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Education Watch: The Legislature Adjourned. How Did Education Fare?

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May 28, 2021

Happy Friday, readers! Back in February, I highlighted five education bills to watch in the 2021 legislative session. I tried to focus on initiatives that would have a major impact and were likely to at least progress to the floor (and not die in committee.) So, how did I do? Let’s take a look.

Oversight of charter schools. This legislation would have added layers of transparency to charter schools, particularly those that use an education management company. Epic Charter Schools’ relationship with its management company (which was severed this week after a vote by its governing board) has been the focus of multiple investigations. House Bill 1735 by Rep. Sheila Dills was sidelined early in the session, but revived as House Bill 2966 and passed by the House last week. However, the Senate didn’t take it up. A report from the multicounty grand jury had urged the Legislature to take action.

• School funding formula. A revision of the school funding formula, championed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, was signed into law. The changes alarmed many school leaders and finance officers, who say it will destabilize their ability to budget. The provision, which I detailed here, goes into effect in 2022.

• Charter school buildings. An effort to give charter schools money for buildings was approved by the Legislature and signed into law this year, just not in the way Rep. Jon Echols proposed, which would have allowed charters to propose bonds. Instead, charter schools will be eligible for grants for school buildings and infrastructure, along with traditional schools with low property tax collections. The grants are funded by medical marijuana revenue. Stitt hadn’t signed the legislation (Senate Bill 229) as of Friday afternoon but has said he intends to.

• Play to learn. An initiative to encourage early childhood educators to teach through play was approved this session and signed into law earlier this month.

• School transfers. Expanding students’ ability to transfer schools, a companion bill to the school funding formula measure also was signed into law.

There are other education bills worth mentioning that weren’t as predictable early in the session. Legislation to ban “critical race theory” was signed into law and the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program was expanded. An effort to pass a bill to ban transgender girls from competing in girls sports failed.

Have a great holiday weekend.

— Jennifer Palmer

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