Playing Chicken with Education Money | Buzz Blog

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Playing Chicken with Education Money

House Dem accuses GOP colleague of picking fights using education funding.

Posted By on March 8, 2016, 10:34 AM

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One member of the Utah House of Representatives might be using the state school board to try and pick a fight with the federal government, with education funding hanging in the balance.

Rep. David Lifferth’s, R-Eagle Mountain, proposed House Bill 423 says that if the U.S. Government hands down a new rule or policy for schools that do not “advance state goals” and objectives, the State School Board must ignore the policy, determine how much federal education money Utah schools would lose out on, and ask the Utah Legislature to cover the costs.

“This is a whole new level of bureaucracy added into our education system,” Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, tells City Weekly. “This is just a poorly written bill, it doesn’t even say who is the one making the decision of whether or not a Federal education level doesn’t advance state goals. Does the legislature determine that? Is it the state school board? The Superintendent? We don’t even know.”

Lifferth says his bill is all about empowering the state school board. “They are elected by the people to set policy in the state of Utah. I don’t want them to be influenced by strings that are attached to federal dollars,” he says. “If there is a policy that [the Feds] set that doesn’t align with Utah’s goals, the State School Board needs to do something about that.”

So what are these education policies that the Feds are handing down that the State School Board should be defying? That question was left unanswered as Rep. Lifferth told his colleagues during the House floor debate that “I can’t think of anything right now." 

click to enlarge Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain - NIKI CHAN WILEY
  • Niki Chan Wiley
  • Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain
Rep. Briscoe says that open-endedness is all too familiar. “It reminds of me of that time a couple of years ago when the new Common Core tests were starting to be implemented,” he says. “There were those who insisted that there must be secret questions in the tests about two men getting married. So we passed a bill and spent all this money and had a group of 15 to 20 parents come in and spend weeks reading every single test question out there. And they only ended up finding four questions that they thought might be worded in a confusing way, but there was no pinko-commie plot hidden in there. So I think [Rep. Lifferth] is just on a fishing expedition looking for some federal policy to pick a fight with.”

Rep. Lifferth says that’s absurd, although he does acknowledge that the State Board of Education already has the authority to do what his bill mandates. “Look, if there’s risk they can come back to us [in the Legislature] any time," he says. "It’s just a plan. If something comes up in the future, here’s the route that we take. I just don’t want us running around with our hair on fire if something were to happen.”

Except, Briscoe says, “there’s absolutely nothing in the bill that says the legislature has to actually come up with the money the State Board of Education just turned down. [The bill] just says they should come ask for it. What if turning down the federal policy means losing millions in funding?”

HB 423 passed the House by a vote of 62-13, and now goes to the Senate.

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