Education is at the focus of the race between Republican Orem Rep. Val Peterson and United Utah Party candidate Catherine Eslinger to represent Utah House District 59.
“I think that we have teacher retention problems because we ask our teachers to do so much with really limited resources,” Eslinger, a Vineyard resident who previously served as a Utah chapter co-lead for the nonpartisan Mormon Women for Ethical Government and who has spent years on Capitol Hill advocating for various policies, said in an interview Tuesday. “And so I would like to get more funding and resources to our teachers and into the classroom.”
During a campaign event in July, Eslinger said lawmakers should be thinking about the “whole child” when making decisions about education, adding that she supports increasing wraparound services and investing in early childhood education.
“The dollars that you spend on that, you get so many benefits in later years and save so much in incarceration and mental health resources and addiction services and all of those things,” the third party candidate said. “If we provide those services early and we support families, then we really all benefit in the future.”
Education is also a big deal for Peterson, who is vice president of finance and administration at Utah Valley University and serves on the House Education Committee and Education Interim Committee.
During this year’s general session, Peterson sponsored a bill to create a pilot program “to expand access to concurrent enrollment and career and technical education certificates.”
“What this bill does is provide focus to our concurrent enrollment program,” Peterson, who is the majority assistant whip, told lawmakers in February, noting that he’s heard from constituents who say their kids enrolled in college only to learn the concurrent enrollment credits they’d earned in high school didn’t apply.
“Probably one of the most important parts of this bill is it codifies that if you go to a (Utah System of Technical Colleges) UTECH (college) and you do a 900-hour program there, you have 30 hours that you can transfer to higher education,” added Peterson.
Also this year, Peterson sponsored a bill to extend a student intervention “early warning pilot program” in the Ogden School District that assesses students based on “academics, behavior and attendance.”
Peterson told his colleagues that, last year, the Ogden School District had about 2,600 based on the system.
“This has been a huge success in the Ogden School District,” he said. “As you know, they have about 76% of their students that are on reduced lunch. And they’ve seen tremendous opportunities to help their students succeed and (in) increasing their graduation rate.”
Both bills passed unanimously through the House and Senate and were signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March.
When asked about Amendment G, a ballot measure that would expand the allowed uses of income tax revenue, which is earmarked for education, including to fund programs for children and people with disabilities, Eslinger said she had “mixed feelings.”
“Of course we want to fund services for the disabled and more for children,” said Eslinger, “but we also don’t want the reduction of our funding for our schools as well.”
House voting records show that Peterson voted in favor of a Senate resolution tied to Amendment G in March.
Eslinger said she hopes her campaign “can sort of be an example” for women in Utah who are thinking of running for state or local office, adding that “we have too many cases where legislators are running unopposed, and we just really need more voices and more different experiences and perspectives.”
Eslinger said that, if elected, she would also advocate for policies and initiatives to improve air quality, including “cracking down” on rolling coal and regulating diesel emission standards.
Peterson could not be reached for an interview at the time this story was published.
HD 59 covers a portion of north and central Utah County, including parts of Orem, Vineyard and Pleasant Grove.
Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 801-344-2599.