Last Minute School Technology Bills Pass
Salt Lake Tribune
by Lisa Schencker
March 5, 2012
With less than four days to go before the end of this legislative session, the Utah Senate passed three school technology bills Monday that got their first public hearing that same day.
The three bills together originally could have cost nearly $7 million but by the end of the day were whittled down to about $1 million.
SB217 would require the state school board to develop new print and online, interactive math textbooks based on new Common Core standards, allocating $500,000 to contract with providers. SB216 asks for $450,000 to allow the state school board to contract with a provider to expand digital safety measures in junior highs and high schools.
SB248 originally asked for about $6 million over three years to create a pilot program in which 10 Utah schools would have gotten school-wide, integrated technology and technology training. But bill sponsor Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, changed the bill dramatically later in the day after learning no funding would be available for it.
Instead, the bill would now allow entities hoping to implement technology innovations in schools to apply for money out of a fund within the Governor’s Office of Economic Development — but it has no immediate cost attached.
First-year Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, who is sponsoring the first two bills, said he wasn’t able to introduce them earlier because they had not yet been written, calling the delay a "freshman mistake" and apologizing for it. He also said Monday morning, during a special Senate Education Committee meeting, he understood that meant the bills might not get funding. Committee meetings were supposed to have ended last week.
"We recognize there’s a chance these will not be funded but felt it was important to hear these bills in detail because they are important to our kids," Osmond said.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, noted Monday morning that lawmakers could have sent the bills straight to the Senate floor, bypassing committee, but felt it would be better to hear them in committee first.
"We could suspend the rules but that always makes the bill suspect so it’s better to have the legislation actually have a hearing," Stephenson said.
Stephenson supported all three bills, saying "our local school boards have been derelict in protecting our children" and many schools aren’t using technology effectively.
He said the current state of school technology is in "shambles."
"It is pathetic what is going on with our current IT [information technology] directors," Stephenson said.
Former Utah First Lady Jacalyn Leavitt also testified in support of SB216, saying cyberbullying is a big problem in Utah schools.
She said now the Generation Safe program, which provides tools and training for teachers to help protect students from danger online, is in about half of Utah school districts. She said another $450,000 would allow the program to expand into more schools, if it won the contract. The program was developed by the Internet Keep Safe
Coalition, a nonprofit international alliance, chaired and founded by Leavitt.
Others, however, expressed some concerns with the late bills.
Kory Holdaway, with the Utah Education Association (UEA), said teachers aren’t opposed to technology, but, "It gives us worry that we are assuming because we’ve got this technology that the need for or the importance of a classroom teacher is being overlooked."
And State Superintendent Larry Shumway did not speak in support or opposition of the bills, but he urged lawmakers to remember that other important programs — such as those for at-risk students — still have yet to receive all the funding the state school board has requested. He also asked lawmakers to make sure the bills are written as broadly as possible so as to attract proposals from a variety of vendors.
The bills now go to the House.