There was only standing room left as Cache County’s state legislative delegates kicked off the education town hall meeting on Wednesday evening.
The goal of the evening, as outlined by Rep. Dan Johnson, was to discuss the impact of recent legislation on public education. Johnson said it is important to look at what happens after laws are passed and money is allocated.
The Teacher and Student Success Act took center stage in the conversation about funding public education. The TSSA, which was signed into law back in April, funnels earmarked funds directly to each Utah public school.
“Sometimes we just have to step out and try something different,” said Sen. Ann Milner, who sponsored TSSA. “We need to help empower those who are closest to our kids.”
This new funding allows each school to address needs unique to their students and formulate individual action plans. Several teachers and principals shared how the implementation of these funds have shaped programs at their respective schools.
“This has been such a great thing at our school,” said Derek Beer, the principal of Sunrise Elementary. Beer said after discussing needs with parents and teachers, they decided the money needed to go toward improving mental health.
“We had a part-time counselor, but the thing is, students don’t just have issues every other day,” Beer said. “We were lacking, so we decided to hire a full-time counselor.”
It has only been three months since many of the action plans and changes have been put in place in schools across the state, but many are already seeing success.
Beer shared a long list of experiences the new counselor has addressed this school year, including anxiety, suicidal thoughts and actions, as well as other disruptive behaviors. The counselor currently meets with 105 students individually, 75 of which were self-referrals.
“We may not see the academic impact immediately,” Beer said, “but I truly believe that we will see that over time.”
Specific, student-focused adjustments, like the ones at Sunrise Elementary, are being made in schools all over. The changes range from creating new reading programs to salary enhancements for teachers.
“It really is important what happens in each individual classroom,” Johnson said. He discussed how big decisions come back and influence each student, which is why public meetings are vital.
A concern of many parents, teachers and administrators over the past couple of weeks has been about the state legislators’ considering reorganizing where the funding for education comes from. When this topic was asked about, Johnson said that more information about the different recommendations will be coming out from the legislature next Monday evening.