary school teachers and principals[5] must take a science of reading course,[6] and pass a literacy preparation assessment.[7] The science of reading course is almost certain to be LETRS,[8] and teachers will have the option of demonstrating competency instead of taking the assessment.

 Third, the State Board will provide trained literacy coaches to schools with low literacy rates. These literacy coaches will coach teachers in grades K-3.[9] At a minimum, schools with low literacy rates include schools in the bottom ¼ of schools in literacy performance (as defined by the State Board) and schools participating in the Partnerships for Student Success Grant Program (PSSGP).[10] Fourth, regional professional learning consultants will support the efforts of LEAs and RESAs in designing research-informed/-based professional learning that meet existing standards.

 The bill also requires the State Board to “partner” with a private business or non profit that will “annually provide personal, home-use, age-appropriate printed books or digital books with accompanying reading devices to K-3 students who attend a Title 1 school or a school in the PSSGP. The State Board will also “contract” with one or more organizations with expertise organizing community resources to train and coach parent engagement coordinators.[11]

 To accomplish these elements, the State Board will administer several grant programs. One grant program will guarantee that licensees do not have to pay for the first taking of the literacy preparation assessment.[12] Another grant program will pay the costs for an LEA to provide the literacy preparation program (LETRS).[13]

 The bill also has provisions more directly related to higher education. Because they are not my clients, I have not summarized those portions.

[1] The panel may have up to 6 members, and may include legislators. There is good reason to believe professors from Utah State’s Department of Education will form the core of this panel.

[2] In many ways, this bill is designed to guarantee that LEAs implement practices based around the science of reading and instruction in the science of reading. The members of this panel must already be experts in the science of reading, so the research base will reflect that.

[3] It is not clear what these intervention programs might be.

[4] The term “as advised” is designed to leave open the possibility that LEAs may find an appropriate curriculum that the literacy panel had not previously evaluated. In other words, the panel is not supposed to usurp the LEA board’s authority over the LEA’s curriculum.

[5] This list includes special education teachers who do not exclusively serve students with significant cognitive disabilities, LEA administrators over literacy, school psychologists working in an elementary school, an elementary school literacy coach who serves K-3, and current or prospective elementary school principals. All of these people must take this literacy preparation course by July 1, 2025. Teachers within 1 year of retirement and dual language educators (in the target language) also do not need to take the course.

[6] If someone on the list has already taken the early literacy program (i.e., LETRS), that person does not need to take it again. In addition, all license applicants – whether they come through university or Appel preparation programs – must receive instruction in the science of reading.

[7] The 1st Sub. does not require principals to take this literacy preparation assessment. Rather, they and other “LEA leaders” must take a course in “change management,” which the State Board shall provide. In addition, the literacy preparation assessment does not presently exist, or at least the State Board has not chosen what that assessment may be.

[8] LETRS is the module that Mississippi used, whose early literacy program Sen. Millner is copying. In addition, the State Board has trained nearly 9,000 teachers in LETRS, so replacing it with a different course would upset the LEAs and teachers.

[9] The bill acknowledges that these coaches are SBE, not LEA employees. Whereas the original bill directed the State Board to determine lines of authority in this relationship, the 1st Sub. describes the roles that these coaches may play, and attempts to make LEA leadership and the SBE partners in selecting which coach will go to which school. The State Board creates a pool of qualified coaches, and then each LEA works with the State Board to select a coach for a given school.

[10] Schools participating in this grant program must also now focus on grade 3 mathematics, in addition to the other subject areas already in statute.

[11] It is not clear who these coordinators would be, what they would do, whether there is an organization Sen. Millner or others already have in mind.

[12] License applicants may take the literacy preparation assessment up to 3 times. The applicant is responsible for the cost of taking the assessment after the first time. Educator preparation programs, including Appel programs, will have an obligation to provide ongoing support for license applicants whom they prepared, but did not pass the assessment on the first or second try.

[13] Whether some or all LEAs will to have to come out of pocket to provide this training will depend in large measure on how much the Legislature appropriates.

DOWNLOAD DOCUMENT HERE


1/26/2022: Please read the following Summary of SB 127 (click to download), and share your thoughts with Royce at royce@utahcharters.org or call/text at (801) 836-7028 AND Senator Millner at amillner@le.utah.gov.


January 25, 2022

 

Subject: Summary of SB 127, Early literacy outcomes improvement

 

To whom it may concern:

SB 127 (Early literacy outcomes improvement) is Sen. Millner’s attempt at pushing Utah’s public schools to have 70% of students at grade level in literacy by the end of 3rd grade. Her target date for achieving that 70% threshold is July 1, 2027. At present Utah schools stand at about 44%, so this is an ambitious goal.

