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ECE scholarship bill bets on fed funds

Preschool workers have notoriously low-paying jobs, a fact that makes it tough for them to get the kind of further education that improves their skills, and maybe their salaries.

The sponsors of House Bill 10-1030, approved 12-1 Monday by the House Education Committee, hope to make a dent in that problem with their proposal to create a scholarship program for early childhood education workers who are trying to get associate’s degrees in the field.

“Getting this education is more than difficult,” given hourly salaries of $8 to $10 an hour, said Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, prime House sponsor. The bill came out of the Early Childhood and School Readiness Commission, a legislative study group.

The trouble is, there’s no hope of getting state funding for the scholarships, so supporters hope federal Race to the Top or Early Childhood Challenge Grants. The scholarship program would start “if and when” federal grants are landed, Peniston said.

The grants are envisioned as $1,500 a year and would have to be applied for annually. Recipients would have to be working in early childhood education, demonstrate financial need and agree to continue doing so for two years after receiving their associate’s degrees. (The program is intended for people working in the state’s Colorado Preschool Program.)

There was some back and forth in the committee on how much the Department of Education should be reimbursed for administering the scholarships. The original bill draft specified 1 percent of the program, an amendment discussed Monday proposed 8 percent but Peniston suggested 4 percent. (A few committee members seemed uncomfortable about a higher reimbursement.)

CDE lobbyist Anne Barkis told the committee she’d agreed on the 8 percent with Peniston but couldn’t agree to 4 percent without checking with education Commissioner Dwight Jones. The committee stuck with 8 percent, but the issue likely will be revisited. Next stop for the bill is the House Appropriations Committee.

Reimbursement for administrative costs is a touchy subject for CDE. Barkis told the committee that too many programs with low reimbursements “have accumulated to the point that quite frankly now we’re being audited by the feds.”

A substantial part of CDE’s budget is provided by the federal government to administer federal programs. The feds are auditing CDE because of concerns federally paid employees have done state work.

Bill proposes study of alternative school financing methods

A newly introduced measure, House Bill 10-1183, proposes to set up a five-year pilot program “to encourage school districts and charter schools to collect data that will be used to compare the effects of alternative school funding models with those of the actual school funding method,” in the words of the bill summary.

The goal is to develop information about possible funding systems for more flexible forms of education, such as proficiency-based promotion.

Participating districts would continue to receive funding under the current state system, and pilot data-gathering projects would have to be paid for by, yes, “gifts, grants and donations.”

An advisory panel of lawmakers, State Board of Education members, educators and the commissioner of education would oversee the project.

Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, is the sole sponsor at this point.

Also new is House Bill 10-1171, which would repeal or modify various education data-reporting requirements now in state law.

And, a dozen bills that would repeal various state tax exemptions also have been introduced. The measures are proposed by the Ritter administration as part of the 2010-11 budget-balancing package. Failure to pass any of the bills – most of which are expected to be controversial – could force deeper budget cuts, including K-12 funding. (Those measures are House Bill 10-1189 through House Bill 10-1200.)

The bills will be discussed in a House committee Wednesday.
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

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