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Utah senators voted unanimously on Tuesday for a bill that would allow public high schools to hold onto state funding when students graduate early.

The bill, SB34, creates a reimbursement program for schools that operate a competency-based education program, in which students advance based on content mastery instead of traditional academic calendars and grade levels.

Ogden Republican Sen. Ann Millner, the bill's sponsor, said the state should celebrate when a school is able to help a student complete graduation requirements ahead of schedule.

But because school funding is based on daily attendance numbers, Miller said, school budgets are penalized by student success.

"This is kind of a short-term solution to some of the issues that some of our schools are facing," Millner said.

Millner said the state should eventually move to a competency-based funding model, compensating schools for success rather than for the time children spend in a classroom.

A few pilot competency programs currently exist in the state, and Millner said the bill would allow educators to re-apply funding for students who need additional help when their accelerated peers move on.

"We want to get every student to competency," she said. "That takes time and attention and individualized work to support that student."

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, spoke in favor of competency-based education. He said Millner's bill is a necessary step toward a larger transformation of Utah public education funding.

"My only complaint about this legislation, Senator Millner, is that it doesn't go far enough, fast enough," he said.

The reimbursement program is estimated to cost $55,000, Millner said, and would apply only to schools that operate competency-based education programs, as identified by the Utah Board of Education.

Following Tuesday's vote, the bill will be transfered to the House for consideration.

"I think it sends a strong signal that we want to enable competency-based education in schools that choose to do that," Millner said.

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