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A bill approved by lawmakers on Thursday will assign rewards and consequences to Utah schools based on the state's controversial school grading system.
Schools who improve their grades will get funding and salary bonuses, while struggling schools will have the option of getting mentoring from school turnaround experts.
And after years of consistent failure, the State School Board would have the option of converting a traditional school into a charter school, revoking a school's charter, or making other changes.
At the center of the bill is a leadership academy, developed and organized by the school board, that would provide training to the administrators of failing schools.
"There are principals out there that I think are very capable," said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, the bill's sponsor. "They just need the mentoring and the training."
Last said the bill had been criticized as punitive, focusing more on the threat of punishment than the offer of rewards to incentivize school improvement.
But he said the state already operates a school grading system and the bill would put those grades to good use.
"Let me tell you what I think is punitive," Last said. "Having a grading system that identifies schools as failing and doing nothing about it."
Niederhauser presented the bill to representatives during caucus meetings on Thursday. In those discussions, several lawmakers were critical of educators.
North Ogden Republican Rep. Justin Fawson, a business owner, said that from his time sitting on public education committees at the Legislature, the message he gets from school personnel is that they're incompetent and expect lawmakers to provide them with increased funding to improve their competency.
And Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, said in most professions there is an understanding that an ineffective employee will be replaced, but teachers with no work ethic still expect to be paid by taxpayers.
During floor debate, Coleman said she would support the bill, but was unsure about spending $8 million on an effort to improve schools.
"I would like to see [school] districts have more skin in the game," she said.
But Tami Pyfer, education adviser to Gov. Gary Herbert, said the bill rightly focuses on and offers support to principals, who are the instructional leaders of a school.
"We feel like it's a good starting point," she said.