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CSAP bill gets out of House Ed

Rep. Judy Solano’s 2010 effort to cut back on CSAP testing was passed 8-4 by the House Education Committee Monday after about 90 minutes of testimony highlighted by a top education department official’s attack on the bill.

The measure, House Bill 10-1430, and two charter school regulation bills were the only education measures of note to move on Monday, the 111th day of the 120-day legislative session.

The CSAP bill is the latest iteration of an annual effort by the Brighton Democrat, a former teacher and the legislature’s foremost critic of the testing system used by the state since 1997.

This year’s proposal would phase out CSAP testing in high school, starting next school year. The tests would be replaced by some sort of connected set of postsecondary and workforce readiness tests, like the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT tests, starting next school year.

The bill also would end statewide CSAP writing tests but require districts to continue giving their own writing assessments.

Solano made her standard arguments that the tests are too costly, take too much class time to administer, haven’t improved student achievement and aren’t considered relevant by students. In contrast, she cited a pilot program being supervised by the Department of Education under which high school students in some districts have taken different kinds of tests. Those tests take less time, and students like them, she said.

But Rich Wenning, associate commissioner of education, catalogued plenty of problems with the bill.

“The bill is not needed at this point, it is expensive and wastes taxpayer resources and it difficult to implement,” Wenning said. He stressed that the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids set up a process to moving to a new state testing system and that the department is in the middle implementing that process. Wenning noted that the high school testing pilot isn’t finished. (The CAP4K deadlines, however, would be extended by another bill pending in the legislature.)

He called the bill “quite unworkable in this form.”

After Wenning finished, Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, quipped: “Rich, I’d like to know how you really feel.”

Representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Children’s Campaign also opposed the bill, smiling politely to Solano as they sat down next to her at the witness table..

Supporting the measure were a lobbyist for the Colorado Education Association, a testing company representative and some teachers and administrators from the Adams 12 Schools.

Seven committee Democrats and Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, voted for the bill, while the other four committee Republicans voted no. Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, was excused.

Responding to the opponents, Solano said, “I’m open to amendments as this bill moves forward,” but she wasn’t specific. She also defended herself against remarks by opponents that she’d kept the bill’s final contents under wraps until it was introduced last week.

The bill’s next stop is the House Appropriations Committee, which doesn’t currently have a meeting scheduled this week. But, as the session moves through its final days, committee meetings tend to get scheduled on short notice.

Solano hasn’t been lucky in her CSAP crusade. A 2009 bill to suspend some tests didn’t even make it out of House Ed. Her 2008 bill was killed in that session’s closing hours by the Senate Education Committee.

Charter bills advance

Without any debate, the House Monday morning gave strong approval to two charter school regulation bills.

House Bill 10-1345, which would allow emergency state takeovers of troubled charters in certain circumstances, passed 63-0. House Bill 10-1412, which would create a commission to study and recommend operational standards for charter schools and for charter authorizers, was approved 62-1.

The bills aren’t expected to be controversial in the Senate, which will have to squeeze them into an already overloaded calendar.

No go for GoCo raid

House Ed Committee got an earful Monday afternoon from an unfamiliar lobbying group – environmentalists and open space advocates.

Some 15 witnesses plus lots of silent supporters converged on House Ed to oppose House Concurrent Resolution 10-1007, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed the legislature to divert Colorado Lottery funds to education during fiscal emergencies.

After more than two hours of testimony and discussion, the committee voted 7-5 to kill the measure.

After prizes and administration, the state constitution directs lottery revenues to outdoors programs through grants by Great Outdoors Colorado and to local governments.

HCR 10-1007, by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, would have allowed the legislature to divert that revenue to the State Education Fund on a two-thirds vote of each house. (That process for declaring a fiscal emergency is currently in place for use of state tobacco settlement funds.)

If the idea had been passed by a two-thirds vote of each house, it would have gone on the November ballot.

GoCo and school funding, through Amendment 23, are both prime examples of state programs that have dedicated spending formulas. But, talking seriously about the earmark issue was not something legislative leaders really wanted to do this year.

It was a generally fatal afternoon for proposed constitutional amendments.

The Senate State Affairs Committee killed Senate Concurrent Resolution 10-006 (proposed limits in the A23 formula) SCR 10-008 (tightening the legal definition of fees under TABOR) and SCR 10-009 (shortening the legislative session from 120 to 100 days).

One resolution, SCR 10-004, the keno-for-colleges plan, escaped the carnage. It was laid over before the meeting started.

House Ed even killed a purely advisory resolution. House Joint Resolution 10-1030 would have urged school districts and employee unions to agree to salary reductions as a way to avoid layoffs. The resolution was killed 7-5. Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, was the sponsor.

How to use a little extra money

House Ed voted 12-0 to pass House Bill 10-1428 by Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora. It would take $25 million from the pending sale of a CollegeInvest portfolio of student loans and use it for state financial aid. Another $10 million would be set aside for the wind-down of the loan program, but some of that money is expected to eventually flow to the scholarships.

Recent changes in federal law are taking state agencies like CollegeInvest and private lenders out of the federally guaranteed student loan business in favor of direct federal loans.

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

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