Half a dozen education measures, including bills that would exempt back-to-school purchases from state sales taxes and that would encourage wider use of students’ life experience for college credit, advanced Wednesday in the legislature.

Back to school sale illustrationBut House Bill 12-1069, the sales tax holiday, is limping along on a wing and prayer, and some members of the House Finance Committee who voted on the winning side of the 8-5 tally said they only were supporting the bill “for now.”

The measure, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Joe Miklosi and Dan Pabon of Denver, would suspend state sales taxes during the first weekend of August on certain school-related purchases, such as school supplies, clothing, sports equipment and some electronics. (There would be a per-item price ceiling on items purchased.)

The bill came up as late afternoon was turning to early evening, and it consumed 90 minutes of committee time as panel members and witnesses debated whether the measure would cost the state tax revenue or increase tax collections, whether the bill would be a boon to big chain retailers and a headache for small businesses and other issues.

Pabon and Miklosi were clearly eager to do whatever they could to get the bill out of committee. They offered an amendment – which the committee accepted – that would lower the price ceiling for exempt items and also reduce the potential cost of the bill.

An analysis by legislative staff estimates the bill could cost the state about $5.8 million in lost revenue. The amendment supposedly would reduce that to $4.4 million. (Chris Howes, head of the Colorado Retail Council, testified in support of the bill and, gently disputing the staff analysis, said the tax holiday actually would increase state revenue, based on the experience of states that have such laws.)

Some Democratic members of the committee criticized the bill for potentially threatening state funding of schools. (Nobody mentioned that $4-$6 million is a tiny fraction of total school support of more than $5 billion.) Some Republicans were nervous about the bill’s possible effect on small businesses.

Summing up, Pabon promised that if he and Miklosi can’t find a way to pay for the bill, he would personally move that it be killed in the House Appropriations Committee.

That apparently convinced some members, although three of the eight yes voters said they were only supporting the bill “for now.”

Get college credit for your life

A bit earlier in the day the House Education Committee took up House Bill 12-1072, which would direct the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and the state’s colleges and universities to develop a system for giving adult students college credit for life experiences and learning, such as that gained in the military and the workplace.

Some state campuses already offer such programs, and there’s an established set of tests run by the College Board to assess life and professional experience. (The College Board’s lobbyist testified in favor of the bill.) But the idea here is to encourage greater use of the idea – and thereby perhaps increase graduation rates in the state higher ed system.

The committee did approve an amendment that would have the effect of requiring individual colleges to do more of the work developing the program, rather than the CCHE and the Department of Higher Education. The idea behind that change was to eliminate any new costs and thereby avoid sending the bill to the dreaded House Appropriations Committee.

House Ed members voted 12-0 to pass the bill to the floor.

The committee also considered House Bill 12-1043, a measure that would expand concurrent enrollment options for students who are still in high school but want to take college classes. The measure would add to current double enrollment options by requiring school districts to help students take courses as the college of their choice – and pay for part of the cost.

School district lobbyists have pushed back at the bill because of potential costs. Sponsor Rep. Kathleen Conti, R- Littleton, on Wednesday proposed an amendment – which the committee approved – that would reduce some of the perceived burden on districts.

But, like the sales tax-holiday bill, HB 12-1043 has uncertain future prospects. Even committee chair Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, who voted for the bill, told Conti she needs to do more work on the measure. The bill passed 8-4.

Compliments all around in Senate Ed

The Senate Education Committee Wednesday gave 7-0 approval to House Bill 12-1001, which would ratify the regulations issued by the State Board of Education to implement Senate Bill 12-191, the educator evaluation law.

Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver
Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver / File photo
SB 10-191 gave the legislature special review powers over the regulations, a compromise Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, inserted into the bill in order to placate the Colorado Education Association and its legislative supporters. The idea was that the legislature could be the backstop on any proposed rules that might be seen as punitive on teachers.

But the rules, crafted over two years by the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education, have gained support from every segment of the education community. So, legislative approval has become kind of a pro forma process.

Still, Johnston, the father of SB 10-191, marked Wednesday’s committee approval as a notable moment.

And Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said, “We probably anticipated at that time that we would not have this kumbaya moment.”

(The State Board of Education Wednesday started the approval process for a subset of the SB 10-191 rules, those involving teacher appeals of ineffective ratings – see story.)

Senate Ed also approved Senate Bill 12-061, a measure designed to improve and standardize the processes of charter school authorizing and dealing with failing charter schools. The committee did a little in-the-weeds tinkering with the measure, but the original core of the bill remains. The bill is being pushed by the Colorado League of Charter Schools, is supported by the Colorado Association of School Boards and stems from the recommendations of a study panel that recommended improvements in charter school standards and authorizing.

Metro name bill introduced

The only education bill introduced Wednesday was Senate Bill 12-148, which would change the name of Metro State to Metropolitan State University of Denver.

For the record

The following education bills of interest (but of less interest than the ones noted above) advanced in the legislature Wednesday:

  • House Bill 12-1090, which would move the annual Oct. 1 student enrollment count day if a religious holiday fell on that date. Received preliminary House floor approval.
  • Senate Bill 12-145, which caps current-year transfers from state school lands revenues into annual school funding. Passed by Senate Education.

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