MURRAY, Utah — Governor Spencer Cox held a ceremonial bill signing event to call attention to a series of big education bills passed by the Utah State Legislature.
This year, the legislature approved a significant boost in education funding through teacher bonuses, an increase in the weighted pupil unit and additional money for school districts.
"I’m so grateful the legislature agreed with our budget putting forward big education dollars to really help our students and our teachers and families," the governor told reporters at Hillcrest Jr. High on Thursday.
In an emotional moment on Thursday, Brittany Tichenor, the mother of Izzy Tichenor, hugged Rep. Sandra Hollins as the governor signed House Bill 428. It requires school districts to have anti-bullying programs. "Izzy's Bill" was named for the 10-year-old girl who died by suicide. Her mother has said Izzy was the victim of bullying.
"When we were at her daughter’s service, I made a promise to her that I would work on this issue and that we would work on this together," Rep. Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, said. "She has turned this tragedy, turned her daughter’s name into triumph and making sure all our kids are safe within the school system."
The audience gave Brittany Tichenor and Rep. Hollins a standing ovation as the bill was signed.
Another significant bill puts free period products in every Utah school. Emily Bell McCormick, the founder of the Policy Project, which advocated for the bill, said it will impact 337,000 students who have had to miss class because they were menstruating with no access to products. Philanthropist Gail Miller donated money for dispensers and the state will provide the products.
"This is a very simple, low cost way to keep girls in classes," McCormick said.
Gov. Cox and Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson also signed bills to expand all-day kindergarten and early literacy programs (though the legislature only partially funded them). Programs will be expanded in Utah schools to provide more support for refugee and immigrant students; and Utah colleges and universities will be blocked from taking foreign government money and close Confucius Institutes (although other language immersion programs will be expanded on).
Another major bill allows Native American students to wear tribal regalia with their cap and gown at high school graduation. It came about after Trinidad Cervantes was blocked from wearing a beaded cap and feathers at her high school graduation in Cedar City last year.
"I said, 'Something's got to be done,'" Trinidad's aunt, Judy Charles, recalled.
The two and the Piute Tribe pushed for a change, noting the cultural and religious significance of the regalia. The legislature passed the bill with overwhelming support.
"I have a younger sister who’s in high school. I have younger cousins who also live in Utah and I have, from the tribe, a bunch of younger peers," Cervantes told FOX 13 News. "I want them to be able to express themselves and wear their tribal regalia."
Thursday's event was ceremonial. Gov. Cox previously signed the bills into law with the legal window he has after the legislative session adjourns.