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Senate passes arts, course transfer bills

Update 10:30 a.m. April 14 – The Senate Wednesday voted 23-12 to pass House Bill 10-1273, the arts in schools measure, and 35-0 to pass House Bill 10-1208, which is designed to make it easier to transfer community college course credits to four-year schools.

The Senate significantly amended the arts bill, so the House either will have to accept those or take the bill to conference committee.

Text of Tuesday story, with details of the two bills, follows.

Rep. Mike Merrifield’s arts education bill has been significantly amended as it’s worked its way through the House and the Senate Education Committee, but on Tuesday some Senate Republicans tried to just kill it.

That effort failed, although not without 45 minutes of debate, and House Bill 10-1273 won preliminary approval on a voice vote.

Preliminary passage also was given, although with much less discussion, to House Bill 10-1208, which would formalize and expand the state’s system for transferring community college course credits to four-year schools.

Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat, chair of the House Education Committee and a retired music teacher, introduced HB 10-1273 with provisions that would have required all schools to offer arts and made demonstrated proficiency in visual and performing arts a condition of high school graduation.

School board interests targeted the bill as an unfunded state requirement and a violation of local control, and Merrifield toned the bill down before it left the House, changing the proficiency requirement to mere completion of an arts class, and defining class as broadly as possible.

The bill was weakened further during a marathon Senate Education Committee meeting on April 1, with an amendment that said schools districts are “strongly encouraged” to provide arts courses. The new language also directs the State Board of Education to recognize the importance of the arts in development of future high school graduation guidelines.

“We had a very interesting and robust debate this in the education committee,” Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said on the Senate floor Tuesday after he moved passage of the bill.

Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, then made floor debate interesting with a proposed amendment to strike the bill’s enacting clause and thereby kill it.

Noting the bill’s already-weakened state, Schultheis said, “We could easily put this in a resolution.”

“Art is doing fine without the legislature,” said Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, backing Schultheis.

That sparked a long debate, with speakers on both sides careful to express their love for the arts and to highlight their own artistic accomplishments – acted in high school plays, ran a gallery, sang in the community choir, etc.

Democrats supported the bill, citing research about the positive impact of the arts on student achievement. They were supported by Republican Sens. Nancy Spence of Centennial and Keith King of Colorado Springs.

Earlier in the morning session, approval of HB 10-1208 provided a welcome victory for King, who’s long pushed to make it easier for community college students to move on to four-year schools without having to repeat classes.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Boulder, who teamed with King on the bill, called the measure “one of the most positive pieces of legislation this body will pass” in 2010.

The bill requires the higher ed system to develop statewide credit transfer agreements in 14 subject areas by July 1, 2016. While there was some grumbling in higher ed circles about the bill, the state already has four transfer agreements in place and hopes to have seven more done this year. Community college system administrators have been pushing the bill.

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

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