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Parents may face fewer school fees

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School districts would get $50 per secondary student to eliminate textbook fees and educators would be required to take professional development classes under two draft bills endorsed Wednesday by the Education Interim Committee.

Rep. Tammy Rowan, R-Orem, called the textbook legislation a win-win for parents and schools."We're saying fees now are a burden on families," said Rowan, who has paid $500 in lab, book and activity fees. "We're saying we want to help ease that burden for parents struggling to get by."

But the committee's vote to endorse the bill was narrow.

An opponent, Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, said high school students can get jobs and pay their own textbook fees. She expects "healthy debate" on the bill during the next Legislature, which begins in January.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, questioned whether education had an extra $11 million to hand out in the form of a tax credit to parents, though Rowan argued that is not the bill's intent.

Textbook-fee elimination (or reduction, depending on the district), recommended by a task force headed by Alpine Superintendent Steven Baugh, would cost up to $12 million. But the bill does not ask for the money. Rather, the Utah Board of Education's budget proposal seeks $12 million in supplemental funding, which could be in education coffers by next spring.

School districts with leftover funds would put the balances toward reducing or eliminating other fees.

"We believe public education ought not to be funded upon fees, particularly for something like textbooks," Baugh said.

A textbook fee could be required for concurrent enrollment courses, however, and school boards may require refundable textbook deposits to offset book- damage costs. The bill would take effect July 1 if passed.

The committee also endorsed a draft bill to require educators, from superintendents to teachers, to participate in professional development to keep their certification. Teachers now are required to teach three out of every five years to maintain certification.

"We don't only want our students to be lifelong learners. We want our teachers to be lifelong learners," said Phyllis Sorensen, president of the Utah Education Association. "Ultimately, what we do would impact a higher level of student achievement."

The draft proposal is short and unspecific. But the legislation aims to give educators a variety of professional development offerings, from college courses to symposiums, and time in which to do it. The training would help teachers meet the needs of diverse student populations and foster deeper levels of subject knowledge, among other goals.

It would not be a repeat of the old college credits requirement for certification, thrown out because teachers were taking courses on the level of basket-weaving rather than rigorous study, said Ron Stanfield, state coordinator of certification and professional development.

A task force of educators, lawmakers and parents are examining practices in other states to help foster ideas for implementation and quality assurance. Concepts would face public hearings and final approval from the Utah Board of Education. Costs of implementation, set for fall 2000, are unknown.

Rowan, the sole opponent to endorsing the bill, said endorsement was premature given the variables.