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The Senate endorsed a bill Thursday that could allow school districts to convert up to 60 hours, or six school days, a year into professional development or preparation days for teachers.

It voted 21-6 to pass SB103 by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, and sent it to the House.

"Many of our teachers spend a lot of time on their own dime preparing for class because we don't pay for them to be able to prepare for class," he said. The bill would allow school boards to decide whether to make the change.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, called it a "draconian" way to provide preparation time for teachers by cutting into the 181 classroom school days a year in Utah and putting students at a disadvantage.

"China has 260 days of children in the classroom. Japan, 243. Germany, 240. South Korea, 220," he said in debate. "It seems clear to me that the more days our youngsters are in classrooms, the better education they are going to receive."

Dabakis added, "If we need to increase professional development, we ought to face the bullet. We ought to pay for that, but we ought not diminish the number of days our children are in the classroom."

But Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, countered that "teacher quality is much more important than seat time. I think this bill weighs it appropriately."

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, also said, "One of the most important factors in a classroom is quality teaching. Whatever we can do to help in that regard … will help our students to be successful."

Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, said budget cuts in recent years removed additional money for teacher professional development and the bill would help provide some of what was lost.

"The purpose and the intent are good. I'm not sure the execution laid out in this bill is the proper thing," Harper said, adding he worries about the lost class time.

Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, called it "a Band-Aid approach" to providing more professional time.