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Session is a roller-coaster for public-education issues

It was an emotional whirlwind for public education during the 2009 legislative session.

A budget bill had charter school supporters sulking. Another piece of legislation drew the ire of PTA moms. And one bill had math geeks singing praises.

Many of the issues also lasted until the final hours, adding to the stress.

Charter school proponents breathed a sigh of relief Thursday as HB2, the public education budget bill for fiscal year 2010, passed the House with amendments left intact. Originally, the legislation prohibited expansion of charter school capacity for the 2010-11 school year. It also gave school districts somewhat of an out when it comes to helping fund charter school students in their district.

The House passed those prohibitions Tuesday, but Wednesday Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, reversed those two aspects of the bill. The Senate approved the amended HB2 with a 15 to 9 vote.

Judi Clark, spokeswoman for Parents for Choice in Education, a nonprofit group that supports the charter school movement, said she lost sleep Wednesday night over whether Stephenson's amendments would stick. She was elated as she watched the House vote 47 to 27 Thursday, leaving the amendments intact.

"We're pleased we will be able to meet the needs of the growing number of charter school students in upcoming years," she said.

The finalized HB2 doesn't change the current requirement that school districts must allocate a portion of their revenues for each charter school student who resides in their district.

HB2 does include a new timeline so charter schools can't receive approval until after the Legislature has appropriated funding.

The legislation also shifts $300,000 to a teacher performance pay pilot program. This is funding that was originally slated for differential pay of math and science teachers.

The bill further ensures teachers at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind receive pay raises — with a price tag of $580,000.

USDB teachers receive their salary increase a year later based on the average increase of all other teachers in the public education system. This funding issue was overlooked earlier in Session budget discussions.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, surely meant well with his SB199. But the legislation ended up pitting PTA and PTO against each other worse than ever.

Bramble's goal was to give equal access to parent volunteer groups. The legislation stated schools can't "set up policy or procedures that favors one group over another."

He added an amendment that would have required Parent Teacher Association and Parent Teacher Organization groups to allow a waiver of membership dues, granted upon a parent's request.

PTA officials are adamantly against waiving dues.

After a meeting with PTA and PTO leaders, Bramble agreed to compromise and remove the amendment.

The PTA agreed the next day to support his bill — then changed its mind after further study. "We don't think this bill is the best vehicle for including parental involvement because of the vague language and lack of definitions," said Sue Carey, Utah PTA Life Commissioner.

The PTA's switch of positions angered the PTO. "We're disappointed they said one thing and did another," said Dawn Frandsen, a PTO leader in Provo.

As the session neared its end, the two groups swarmed Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers. The measure failed in the House Thursday.

A bill promoting Singapore math sent shivers of excitement through math geeks statewide.

Sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, the bill's most controversial component was its fiscal note.

At the request of the State Board of Education, Stephenson reduced his bill, SB159, to bring the fiscal note from $1.7 million to $500,000 in ongoing funds. It still failed in the House Thursday night, however.

E-MAIL: astewart@desnews.com