Dear Colleagues,

by Howard Stepheson
by Howard Stepheson

I write for the purpose of providing you with context and information related to the Governor’s veto of SB 2, Item 6 (found on lines 205-220). I strongly believe that we should exercise our Constitutional authority to override this veto.

This veto significantly impacts funding for important educational programs in our state which we had carefully studied and vetted through the legislative process. In his veto letters, the Governor explains his reasoning for vetoing this item – but I don’t believe he had complete context, or accurate data, when he did so. On this item, it appears that the Governor never consulted with legislators on our analysis or thinking when we included these in the budget. He was operating in a vacuum.

K-3 Early Intervention Reading Program Funding Argument

The Governor’s reasoning for the veto of the K-3 Early Intervention Reading Program funding, for example, appears to be solely focused on a few out-of-context data points from a third-party evaluation of the program, which is now outdated. In fact, the Governor states in his letter that “…the evaluation pointed out that, while the software programs had positive effects in Kindergarten, there were small negative impacts for First and Second Grade students, and no demonstrative positive effects for Third Grade Students.” This statement is inaccurate. The study showed that the software programs had positive effects in Kindergarten and First grade. Additionally, since the study came out, we have worked to make changes to the Second and Third Grade software, which is proving to be successful.

The Governor also states in his letter that “according to the evaluation of the 2015, program, this software is being underutilized by Local Education Agencies. Only thirteen percent of Local Education Agencies achieved the recommended usage rate, adherence to which is what makes this program effective”.

The fact of the matter is that although thirteen percent of LEAs achieved the recommended usage rate, most schools made significant use of the program. For example, one program has a target of 60 minutes per week per student, and the students averaged 51 minutes per week throughout the school year. The students hit 84 percent of the target usage and received benefit from the program but that is not reflected in the school meeting its usage goals.

A side note: I was one of the people who called for the third-party evaluation to take place, and am thus very familiar with the findings. The study showed that while some of the software has optimal usage rates that are quite low, students are still showing significant gains – even when they’re not using it at the optimal rate. Our whole purpose has been to take kids who are performing at below their grade level, and bring them up to where their peers are performing.

Additionally, this veto is contrary to the principles that the Governor signed off on in HB277, which continues a statewide process of bringing schools into the 21st century through the use of personalized learning tools and digital instruction. Many of these tools have proven widely invaluable to the more than 20,000 below-grade-level students in our state.  I do not believe he would have vetoed this item if he had spoken with some of the thousands of teachers using the software to bring 55,000 struggling readers up to grade level.

UPSTART Veto Override Argument

The Governor’s principal reason for vetoing $1.5 million in ongoing funding for the UPSTART Program was based on information received regarding a supposed non-lapsing funding balance of $2.4 million for Fiscal Year 2016. There is a current discrepancy within the Utah State Office of Education that the non-lapsing funding balance may only be $82,000. These figures must be resolved prior to the Legislature and the Governor making an accurate decision on UPSTART funding.

By withholding this $1.5 million from the UPSTART program, about 2,300 children who could have participated during the next school year will be unable to do so. UPSTART continues to maintain a substantial wait list along with its immense popularity among Utah families. UPSTART has also been shown to be a unique solution for rural families that have limited access to pre-k opportunities in addition to UPSTART’s focus on low-income and ELL families.

Year after year, third-party evaluations have shown UPSTART children to be two to three times as prepared for Kindergarten as children evaluated within a control group. This proven Utah solution deserves expansion as it continues to show measurable success.

ProStart Veto Override Argument

The restaurant industry employs over 100,000 people in our state. Over 4600 restaurants in Utah generate a collective $3.6 billion in sales – projected growth in the next five years will call for 20,000 additional employees needed. There’s an insatiable demand for employees and thousands of jobs are available for well-qualified candidates. Economic growth projects this demand to increase steadily. We can’t train students fast enough to fill the demand.

The Utah Restaurant Association’s ProStart Program is a school-to-career program that has been training the next generation of Utah Culinary professionals for twenty years. ProStart offers students a skills and training program that allows a student to choose from both a culinary and management emphasis. When ProStart began, it was in 2 schools. The ProStart program is now in 62 schools and represented in every district in the state of Utah. Our students are mentored and trained by industry professionals who are currently working in the industry, thus uniting students with industry. The students can graduate with a professional certificate and skills that advance them on a career path in a very vibrant and growing industry.

Utah ProStart Teen Chef Masters is a training competition based on the ProStart program classroom curriculum and skills. It educates parents, industry and students about the educational opportunities available in Utah high schools through ProStart education. The program paired ProStart students with mentor chefs who were executive chefs of local restaurants. The students competed for a 4 year scholarship valued at $80,000 donated by one of the premiere culinary universities in the nation. It helps educate students about the career options available to them as culinary professionals. The excitement the competition has generated is pushing interest in the ProStart program to record numbers which then creates more well-trained employees for the economic engine that is the restaurant industry in Utah.

The purpose of televising the competition is to inspire, educate, and engage the next generation and to show parents, teachers and students the standards and quality of education they receive through the ProStart program. ProStart graduates graduate high school with a professional certificate that places them in a well-respected career. This is in line with the Governor’s 66% by 2020 goal.

The restaurant industry generates over $300 million in sales tax revenue annually, over $36 million of which is dedicated to tourism promotion. Is it too much to expect a small fraction ($275,000) of those taxes ensure the industry has the highest levels of trained professionals?  Restaurants are a vital part of our economy – ProStart Teen Chef Masters is in place to ensure that we keep Utah’s hospitality industry flourishing.

Conclusion

By vetoing SB 2 Item 6, the Governor is ripping away the tools that under-performing students need most. These tools have been proven to be effective.

I would invite you to engage with me in a discussion about this and other items that Governor Herbert has vetoed. Let’s take seriously our Constitutional authority to override a veto, and promote educational policy that is beneficial to Utah’s students.

Sincerely,

Senator Howard Stephenson

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