HB235: Education committee debates funding teacher visits to student homes

Lilian Whitney
Diana Alm shares a moment with her children outside the House Education Committee meeting Wednesday. New legislation could fund teacher visits to homes of students if passed. (Lilian Whitney)

The House Education Committee debated a bill Wednesday that would fund teacher visits to students’ homes.

“(HB235) is allowing teachers, and paying them, to go into the homes of the families to get acquainted with them, to know them better, to build a relationship, and then to help them academically,” said Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, the bill’s sponsor.

Volunteer-based partnership programs between parents and schools currently exist at several Utah public schools. HB235 would provide funding for such programs and allow for expansion to other schools.

For parents who choose to accept teacher visits, two educators would visit them at their home or other non-school property.

“It’s voluntary every step of the way,” Cutler said.

The state would pay for the first visit, in which the educators would try to build a relationship with the family. The school would pay for the second visit, which would address the student’s academic needs.

The bill would only affect students enrolled in the public school system.

Cutler said he hopes the program will decrease absences, increase parent involvement, improve parent-teacher relationships and improve teacher-student relationships.

Utah schools with high rates of unattendance would be the first to receive funding for the home visit program.

Midvale Elementary School Principal Chip Watts said he sees a need for home visit funding.

In 2017, Midvale Elementary School teachers made around 400 visits to students and their families. Visits have been discontinued this year since state funding was cut.

“The home visit program really opened a lot of my teachers’ eyes and changed their perspective in terms of what they could do to reach students and involve parents,” Watts said.

Heather Newell, principal of Backman Elementary School in Salt Lake City, started a similar volunteer home visit program four years ago.

“We just saw a need, and it came from attendance. Thirty percent of our students were chronically absent,” Newell said. “We were able to chip away at that through home visits, through supporting families, through building relationships.”

Newell said home visits have helped cut the total number of student absences at Backman Elementary in half.

Backman’s program does not currently receive funding. Teachers at Backman Elementary are compensated in time, replacing teacher-parent conferences with home visits.

“We put a lot on teachers, and this is one more thing,” Newell said. “I think it will be a much more successful program if there is money behind it.”

Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, shared concerns the program could pose risks to families’ privacy, and that programs could function locally without state funding.

“Many people feel like this almost has an invasive element to it,”Christensen said. “My question here is … can these elements be pursued voluntarily at the local level and by teachers and schools with existing resources, or does it require a formal program with additional funding?”

Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, said centralizing a home visit program could harm its success. Snow spoke in support of keeping such programs on a local level to allow for flexibility.

The bill was held by committee until a later date.

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