 The bill proposes several simultaneous efforts to achieve that goal. First, a statewide literacy panel[1] will be the research base LEAs and the State Board will turn to for effective learning modules, curricula and other teacher resources.[2] The first draft of the bill suggests LEAs will have to select early literacy curricula from a list pre-approved by this panel. Based on conversations with Sen. Millner, that is not the intent, and a forthcoming substitute should reflect that.[3]

 Second, all elementary school teachers and principals[4] must take a science of reading course,[5] and pass a literacy preparation assessment.[6] The science of reading course is almost certain to be LETRS,[7] and teachers and principals will have the option of demonstrating competency instead of taking the assessment.

 Third, the State Board will provide trained literacy coaches to schools with low literacy rates. These literacy coaches will coach teachers in grades K-3.[8] At a minimum, schools with low literacy rates include schools in the bottom ¼ of schools in literacy performance (as defined by the State Board) and schools participating in the Partnerships for Student Success Grant Program.[9] Fourth, regional professional learning consultants will support the efforts of LEAs and RESAs in designing research-informed/-based professional learning that meet existing standards.

The bill also requires the State Board to “partner” with a private business or non profit that will “annually provide personal, home-use, age-appropriate printed books or digital books with accompanying reading devices to K-3 students who attend a Title 1 school or a school in the PSSGP. The State Board will also “contract” with one or more organizations with expertise organizing community resources to train and coach parent engagement coordinators.[10]

 To accomplish these elements, the State Board will administer several grant programs. One grant program will guarantee that licensees do not have to pay for the first taking of the literacy preparation assessment.[11] Another grant program will pay the costs for an LEA to provide the literacy preparation program (LETRS).[12]

The bill also has other provisions more directly related to higher education. Because they are not my clients, I have not summarized those portions.

[1] The panel may have up to 6 members, and may include legislators. There is good reason to believe professors from Utah State’s Department of Education will form the core of this panel.

[2] In many ways, this bill is designed to guarantee that LEAs implement practices based around the science of reading and instruction in the science of reading. The members of this panel must already be experts in the science of reading, so the research base will reflect that.

[3] It Is not at all clear how Sen. Millner will react when (inevitably) one or more LEAs adopts an early learning curriculum that does not implement the science of reading.

[4] This list includes special education teachers who do not exclusively serve students with significant cognitive disabilities, LEA administrators over literacy, school psychologists working in an elementary school, an elementary school literacy coach who serves K-3, and current or prospective elementary school principals. All of these people must take this literacy preparation course by July 1, 2025. Teachers within 1 year of retirement and dual language educators (in the target language) also do not need to take the course.

[5] If someone on the list has already taken the early literacy program (i.e., LETRS), that person does not need to take it again. In addition, all license applicants – whether they they come through university or Appel preparation programs, must receive instruction in the science of reading.

[6] This assessment does not presently exist, or at least the State Board has not chosen what that assessment may be.

[7] LETRS is the module that Mississippi used, whose early literacy program Sen. Millner is copying. In addition, the State Board has trained nearly 9,000 teachers in LETRS, so replacing it with a different course would upset the LEAs and teachers.

[8] The bill acknowledges that these coaches are SBE, not LEA employees. In that regard, it empowers the State Board, by rule, to “define lines of authority and responsibility between a literacy coach, the school principal, the LEA and the state board” (see lines 167-168). However, the bill also says that the State Board shall have one staff position supervise these coaches. Presumably that’s an SBE employee, though the language is not dispositive.

[9] Schools participating in this grant program must also now focus on grade 3 mathematics, in addition to the other subject areas already in statute.

[10] It is not at all clear who these coordinators would be, what they would do, whether there is an organization Sen. Millner or others already have in mind.

[11] License applicants may take the literacy preparation assessment up to 3 times. The applicant is responsible for the cost of taking the assessment after the first time. Educator preparation programs, including Appel programs, will have an obligation to provide ongoing support for license applicants whom they prepared, but did not pass the assessment on the first or second try.

[12] It is difficult to tell whether they expect some or all LEAs to have to come out of pocket to provide this training.

DOWNLOAD DOCUMENT HERE
 

Click on table to download a PDF of this page. Listen to our Climbing the Hill podcast about this week.

