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Opioid abuse education, rural busing needs among education issues addressed by Utah lawmakers

A Utah lawmaker wants drivers to put down their phones while driving. If passed, her bill could assess a driver a $100 fine if they get caught talking with the receiver in their hand.
From earmarking funds to help small, rural school districts with busing costs, as well as appropriating funds for opioid education, Utah lawmakers approved numerous public education proposals Wednesday as the 2018 Legislature winds down.
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SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers have earmarked $150,000 in one-time funding to develop secondary school curriculum to better address the state’s opioid abuse, addiction and overdose crisis.

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, sought the appropriation to update existing curriculum on addiction developed by the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah.

The funding, part of late appropriations included in the yet-to-be approved HB3, will be used to update and expand an existing educational module developed by the center on the science of addiction. Its free, evidence-based science curriculum and online teaching materials are used by nearly all Utah high schools.

The Executive Appropriations Committee also approved late Wednesday $500,000 in ongoing funding to help offset transportation costs in sprawling school districts with small numbers of students, as well as busing costs for one public charter school in Carbon County that uses a 27-year-old bus to transport students from Emery County.

"This charter school is mainly a group of polygamist children coming out of Emery County. We're trying to provide them with an education, and it's a very, very long distance to drive," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.

This will be first time state lawmakers have appropriated transportation funding for a public charter school. Charter schools must have bused students for at least five years to qualify.

In other action Wednesday:

• Qualifying low-level offenders could undergo job training instead of serving jail time under a pilot program that will be expanded with the passage of HB106.

The Utah Senate gave final passage to the bill Wednesday, which was sponsored by Rep. Val Potter, R-North Ogden.

The bill expands a small pilot program started by the Cache County Attorney’s Office. It gives low-level offenders an opportunity to undergo certificate or job training at Bridgerland Technical College as an alternative to serving jail time.

The program also requires participants to undergo counseling and work with the Department of Workforce Services' Work Success program, which prepares people to seek and compete for jobs.

Participants must cover the costs of the training program themselves, although some may qualify for government grants or scholarships.

• The Utah House of Representatives voted 61-7 to give final approval to SB194, which raises the bar statewide for elementary school reading.

The bill sets a state standard calling for 60 percent of Utah children reading on or above grade level by the end of the third grade.

Achieving reading proficiency at the end of the third grade is a key factor in later educational success, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, said during Senate debate.

Children who are not proficient readers by the end of third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school, according to a recent report by the Education Commission of the States.

SB194 also calls on local school boards and charter boards to set proficiency goals, determine strategies to reach their goals and to report results.

• Special education teachers will become another group of educators who receive stipends intended to address workforce needs.

Supplemental pay is currently paid to teachers of mathematics, some science disciplines and computer science to address shortages of teachers in those disciplines and to encourage more students to go into teaching in those areas.

Potter, the sponsor of HB233, said the stipend also acknowledges the extra training special education requires and the record-keeping demands to comply with federal special education laws.