Utah State House & Senate Democrats Unveil the Best Schools Initiative

The future of Utah’s children is in danger as we let the quality of our Neighborhood Schools slip. Utah has allowed itself to become not only the 50th ranked state in the nation for how many resources we are willing to put towards our children’s education, but also 42nd in quality.

The teachers in Utah are the finest in the nation, but they are not miracle workers. If we truly wish to leave the next generation of Utahns a better world than the one we were given, we must immediately work to ensure that they are given the tools for success.

This year we are introducing the Best Schools Initiative, a product of months of work by both Utah State House and Utah State Senate legislators, to ensure that our children are able to perform and compete with the rest of the nation.

The primary focus of the Best Schools Initiative is to provide every Utah child with 4 things:

  • A Great Teacher
  • Individualized Attention
  • A World-Class Curriculum
  • Family and Neighborhood Support

For years, Utah has worked to make our state #1 in business, economic development, technology and tourism. As a result, we now have the resources to make our neighborhood schools #1 in the nation as well. As caretakers and stewards, why wouldn’t we use these resources to work on the long-term security of our future? The Best Schools Initiative is designed to wisely plan for the future – to bring in new jobs, businesses, economic strength and prosperity.
“The Best Schools Initiative has the potential to change the future of our neighborhood schools,” added Representative Carol Spackman Moss. “No less than the future of Utah depends on our willingness to take the appropriate steps now in our schools, to ensure the economic strength and prosperity of tomorrow.”“The teachers in our schools plant the seeds in our children’s hearts and minds that will last throughout their lives.” said Senator Ben McAdams. “We must ensure that those seeds are nurtured and allowed to grow.”



Summary of Bills in the Best Schools Initiative:

Class Size Reduction in Grades K-3
Senator Karen Morgan

SB31 is a five year plan to limit the number of students in academic classes. The caps would be asfollows:18 in kindergarten, 20 in first grade, 22 in second grade and 24 in third grade. Or, it wouldrequire teachers’ aides, known as paraprofessionals, in larger classes. 

Paraprofessionals for Struggling Schools

Not yet numbered
Senator Karen Mayne
Under the proposal, struggling schools would be able to hire additional paraprofessionals to assistteachers in the classroom and work individually with students who may not be receiving the attentionthey need.

Concurrent Resolution Encouraging Parental Engagement in the Education of Children
Not yet numbered
Senator Patricia Jones
A key to children doing well in school is for parents to be involved in their education. This concurrentresolution will encourage parents, communities, and neighborhoods to be engaged in Utah’s schools sothat our children may have every opportunity to succeed.

Publication of Education Fund Revenue Reductions
Senator Ben McAdams
SB117 introduces a plan to restructure our education fund by prioritizing growth.

Targeted Help for Underachieving Students
Not Yet Numbered
Representative Brian Doughty
Designed specifically to increase academic achievement, this bill will create additional assistance forscholastic after-school programs such as tutoring.

Teacher Mentoring Bill Summary
Not Yet Numbered
Representative Carol Spackman Moss
This bill would appropriate funds for a school district to implement a program called Peer Assistanceand Review using expert teachers to conduct regular evaluations for novice teachers andunderperforming veterans. Although it places much of the evaluation responsibility on peers, it requiresa team of teachers and administrators to manage it. It would address two problems: (1) Nearly half of all teachers leave the profession within five years (2) The growing concern about the continuedemployment of ineffective teachers. This program would also provide struggling teachers withintensive assistance and assessments of progress.

College and Career Counseling for High School Students
Representative Patrice Arent
Appropriates new funding to create the College and Career Counseling for High School Students PilotProgram. The goal of the program is to increase the number of students pursuing post-secondaryeducation by having a counselor who is a specialist in the college admissions process and scholarships.The State Office of Education will provide 18 specialists using interns who are students in collegemasters programs studying high school counseling. These students will be given special training onadmissions and scholarships, then placed with high schools. This program is necessary because Utah’shigh school counselors have some of the highest workloads in the nation. On average, Utah high schoolcounselors work with over 360 students, well above the recommended number. Many high schoolcounselors are barely able to keep up with making sure their students are registered for the right classes and deal with problems that occur on a daily basis. With respect to college counseling, students getlimited help. It takes specialized knowledge to understand the complexities of the college admissions process and identify scholarship opportunities, particularly for some of the very competitive collegesoutside our state. High schools that have these specialists are much more successful getting their students into post secondary programs and obtaining scholarships. The pilot program will utilize the resources of Utah’s new online program – utahfutures.org

Quality Teachers
Not Yet Numbered
Representative Brian King
This bill will put into place a more fair and streamlined process for identifying and either remediatingor terminating teachers who fall below accepted performance standards.

Resolution on World-Class Curriculum
Not Yet Numbered
Representative Marie Poulson
While we recognize that competency in reading, writing and math is the foundation for all other learning, and that these core subjects must be a major focus for schools, a quality education goes far  beyond competency in these core subjects. For Utah’s children we want to have quality education, nottest-orientated education.
Our public schools must have a rich and diverse curriculum that allows students to soar and not just to score–a strong core curriculum, along with a wide variety of electivesand broad enrichment opportunities that include the arts, music, science, history, literature, foreignlanguages, physical education, career and technology training.
Narrowing the curriculum in responseto grading schools and evaluating teachers has already prompted some districts to drop art, physical education and other non-tested subjects. It is imperative that Utah’s children have a rich, diverse,world-class curriculum to provide them with the tools to be creative, innovative, and critical thinkers–the most sought after assets in the 21st century.

Resolution On Student Health and School Efficiency
HJR 001
Representative Mark Wheatley
This resolution encourages the Utah State Board of Education to consider the broader application of thedesign and construction practices for green schools, both for new construction and major renovation projects undertaken with school district funds in order to increase the health and well-being of studentsand faculty, as well as greater efficiency in schools.

Professional Preparation
Not Yet Numbered
Representative Joel Briscoe
Rep. Briscoe’s bill will provide every Utah teacher an additional day to prepare for school. Professional preparation days were cut in almost every Utah school district the past three years as school districtstruggled to balance budgets. Additional time to prepare for the school year is an important part of supporting quality teachers.

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