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Panel OKs state aid to teach character

Utah's character education programs could receive up to $600,000 in state funds in fiscal year 1999 - $50,000 more than this year - the Joint Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee narrowly voted Friday.

The programs would have received no funding under legislative fiscal analyst recommendations.Character education received $550,000 this year. Programs include Community of Caring in the Salt Lake City and Granite school districts. Similar programs incorporating values into the curriculum are in place in about half of Utah's 40 school districts.

Dozens of emotional educators, students and parents earlier this week pleaded with the subcommittee to restore funding to the programs.

"We feel pleased with the committee's vote and know this will help to continue our efforts in character education," said Superintendent Darline Robles of the Salt Lake City School District. "Hopefully, other districts that haven't participated will have the opportunity."

Granite School District spokesman Kent Gardner called the programs critical to education.

"This is great news for Granite School District," he said. "We've invested a great deal into this."

The committee approved funding recommended by Rep. Lamont Tyler, R-Salt Lake. The programs will receive $400,000 in ongoing funds, taken from a $9 million recommended appropriation for educational technology initiatives. The initiative will compete with other identified budgetary priorities to get back that amount.

Character education also could receive $200,000 in one-time funding in competing for budgetary priority.

Rep. Tammy Rowan, R-Orem, opposed the funding, which she said would yank school districts' ability to implement programs at their discretion.

Also opposing the measure was Rep. Bill Wright, R-Elberta, who read a student letter praising character education programs for discussing drugs, AIDS and protected sexual intercourse.

"Apparently some of the stuff taught in the programs is not conforming with what we have in the state code," which stresses abstinence before marriage, Wright said.

Con Rowley, the governor's fiscal analyst, said such lessons are not appropriate under state law. But he believed more good than bad comes out of the programs.

Sen. Millie Peterson, R-West Valley, agreed. "When you teach honesty and integrity, does that not encompass every aspect of life?"