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Committee OKs $13.5M bill for teacher salary increases

Jordan Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers are hoping to attract and retain more educators in high-demand fields by providing an across-the-board salary increase for math, science and special education teachers.

HB203 would increase those teachers' salaries by $5,100 next year, with wages going up each year until, in 2021, they reach $10,000 above current annual salaries. To qualify, teachers must have a degree in their area of instruction.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, said the raise would provide incentive for effective educators to continue teaching instead of leaving the classroom for administrative positions. Making the raise equal for all educators would also be especially appealing for new teachers entering the field, he said.

"I think what this kind of a bill does, and what this kind of an appropriation does, is it says to the entire world, 'We don't care where you're teaching. You can be teaching in Park City, or you can be teaching in Piute. But if you're teaching in one of these critical, high-need areas, you're going to make more money,'" Last said.

But the bill comes with a hefty price tag. In its first year of implementation, the initiative would cost the state $13.4 million. By the time salary raises reach their maximum in 2021, the state would be paying $42.4 million.

"It's a pretty significant cost," Last said.

Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, who voted against the bill, said the money could be better used in grants for Utah's school districts, letting them decide where to allocate it and satisfy their own demands.

"When we allocate these funds for a specific use in a specific population, we're also limiting the use of that funding in other ways or areas of need for the districts," Fawson said.

But Last said such a move would not produce a unified incentive for more science, math and special education teachers to take jobs in Utah.

"If we did that, we would end up with a conglomeration of programs throughout the state that may not have the impact that we're trying to have here," he said.

Heather Gardner, a schoolteacher and mother of three children who have special needs, said she applauded the move to provide incentives for high-quality teaching for special education. But she said the salary raise should come with accountability measures to ensure teachers are qualified for the positions they take.

"I have seen a real need for highly trained special education teachers and specialists in the schools," Gardner said. "The law that surrounds special education, the interventions that are needed need to be research-based, and there's a lot of training that needs to go into this."

The bill passed the committee Thursday and awaits House approval.

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

Twitter: MorganEJacobsen