Utah House Democrats plan to roll out education policies in 2017

SALT LAKE CITY – Some Democratic lawmakers are already eyeing 2017’s legislative session. On the top of their to-do list is creating education bills aimed at supporting teachers.

House Democrats surveyed nearly 1,500 teachers in Utah to find out what challenges they face in the classroom so lawmakers can come up with some real solutions.

Some of the frustrations Utah teachers shared with lawmakers were a lack of support in the classroom and respect for their profession.

As a result, Utah is facing a major teacher shortage, along with the rest of the country. According to Learning Policy Institute, between 19% and 30% of new teachers leave the profession within five years.

“Students in Utah today and across the United States are voting with their diplomas," said Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City. "They are not going into public education as a profession."

Rep. Briscoe and other House Democrats plan to craft a number of policies this upcoming legislative session to retain, recruit, and support teachers. Increasing teacher’s pay is their top priority.

“It’s shameful to be a teacher and have a couple of kids when you’re young, qualify for food stamps, shouldn’t happen,” Briscoe said.

They’ll also introduce bills that will help teachers qualify for affordable housing loans, and get student loan forgiveness. Lawmakers want to loosen teaching license requirements for people who have taught out of state.

Teachers expressed concerns about a new route to obtaining a teacher’s license. Under the Academic Pathway Training policy, college graduates must pass a proficiency test in their expertise and work with a mentor for three years. It’s an effort to fill growing classroom shortages.

“We are in a teacher shortage. This isn’t taking jobs away from anybody else. It’s just allowing districts to tap into another new pool of talent and ability,” said Christine Cook, Sutherland Institute Education Policy Analyst.

Lawmakers admit they have ambitious goals, and while they don’t have a price tag attached to their proposals just yet, Rep. Briscoe says a child’s education is worth the expense and debate.