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The City Journals

Utah Educator Day on the Hill Brings Teachers to the Legislature

May 05, 2016 11:56AM ● By Stephanie Lauritzen

By Stephanie Lauritzen

Cottonwood Heights - Is it possible for parents, teacher, and government officials to all work together to improve education? CEA President Jen Buttars believes it’s possible.  Every year During the Utah Legislative session, Canyons Education Association members and teachers from around the state of Utah meet with legislative members each Friday to participate in Educator Day on the Hill, an event sponsored by the Utah Education Association designed to facilitate collaboration between teachers and legislatures.  

“We help the community as a whole by being a voice for educators when they can’t be. Together with PTA, we help paint a picture for leaders about the successes and the needs our students. We are ultimately and primarily concerned with providing a high quality education to every student regardless of their zip code,” Buttars said. 

This year, teachers fought for an increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit, or WPU. The WPU is the funding mechanism through which districts receive their money from the states, and then allocated through the district yearly budget. According to Buttars, an increase in the WPU would give districts greater decision making power in funding their individual schools. “. I believe that each local district, working with their employee associations, is the best place to make decisions that impact students. For example, who better to know about the needs of Bell View Elementary, or any local school, than the patrons and employees of that school and the district personnel who support us?”

At the end of this year’s session, educators were dismayed to see the WPU raised only 3%. In a letter written to the legislature, UEA President Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh noted that educators “believe Utah public school students are best served by allocating as much funding as possible directly to the WPU. Specifically, we are requesting that rather than designate line items for technology, professional development or other earmarked uses, those funds be rolled into the WPU.” 

Buttars agrees with this assessment. “As a point of reference, we have not yet returned to pre-recession levels of education spending, in spite of a healthy Utah economy. There was much debate this session about the use of block grants and other ‘below the line’ funding mechanisms. While these may raise the money that districts receive, it often comes with requirements attached which may or may not be in the best interest of the students of that district. This also takes funding from the WPU, which again, is where the most local control of resources is available.”

The Utah Superintendents Association, UEA and the Utah School Board Association all requested a 4.5-5% increase in WPU as part of a solution to Utah’s teacher shortage. In another part of her letter to the legislature, Gallagher-Fishbaugh said “We face arguably the most critical teacher shortage of our lifetime. A student today faces a greater chance of sitting in a classroom with an unqualified teacher than perhaps ever in modern history.”

Despite setbacks, Buttars remains optimistic that parents and teachers can make a difference in improving Utah education. “Get out there and do it. Be a part of your PTA, either with your time or your dues. Run for a position on your School Community Council. Reach out to your child’s teachers,” Buttars said. She likewise believes the relationship between teachers and legislatures remains important.

“I want to emphasize that the UEA has a very collaborative relationship with most of our legislators. Oftentimes the legislators are open and receptive to the input of the UEA. This year, the UEA is working to help legislators understand that the teacher shortage is here in Utah. We need the most money possible on the WPU in order for each district to recruit and retain the best of the best teachers for Utah’s children.”