***Note: this bill has been substituted, this analysis may no longer be valid***
If you have been following our flagged bill series, you know that Senator Aaron Osmond (Republican – South Jordan) has been a staple. The reason for this is simple; earlier in the year, Osmond stated his intention to fundamentally change how public and private education function in the state. Utah Political Capitol has already discussed how Osmond intends to remove State Board of Education requirements for home and privately schooled children and create a Parental Bill of Educational Rights. The third major reform Osmond planned to propose would allow school districts, rather than the State Board of Education, to determine the amount of classroom time appropriate for their students.
Osmond inserts the third leg of his educational reform stool with SB 103 – Local Control of Classroom Time Requirements.
The bill removes the requirement that all school districts have “the equivalent of a school term of nine months as determined by the State Board of Education” and replaces state statute to say that local school districts will determine what amount of time constitutes a sufficient school year. The bill goes on to state that the Minimum School Program (MSP), which is the primary source of funding for schools and school districts, would be determined by average daily membership of a school district rather than through the various state laws that evaluate district size and needs.
These small changes would have a huge effect on both the quantity and quality of education produced within our state, and could place students at a disadvantage.
Osmond has always contended that state policy is too focused on “putting butts in the seats” and not on the quality of the education provided. By allowing school districts to change their requirements to the individual needs of the community they represent, Osmond argues, school districts would be better able to tailor classroom time to the needs of their community.
This policy, however, would create disparities between school districts when it comes to total amount of knowledge created in students. If the Salt Lake City School District chooses to stick to the traditional 990 hours / 180 day system and the Nebo District chooses to drop to a 880 hour / 160 day school year, a student in the Salt Lake District would receive nearly a grade and a half more of education over their K-12 academic career. Osmond has countered that educational disparities already exist between schools and school districts thanks to things such as International Baccalaureate programs and special needs courses in certain school districts upping averages.
Though it is doubtful that Osmond’s intention is to create further disparity between districts, this policy would have just that effect. Districts already compete for the state’s nearly $3 billion in MSP funds, tying funding to average attendance could be disastrous for education if districts are allowed to set the length of their school years. Suppose a rural district knows that its average attendance is 160 days thanks to traditions such as the annual hunt – Currently, that district is encouraged to keep kids in school to meet academic requirements and funding needs. Under this mode, average daily membership is 88.8%. But, if the rural district is allowed to set its own standards to 160 days a year, average membership would be 100% and more funds would flow to the school compared to a district that stays with the 180. Yes, districts could receive more money under this program, but parents and children would max out their “educational opportunity” 20 days sooner than those that lived in the 180 day system.
In short, this policy harms a child’s potential to learn.
Nothing restricts districts from increasing the number of days within the school year, so the obvious route for districts to take is to at best maintain current levels or reduce class time.
This policy would create a patchwork of school district policies that have the cumulative effect of degrading the quality of education in the state. Osmond is correct when he says that the system is already disparate, but this is due to schools and school districts choosing to raise their standards above the norm, this policy would create disparity by encouraging schools to lower standards.
If Osmond is seeking a way to encourage local control, this is not the route to take.
To contact Senator Osmond, click here or call 801-253-6853.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker