Educators can't use an anti-voucher workshop at the Utah Education Association's annual convention next week as credit toward renewing their licenses, the State Office of Education determined Tuesday.
The State Office of Education has long given teachers one point toward license renewal for every UEA workshop they attend.
But one convention offering this year, "Understanding the 'Ouch' in Vouchers," apparently dips a toe too far into the political pool.
"We're framing the decision around (the fact that) licensure points are about improving teacher quality," said Sydnee Dickson, state director of educator quality and licensing. "This doesn't seem tightly aligned with teacher quality ... (or) rules for licensure points."
"This spurs us to send a reminder (to school district leaders) during this time of year that political ... workshops would not be appropriate for credit toward relicensure," State Associate Superintendent Larry Shumway said. "We've already sent out numerous communications from the state office giving advice to districts about what are and aren't acceptable political activities, and ... we'll include this in the next one."
Generally, teachers need 100 points to renew their licenses every five years. Points can be earned through activities including taking college classes, preapproved educational travel or UEA convention workshops — this year's crop of 47 range from "Inquiry-based Science: Chemistry that Matters" and "Identifying Root Causes of Achievement Gaps."
District administrators sign off on earned points to be submitted online to the State Office of Education, Shumway said. While the state doesn't comb through every submission, regular audits assure that all is on the up and up.
"Understanding the 'Ouch' in Vouchers" will include information on Utah's voucher bill, which offers $500 to $3,000 for private school tuition based on family income; Referendum 1, which asks voters whether Utah should keep the voucher bill; and why the UEA thinks the law is flawed and fails Utah families, said UEA director of political action and government relations, Vik Arnold, who is teaching the class.
The workshop came at teachers' requests for more information on the issue, UEA spokesman Mark Mickelsen said.
"I never thought people were going to get relicensure credit for it; we assumed people would be expecting to have an opportunity there to learn more about Referendum 1 and why we think people should be against Referendum 1," Arnold said. "Maybe we need to make that clear up front."
The UEA is a vocal voucher opponent and strong political force in Utah. An anti-voucher demonstration will help kick off this year's convention.
The voucher issue has raised questions about public schools and political issues in recent weeks. The Lt. Governor's Office is looking into whether the Utah PTA is within the law for disseminating anti-voucher information on school grounds, or whether the group will need to classify itself as a Political Issues Committee to do so.
State law prohibits public schools from spending public funds or providing anything of value to influence the outcome of any election. The State Office of Education has reminded school leaders and workers they can't use their position or resources to advocate for political issues before voters and must provide equal access to public buildings, Shumway said.
But the lieutenant governor's office has no problem with the UEA workshop, or if the state wants to give public schoolteachers credit for taking it.
"I don't think it would endear the UEA to a whole lot of folks," said Joe Demma, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, "but they're a private entity and can do what they want."