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Digital Learning Grows, Local Union Sent Packing: School Reform News Utah Two-fer

What is it about our neighbors to the west? A couple months ago I brought your attention to Utah’s new law providing accountability to the use of teachers union release time. But there’s more going on in the Beehive State that has captured our attention here. Within the past month my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow wrote not one but two articles for School Reform News on two other Utah issues. Both are worthy of attention and may be instructive here in Colorado.

First and foremost is an article titled “Utah passes first ‘high-quality’ digital learning law; districts seek guidance”:

Online education providers are embracing Utah’s cutting-edge digital learning law, but struggling for guidance as high school students enrolled in brick-and-mortar schools sign up for virtual courses this fall.

Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed Senate Bill 65, the first law in the nation to incorporate all 10 elements of high-quality learning the Digital Learning Council proposed last year. For the program’s first two years, Utah students enrolled in a traditional or public charter school can take up to two high school-level courses from approved digital providers through the new Statewide Online Education Program (SOEP).

“Utah is leading the nation with a student-centric online policy that empowers parents and students with the ability to choose the course and provider that best meet their individual learning and academic needs,” said Robyn Bagley, board chair of Parents for Choice in Education (PCE), a Salt Lake City-based grassroots group. [link added]

This is the same Robyn Bagley who last month, at the invitation of the Independence Institute, shared with education leaders lessons from Utah’s adoption of its digital learning law.

And now for something completely (well, sort of) different, here’s the other School Reform News story:

Tough economic times have pushed a Utah school district to sidestep formal bargaining relations with union officers and to draft a new, non-union contract teachers must sign—or lose their jobs.

On June 28, the Ogden City School District (OCSD) board ratified a “common contract” for teachers, formally ending the Ogden Education Association (OEA)’s exclusive right to represent district employees in negotiations for salaries, benefits, and working conditions. The decision ended 15 months of unsuccessful efforts to renegotiate a collective bargaining agreement.

Utah and Colorado are among only nine states where school boards have such latitude to decertify a union’s status as exclusive representative and change the terms of negotiation — as long as the bargaining contract is expired, of course. Rather than open up a whole can of worms with this debate right now, let me just say that there certainly are some interesting education reform developments going on in the state of Utah.