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Mascot bill likely to raise hackles

A bill introduced Wednesday would require public and charter high schools to get state approval to use Native American-themed nicknames.

Basically, Senate Bill 10-107 would mandate that any public or charter high school “that uses an American Indian mascot to either cease using the American Indian mascot or obtain approval for the continued use of the American Indian mascot or another American Indian mascot from the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs.”

The deadline for doing that would be July 31, 2013, and any school that ignored the law after that date would be fined $1,000 a month.

No count was immediately available on how many schools have such mascots. Colorado does have several teams named the Indians. La Veta High School’s teams are named the Redskins, and Lamar High School uses Savages.

Brace yourself for lively committee and floor debates about cultural sensitivity, political correctness, legislative meddling, local control and school traditions.

The measure is sponsored by Sen. Suzanne Williams and Rep. Nancy Todd, both Aurora Democrats, along with nine Democratic cosponsors in both houses.

Wednesday was a lively day for introduction of education-related bills. Here’s a rundown:

• Senate Bill 10-108: This expected proposal by Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, would allow non-public colleges and universities to participate in the state system of common core courses, which are transferable among institutions. Higher education interests are expected to oppose this strongly.

• Senate Bill 10-101: The measure would allow Colorado Mountain College to offer bachelor’s degrees “in areas that meet the needs of the communities within its service area.” CMC receives some state support and is a local district college with several campuses in the central mountains. It currently offers two-year degrees. The bill has broad bipartisan sponsorship, led by Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon and Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs.

• Senate Bill 10-091: This is the Republican version of a proposal to require school districts to post their financial information online. Sponsors are Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, and Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument. A Democratic version, House Bill 10-1036, is already in the hopper. It’s backed by school districts, whose lobbying helped kill a GOP version of the idea in 2009.

• Senate Bill 10-089: Rep. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, is proposing that the State Board of Education be required to issue a “religious bill of rights” protecting the religious expression of students, parents and school employees. School districts would be required to follow the document, would have to allow religious opt-outs of classes and course materials and school board members could be individually sued if they didn’t follow the law. The conservative Schultheis has an unsuccessful track record with these kinds of bills in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

• Senate Bill 10-088: The measure would allow community college students to choose majors when pursuing their associate degrees. It’s seen as a way to help ease course transferability between community and four-year colleges. Sponsors are Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, and Massey. The community college system is behind this bill.

• House Bill 10-1157: This measure would allow counties, with voter approval, to levy sales or property taxes to help support a state four-year or community college located within the county. Sponsored by Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, the bill is the 2010 version of an idea floated late in the 2009 session but which died when a larger bill was defeated.

• House Bill 10-1153: Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Lakewood, is proposing changing the composition of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association board so that a majority are not PERA members (beneficiaries). For instance, there would be two members from the School Division instead of the current four. Such a big change proposed by a solo member of the minority party has little chance. The bipartisan PERA overhaul, Senate Bill 10-001, wouldn’t make any changes in the board.

A couple of new education bills popped up Tuesday. House Bill 10-1136 by Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, would require schools to hold two “safety protocol” drills a year, in addition to plain old fire drills. (King earlier introduced House Bill 10-1054, which would impose safety training requirements on colleges.) A King safety proposal failed last year in the face of complaints about cost.

Scanlan (and a host of other lawmakers) introduced House Bill 10-1131, which would set up grants in the Department of Natural Resources for programs designed to get kids outdoors. This one reportedly is a project of Lt. Gov. O’Brien. Funding? You guessed it – “gifts, grants and donations.”

The lieutenant governor and sponsors will tout the bill at an 11:15 a.m. news conference Thursday on the Capitol’s west steps, or inside the west doors if the weather’s bad.

Get the easy ones out of the way first

The Senate Education Committee Wednesday quickly gave 8-0 approval to Senate Bill 10-018, which would set up a fund to buy banners and trophies for schools that are recognized by the state’s three school awards programs.

“I think history is being made today by the sponsors of this bill. I don’t believe I’ve ever sponsored a bill with Rep. Merrifield,” said King, the Senate prime sponsor. The House sponsor is Rep. Mike Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat. King is a staunch supporter of charter schools; former teacher Merrifield is a vigorous defender of traditional public education.

Since the state has no spare cash these days, the program would be funded by the usual “gifts, grants and donations.” King said, “Rep Merrifield and I will help out and go out annually and raise the money.” Estimated annual cost of the awards is $4,200.

Tax study resolution moves to House

A resolution that would commission the University of Denver to conduct a comprehensive study of state and local tax structures won final Senate approval on a 34-1 vote.

The cost, estimated at about $750,000, would be covered by private donations.

“We have not looked at the tax structure of this state since 1958,” noted sponsor Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder. That’s when DU and CU-Boulder did a joint study. The legislature was still considering some of those recommendations into the 1980s.

“We live in a completely different world now,” noted Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray.

The only no vote on Senate Joint Resolution 10-002 was cast by Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

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

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