SALT LAKE CITY - A Senate panel advanced legislation Tuesday morning that would allow local school districts to use up to eight school days for teacher development without the districts being financially penalized for holding fewer school days.
Under current law, a portion of the formula that hands out state money to schools depends on schools meeting the classroom requirement of 180 school days. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, argued before the committee that the teachers can become better at their jobs if they have those extra days for professional development.
"I cannot find, and I have asked, any longitudinal research that shows that 180 days, 990 hours, equates to academic achievement. What we do show in research is when class is held, it is impactful and it is important for a student to be there," said Osmond. "When a teacher is highly-trained and they have time to prepare for their classes, they have a significant impact on academic results in the classroom."
Osmond's bill, S.B. 103, is a scaled-down version of a proposal that he announced in 2013. Osmond proposed legislation last year that would give school districts greater autonomy with the 180 school day calendar. Osmond wanted to empower the local districts to decide what would be an appropriate amount of time for their students to attend school during a school year instead of a statewide requirement.
He explained to the committee that he had to back away from that proposal because of the funding stipulations tied to school days held in Utah law. He then went back to the drawing board and came up with this current proposal to allow for eight fewer school days, without a financial penalty, as long as the days are being used for teacher training.
The bill received a less than favorable review from the Utah Education Association, the largest teacher organization in the state. Sara Jones, director of education excellence for UEA, praised Osmond for attempting to find a way to give teachers more professional development time, but said having fewer instructional days for Utah's students was not beneficial to Utah's school system.
Jones stated with the increasing amount of time being given to testing in the state and with teacher compensation in some areas being more aligned with student performances, it would not be advantageous to Utah's schools to have less instructional time. Jones said the UEA would prefer that the Legislature restore funding to Utah's education system to pre-recession levels, which would give the schools millions to use for teacher professional development.
Questions about the bill were also raised by Geoff Leonard, with the Utah School Employees Association - which represents the school bus drivers, secretaries and lunchroom workers in the state. Leonard explained the bill would potentially mean eight fewer days those workers would be paid. He said his organization could not support the legislation unless there were some changes made to the bill to benefit those employees.
Osmond said he plans to meet with Leonard before he presents the bill to the full body of the Senate. The bill passed unanimously.