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Watkins outlines legislative challenges ahead

Sun Advocate associate editor

If all school kids are created equal, it makes sense that the state should fund each one equally, right?

No, it's not right, according to Rep. Christine Watkins. In an interview with the Sun Advocate Wednesday about pending legislative issues, she explained that the equalization of spending on a per-pupil basis suggested by some urban legislators could jeopardize small-town education or even lead to school closures.

Her reasoning against equal funding by the state is that smaller schools just don't have the head count to bring in enough money to fund a school building, custodial services, supplies and teachers.

"The urban legislators just don't get it," she said. "Their goal is to simplify. But some of them live in areas where the schools are bigger than some rural cities."

She said she has already been working to educate her big-city colleagues on rural issues, relying on her own experience as a small-town teacher and principal to get the point across.

Fortunately, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce has gone on record saying that businesses support increased education funding, she added.

DCFS issues

Watkins has her own share of legislation to shepherd through the process. One issue she's taking head-on is revising the way the Division of Child and Family Services handles clients. "Constituents have been calling right and left. I've been inundated with complaints," she said.

One thing she'd like to see happen is to make it clear that DCFS cannot take people off medications if they are under a physician's care, as is now sometimes the case. Another is more consideration for biological fathers when placing children. "It looks like we are an 'adoption aggressive' state," she commented.

Watkins also said she has learned that the Carbon-Emery area has had up to three times the rate of children taken out of families and put in foster care as compared to the rest of the state. "That's a foster care expense that we as taxpayers have to pay for," she stated.

One thing that may help is to mandate that DCFS prepare and distribute a package of information to parents whose children have been taken away to inform them of the procedures they must take to get the kids back. As of now, there's no such information readily available. "Right now, it's 'We've taken your children. We'll see you in court,'" she explained, and the parents don't have a clue how to proceed.

She'll also be dealing with legislation on Navajo Reservation water rights and electrification programs.

St. George pipeline

One big battle looming in the 2012 session is the proposed water pipeline to St. George. Proponents want to have the entire state fund the project. (The Sun Advocate has already editorialized against that idea.) She said Iron County, which might have gotten some of the water, has opted out of the project.

There are other items sure to appear, she said, and she'll have a better grasp of the statewide picture after the Democratic Caucus next week.

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