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Music, tax credit, contribution bills roll out

Colorado lawmakers left behind an intriguing stack of new education bills before they bugged out Friday for the Super Bowl weekend.

The proposals include:

  • Rep. Mike Merrifield’s promised music and arts education bill
  • Two Republican proposals to allow tax deductions for private school tuition
  • A bill to limit individual and organization contributions to school board and RTD candidates

Here are the details:

House Bill 10-1273: With the interesting title of “Improved Workforce Development Through Increased Participation in Arts Education,” the bill would make “proficiency regarding the visual arts and performing arts standards” a high school graduation requirement beginning with students who are ninth graders in 2010-11.

The bill also would amend 2008’s Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids law to incorporate arts and performing arts into state standards, testing and postsecondary and workforce readiness requirements.

The measure also proposes incorporating arts education into dropout prevention and career and technical education programs.

Merrifield is a retired music teacher and unofficial leader of the a cappella choir that regularly sings “Happy Birthday” to House members and staff on the House floor. Because of term limits, 2010 is his last year in the House and as chair of the House Education Committee.

The chairman has assembled an interesting list of 34 bipartisan cosponsors in both houses, including House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver (also in his last term), and Senate Minority Leader Mike May, D-Parker. Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, who disagrees with Merrifield on almost any education issue you can think of, is a Senate prime sponsor.

House Bills 10-1295 and 1296: Both are variations on past (unsuccessful) Republican attempts to allow tax credits for private school tuition. The first bill also would allow a tax credit for parents who home school their children. The second bill would give school districts a $1,000 payment for every student they lose to private schools.

HB 10-1295 is sponsored by 25 Republican lawmakers, led by two of the more conservative members, Rep. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs and Sen. Kevin Lambert of Berthoud. (Those two were the authors of a bill requiring the state hold some of its revenues in gold, to be stored in safes at the Capitol. A committee made short work of that this week, killing it.) Noticeably absent from the sponsors is Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, perhaps one of the more influential GOP House members on education issues.)

HB 10-1296 is sponsored only by Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, and Senate Majority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

In past attempts, Republicans have argued that such tax credits would actually save the state and school districts money, a point that’s never been made clear to education interests and Democratic lawmakers.

While the proposals could make for interesting debate, they’re expected to fail for three reasons: 1) Democrats control the legislature, 2) the education lobby, and 3) most lawmakers don’t want to fiddle with school finance or tax credits when the state budget is in the tank.

House Bill 10-1272: This measure would set contribution limits of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for small donor committees to any candidates for school board seats and the RTD board of directors. The measure comes on the heels of extremely high spending school board races last year in Denver and Douglas County. (See this EdNews story for details about contributions in the DPS race.) Rep. Beth McCann and Sen. Pat Steadman, both Denver Democrats, are the sponsors.

Let’s worry about it next week

The Senate spent much of Friday wrangling over the tax exemption repeal bills but knocked off at about 5 p.m. and will resume the battle Monday morning. (The Senate Finance Committee had worked on the bills until past 10 o’clock Thursday night.)

For the record

  • Senate Bill 10-058 – Expanded eligibility for nursing teacher loan forgiveness program, passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee
  • Senate Bill 10-008 – Study of average daily membership as method to count school enrollment, passed by Senate Appropriations
  • House Bill 10-1030 – Scholarships for ECE teachers (requires federal grants), passed 8-5 by the House Appropriations Committee, with Republicans voting no.

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

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