SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — When news began to circulate early Wednesday morning that Utah lawmakers were going to consider $120 million worth of bonuses for Utah’s overworked, overstressed teachers, you could almost hear the shouts of joy across the state.
Each teacher was looking at a $1,500 bonus for their remarkable efforts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Speaker of the Utah House Brad Wilson (R-District 15) dropped an amendment that caught some on the budget committee off guard.
Wilson proposed excluding teachers whose school districts had not made an in-person schooling option available to their students. The bombshell was targeting one school district in particular — the Salt Lake City School District, the only district in the state currently holding classes solely online.
“As policy makers, that’s sometimes what we do,” said Rep. Brad Last (R-District 71). “Money talks, and we can potentially bring about actions by providing incentives.”
State Sen. Luz Escamilla (D-District 1), whose district includes Salt Lake City Schools, said she had no idea the amendment, which did pass, was going to be proposed.
“It sounds, and I use the word punitive, against teachers who have no control over what the board makes decisions over,” Escamilla said of the Salt Lake Board of Education.
The Salt Lake school board has been both criticized and lauded for keeping schools closed in Salt Lake City, one of the state’s most active COVID-19 hotspots.
The district has in recent weeks discussed bringing elementary students back to classrooms by the end of January. However the amendment sets a deadline for the district to be back in class by Jan. 19.
Asked what motivated lawmakers to include the amendment, Last said, "I’m just going to call it a big, beautiful orange carrot.”