The Felon-Free Schools Act of 2011 got out of the Senate Education Committee Monday with only one vote against it, but not before losing its stern-sounding title.

A bill on parental involvement in schools also got House Ed approval – but it also was significantly amended. And it passed only when committee chair Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, sided with the committee’s six Democrats to create a 7-6 majority.

Among the day’s fatalities was House Bill 11-1057 in House Ed, which would have provided some due process rights to the estimated 10,000 adjunct faculty at state colleges and universities, In the Senate State Affairs Committee two bills designed to radically change parts of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association met with their expected demise.

Also at the Capitol Monday, the big package of 2010-11 budget balancing bills got final Senate approval and headed to an early morning date with the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday.

Felon-free schools fixed to almost everyone’s satisfaction

Freshman Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, worked hard to blunt opposition to his House Bill 11-1121, and his work paid off when House Ed passed it 12-1.

The bill, an earlier version of which died in a House committee last year, mostly codifies existing school district practice in barring employment to people convicted of violent crimes and sexual felonies. Ramirez’ original bill added drug felonies to the list, but his key amendment limited application of that to a five-year window. So, if a teacher was convicted of a drug felony within the last five years, he or she can be fired. In the future, a teacher convicted of a drug felony can reapply for a teaching job after five years. (There’s also a five-year window for domestic violence convictions.)

The Colorado Association of Schools Boards supported the bill while the Colorado Association of School Executives softened its opposition to neutral because of Ramirez’ amendment.

But, witnesses representing legal groups, including the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar and the Colorado ACLU opposed the bill, saying the broader issue of denying felons access to employment needs to studied by the legislature.

That prompted several members of ask if the bill also should be considered by the House Judiciary Committee. Massey said he would talk to the chair of that committee.

Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton and the only no vote on the bill, also complained about the title. “It makes me feel like there are a lot of felons in our schools. … Would you mind amending that to just take that out?” she asked Ramirez. He was happy to oblige, and the title was stricken from the bill.

Parent involvement bill slenderized

Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver
Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver

As originally proposed by Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, House Bill 11-1126 would have required school districts to adopt parent involvement policies by July 1, 2012, and review those annually. The bill also required that if a school is designated for turnaround by the Colorado Department of Education the school must notify parents of that and hold a public meeting.

Witnesses representing a variety of education groups – the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, Education Reform Now, the Colorado PTA, the Colorado Education Association and Stand for Children – testified in support, as did Arturo Jimenez, vice chair of the Denver school board.

The original draft of the bill, however, made some school districts nervous about potential costs, and Duran came armed with amendments, which the committee approved.

The key change was an amendment that merely encourages districts to develop formal parent involvement plan, softening the original mandate. The bill’s provisions for public notice at turnaround schools remain.

No go for adjunct faculty bill

Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, offered a big amendment to his HB 11-1057, but that wasn’t enough to persuade House Ed. The original bill would have extended some due process rights to adjunct faculty when they were terminated. He proposed an amendment the left the bill requiring only that those instructors receive letters explaining why they were being let go.

The bill mustered only three yes votes before it was postponed indefinitely on a 7-6 vote, meaning some members who voted against the bill also voted against killing it. (There seemed to be a fair amount of confusion in House Ed Monday, with several members passing on roll call votes to gain time to make up their minds and some pausing several moments before casting their votes.)

The higher ed lobby worked hard against this one, concerned about the potential legal costs if it passed. The fiscal analysis by legislative staff estimated annual costs of $140,000 to $1.4 million, depending on how many of the estimated 2,000 adjuncts terminated annually filed appeals.

PERA bills get required hearing and no more

In each House the State Affairs Committee is where majority leaders send bills that they want killed. That was the case Monday in the Senate committee, where party-line votes of 3-2 killed Senate Bill 11-074 and Senate Bill 11-127.

The first would have allowed school boards and local governments to require higher PERA contributions from employees, offset by lower government contributions. The second would have required new PERA members to join a defined contribution plan rather than the traditional defined benefit system.

“Recess” bill moves along

The House Monday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 11-1069, the measure that would require elementary schools to provides students with 600 minutes a month of “physical activity” – broadly defined.

The bill was amended earlier in the House Education Committee to remove some aspects that school districts opposed, such as extensive reporting requirements.

Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs
Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs

Aside from three supporters speaking briefly in favor of the bill, consideration moved quickly, and there were no speakers in opposition. Prime sponsor Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, has estimated that 90 percent of elementary schools already provide the amount of activity called for in the bill.

The House also gave a quick preliminary OK to House Bill 11-1053, which encourages school districts to exhaust other alternatives before going to court to have truant students jailed. The bill leaves intact the ability of districts to go to court and of judges to jail students.

Budget balancing package moves quickly

The Senate this morning gave final approval to a package of 2010-11 budget balancing bill, including three of interest to education. Amendments to the package restored funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps and the Start Smart school breakfast program. A separate measure that proposed closing the Read-to-Achieve program (Senate Bill 11-158) and using its funds for budget balancing was killed at the request of Senate leadership.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information