Tech Heavy Education Bill Advances in Committee

edu$Public school reform legislation proposed by House Speaker Becky Lockhart (Republican – Provo) and sponsored by Representative Francis Gibson (Republican – Mapleton) received a favorable recommendation from the House Education Committee Wednesday morning. It advanced on a 13-1 vote, with Representative Jim Nielson (Republican – Bountiful) casting the lone dissenting vote.

HB 131 would require the State Board of Education to develop and implement an initiative to modernize public education in Utah. They would be charged with designing a master plan and requesting proposals for education consulting and education technology providers.

Requirements would be also be established for school districts to be involved in a grant program related to the initiative. In addition, school districts that construct buildings after July 1, 2015 will be required to meet technology infrastructure requirements. The Smart School Technology Program would also be repealed.

According to the bill, in fiscal year 2015, $150 million from the General Fund and $50 from the Education Fund would be appropriated specifically to fund the technology initiative. The latter would be a one-time appropriation, while the former would be an ongoing expense for the state to support the program.

Several people weighed in on both the pros and cons of the bill.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, feels that children should still learn to read from books in addition to technology. Peter Cannon, a member of the Davis School Board who wasn’t speaking on behalf of the board, urged legislators to move quicker on getting technology in schools.

Representative Rich Cunningham (Republican – South Jordan) had concerns about funding, but supports the bill because he believes that Utah needs to move forward with technology upgrades. “We need to be the architects of change and not the victims of change. We, right now, we are the victims in many cases in what we’re doing in the state of Utah, in all areas.”

The high price tag associated with the bill may make it a tough sell for lawmakers who, earlier in the session, created a cumulative appropriations wish list that is estimated to be over $800 million over-budget.

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