Utah Democrats Unveil Education Bills, Take Swipe at Classroom Technology Proposal

It was sort of a throwaway line at the beginning of the Utah Democrats’ press conference unveiling their educational initiatives for the 2014 session.


“There’s always a lot of talk about education up here during the session, and sometimes there is action,” said Rep. Joel Briscoe. “We know that the Speaker has proposed a technology program that will cost nine-figures. We, as Democrats, believe it’s not how much you spend on education, but where you spend that matters.”

If the press conference had been a Jerry Springer episode, there would have been multiple people yelling “Oh, no he didn’t!”

But this is the Capitol, so reaction was a little more sedate.

Lockhart is reportedly working on a proposal, dubbed by some Capitol wags as “BeckySTEM,” that would spend up to nearly a third of a billion dollars on technology in Utah’s schools. That proposal will likely frame any education funding talk moving forward during the 2014 session.

“If I had $300 million to spend on schools, would I spend the whole amount on technology for students? No, I would not,” said Briscoe. “I don’t think it’s the best use of that money. It’s not a wise investment.”

Democrats unveiled a series of education proposals Wednesday afternoon, including an initiative by Rep. Tim Cosgrove to spend $25 million in an effort to restore teacher development days that were eliminated during recessionary budget cuts.

“For years we have asked teachers to do more with less. This will help restore some of those dollars and give teachers resources they need to give students best education they can,” said Cosgrove. “We need to find a way to ensure long-term sustainable funding for education, something our caucus has prioritized for years. We can’t maintain growth. All we can do is maintain the status quo.”

Sen. Pat Jones is once again pushing her bill to eliminate the child tax credit on state income taxes, which would funnel millions of dollars into public education. This is the 12th year Jones has sponsored the measure, and her last shot as she is retiring at the end of the year.

“This would expand those badly needed resources for schools,” Jones said, pointing out that the money would stay at the local level because it would be controlled by community councils. “Local control would help build local communities, because more people would be interested in running for community council.”

Jones says her bill would also create an estimated 4,000 new jobs.

But, realistically, any measure to fix Utah’s chronically underfunded schools will simply be a band-aid on a gaping wound.

“Utah’s schools have been underfunded for so long we don’t need to remind you where Utah ranks,” said Briscoe. “The usual topic is how far we’ve fallen behind lowest state in funding. It will take $365 million just to close the gap between us and Idaho.”