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Democratic state lawmakers pushed for more money for schools and teacher training while criticizing a new system that rates each school with a letter grade during a press conference on education bills Wednesday.

"Giving each school a letter grade without support will not help schools succeed," said Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City. He's preparing a bill to give help to schools where at least 20 percent of students have limited English proficiency, a group that struggled under the new rating system.

"They will never reach Prosperity 2020 without support," he said, referring to education goals set by a coalition of business and community leaders.

Rep. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray, said one important way to help schools is giving teachers more training. His appropriation request would restore some of the $77.6 million for teacher development days cut during the recession.

"It's not any good to give a teacher an iPad if they don't know what to do it it," he said. "We're … requiring teachers to do more, do more, do more with less."

Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City is seeking money to continue a program designed to help teachers improve through self-evaluations.

"With the new grading criteria, more schools need our help," she said. She's also looking for money to help low-income students pay to take AP exams.

Perhaps the most ambitious bill comes from Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, who proposes taxpayers be limited to two child exemptions on their state-income taxes, a change that would pump some $267 million into schools. It's a concept that has been unsuccessfully proposed in the past, but it's one Jones said deserves to be heard on the floor this year.

"Basically, what this bill does is fund the school-improvement plan, and that has been needed for a very long time," she said.

Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Holladay, is running a Department of Defense-requested bill to track children of members of the military to assess how their parents' deployments affect them.

Lawmakers didn't seek to address, though, what has recently become the hottest topic in Utah education — the firestorm caused after Uintah Elementary School took away and trashed lunches picked up by students in debt.

"I don't think the Legislature makes a very good school board," Briscoe said. "I think we should leave it to the local level to do that."

Twitter: @lwhitehurst

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