See the first week bills:

Op-Ed, Deseret News, 1/14/22

https://www.deseret.com/opinion/2022/1/14/22878963/utah-legislature-education-funding-restricted-money-programs-evidence-based

Opinion: Utah should lift restrictions on education dollars

The Utah Legislature uses about 60 separate funding streams to provide more than $5 billion per year to Utah’s 41 school districts and 135 charter schools

By Chris Fawson and M. Royce Van Tassell  Jan 14, 2022, 7:01am MST

The Utah Legislature uses about 60 separate funding streams to provide more than $5 billion per year to Utah’s 41 school districts and 135 charter schools. Roughly three-quarters of that money has virtually no strings attached. The school board in Washington County can use that money to meet its students’ needs. The Alpine school board can and does use its share of that money quite differently, because its students and teachers and staff have different needs.

With that last quarter (just over $1 billion), the Legislature restricts how school leaders may spend those dollars. If you want your share of paraeducator funding, you need to follow R277-324 and UCA 53F-2-411. If you want your share of the funding for accelerated students, you have to follow R277-707 and UCA 53F-2-408. And so on.

One way to think about these restrictions is to compare that funding to a piano. With unrestricted funding, school boards and administrators can play whatever music they want. If their students need The Killers, they can play that. If their students need Beethoven, they can play that. With restricted funds, however, school boards and administrators can play only one tune. The students in a given district may not respond to that tune, but that is the tune.

These restrictions do not alter a school’s obligation to meet the needs of its students. Those obligations exist in state and federal statutes, independent of how schools pay to meet those needs. The restrictions only limit how schools can meet their students’ needs.

Utah’s restrictions are hardly unique. The most recent survey of states’ education budgets (2013) shows that the number of restricted “programs” in state education budgets ranged from one (Florida and Montana) to 64 (Iowa). Remember, Utah has 60! Legislators restrict funding either because they believe this regulatory structure will get more money to the students who need it, and/or because they believe that legislators are better consumers of the research on what will improve outcomes in public education.

The problem is, there is little reason to believe either of those assumptions. As researchers Thomas Timar and Marguerite Roza write, “No consistent evidence proves such programs do, indeed, have their intended effects.” In other words, the restrictions legislatures across the country place on how schools can use state education funds do not change the outcomes of the students they hope to target.

Even more troubling, the restrictions placed on these streams of funding create enormous burdens on local and state school leaders. For each program, school administrators and principals have to complete reports describing how they used the funds. Then the State Board of Education has to audit and monitor each of those streams of funding to make sure the schools used them according to the restrictions.

To change the analogy, school leaders at the state and local level spend oodles of time worrying about how much sugar went into a cupcake, rather than whether the cupcake actually tastes good. If these restrictions don’t actually move the academic needle, the restrictions are well-intended, burdensome and, it appears, unsuccessful.

So, what should Utah’s legislators do? Instead of using 60 separate programs with scores of restrictions, why not narrow the field of restricted funding programs to those where evidence suggests they can have the most impact on student learning outcomes?

It seems more reasonable to let local school boards, school administrators and teachers who have daily interaction with our children, and their students, decide what tune to play, what kind of cupcake to make. Our trusted local boards are most likely to know the learning needs of their students better than our good friends on Capitol Hill.

Let’s lower bureaucratic burdens where possible and move more of our limited education resources to where they can have an enduring impact on the lives and learning experiences of Utah’s children.

Chris Fawson researches the economics of education at Utah State University. M. Royce Van Tassell is executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools.

1/13/2022: The latest notice regarding Test to Stay Program during the pandemic:

Letter from Governor Spencer Cox, State Senator Stuart Adams, State Representative Brad Wilson, and State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson:

DOWNLOAD LETTER HERE

Our Representatives:
Senator Mitt Romney(385) 264-7885 Ogden Office
(801) 524-4380 Salt Lake City Office
(801) 515-7230 Spanish Fork Office
(435) 522-7100 St. George Office
(202) 224-5251 Washington DC Office
https://www.romney.senate.gov/contact
Senator Mike Lee(435) 628-5514 St. George Office
(801) 392-9633 Ogden Office
(801) 524-5933 Salt Lake City Office
(202) 224-5444 Washington DC Office
https://www.lee.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact
Representative Burgess Owens(801) 999-9801 West Jordan Office
(202) 225-3011 Washington DC Office
https://owens.house.gov/contact
Representative John Curtis(801) 922-5400 Provo Office
(202) 225-7751 Washington DC Office
https://curtis.house.gov/email/
Representative Blake Moore(801) 625-0107 Ogden Office
(202) 225-0453 Washington DC Office
https://blakemoore.house.gov/contact/
Representative Chris Stewart(801) 364-5550 Bountiful Office
(435) 627-1500 St. George Office
(202) 225-9730 Washington DC Office
https://stewart.house.gov/contact/