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House Speaker Becky Lockhart (R-Provo) and Sen. Curt Bramble (R-Provo) took some time away from Utah’s Capitol Hill Tuesday morning to give members of the Utah Technology Council an update on how things are going during this year’s legislative session.
Lockhart and Bramble discussed specific bills of interest to the UTC, including HB 150, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics amendments, sponsored by Rep. Val Peterson (R-Orem); and HB 131, Public Education Modernization Act, sponsored by Rep. Francis Gibson (R-Mapleton) and proposed by Lockhart.
“My modernization act has moved forward in the House and it will be debated [this week],” Lockhart said. “[Rep. Gibson] and I are very excited to bring this forward and transform the delivery of education here in Utah. We have in many ways a 19th century education model, which was great then but it’s not great now.”
Lockhart continued to say that it’s not the device in students’ hands that is important, it’s the training and professional development teachers receive on how to teach with new technology.
“We need to make investments in the teachers,” she said. “There’s a very specific recipe to do these technology initiatives properly. We need to make sure that any school district in Utah that chooses to be a part of this does it in the right way.”
Lockhart said the first thing schools will need is proper infrastructure. If the bill passes, she expects the $200 million to be used primarily on infrastructure. Next, before devices are put in students’ hands, Lockhart wants teachers to have proper professional development.
“Training can take 12 to 18 months to get the teachers ready and to have them make that paradigm change, but it’s not just the teachers, it’s principals and superintendants too,” she said. “Children will have a device at some point, but it’s not going to be next fall. It will take time. Right now we’re very focused on professional development.”
HB150, which is being called “STEM2” by legislators, amends several provisions relating to the STEM Action Center. Lockhart said a significant portion of that proposal also focuses on providing training and professional development to teachers.
“With STEM we have some exciting advancements coming in math for K-6 students,” Bramble said. “We are also [upgrading] the aptitude for junior highs, the curriculum and the teachers.”
Bramble said the STEM initiative comes with a $10 million appropriation, which will be used to integrate STEM processes from K-6th grades up through junior high and high school while also focusing on teacher expertise.
Another hot topic on the hill for UTC members is the embattled Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR). According to an audit completed in October 2013 by the state of Utah, USTAR grossly exaggerated the number of jobs it had created and the amount of money it had brought in.
“After the audit that happened this last year there are a lot of concerns about USTAR,” Lockhart said. “The governing board has worked to make some changes in their governance issues and transparency issues. We hope to maintain USTAR this year.”
Bramble said the USTAR bill, Senate Bill 62, was debated Monday and passed in the Senate.
“The bill asks for better oversight, performance criteria, expectations, technology outreach and oversight of the research team,” he said.
Bramble said this year 738 bills have been introduced in the legislature—the largest number in the last decade. However, only 138 bills have been passed, which is the lowest number in the last decade. The final day of the 2014 legislative session is March 13.
“Now that the clock is winding down, the legislature is finally ramping up to do the people’s business in terms of legislation,” Bramble said.