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Narrow final OK for reading incentives

Update 11:15 a.m. May 7 – The Senate voted 18-17 Friday on final passage of Senate Bill 10-210, which would create a pilot incentives-for-reading program.

On preliminary debate Thursday, Sen. Evie Hudak called it “bribery,” but a bare majority of the Senate disagreed and gave preliminary approval to the proposal that surfaced less than a week ago.

Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, is championing the measure, and he was backed Thursday by Democrats and Republicans alike. Hudak, a Westminster Democrat and former State Board of Education member, also had Democratic and Republican allies but not enough votes.

The measure would allow the Read to Achieve Board, which administers grants for various reading programs, to give up to $1 million a year to federally recognized programs that provide comprehensive services to young children in poor neighborhoods.

Such programs, in turn, could use the funds to give rewards to early-grade elementary school children who read books and pass quizzes about their reading. The Senate amended the bill to allow for a variety of rewards, not just cash. The bill also was amended to include boards of cooperative education services.

Saying the idea reflects “evidence-based economics on how you get kids to read,” Romer asked opponents, “Why prevent innovation?”

“Bribing kids to read books is not a good use for a million dollars,” Hudak said, arguing that reading should be its own reward. She got repeated support from Sen. Mark Scheffel, a generally conservative Republican from Parker.

“If Sen. Scheffel and I agree it must be right,” Hudak joked. Scheffel proposed the unsuccessful amendment to kill the bill. Hudak offered an unsuccessful amendment to limit the grants to schools.

Scheffel also led an unsuccessful final rhetorical charge against the bill on Friday morning.

The grants could go to organizations that operate federally sanctioned Promise Neighborhoods or Choice Neighborhoods programs. Such programs are intended to work like the well-known Harlem Children’s Zone, Romer said. There are no such organizations in Colorado yet, Romer said, but three Denver-area groups are working on the idea.

Some senators opposed the bill because of concerns that rural areas might be left out, but that opposition was blunted by the BOCES amendment Friday.

Also Friday, the Senate gave final 28-7 approval to Senate Bill 10-202, which would allow adults to open 529 investment accounts with CollegeInvest for job retraining and allow employers to contribute to employee accounts. Also approved 26-9 was Senate Bill 10-205, which would allow school districts to ask voters for bond issues to raise funds that could be used to manage cash flow. Such elections would be allowed only if Amendment 61 is passed in November. One effect of that amendment would be to shut off district access to a short-term loan program operated by the state treasurer.

The House Friday gave final 52-13 approval to Senate Bill 10-054, which would require minimal education services be provided to juveniles being held in adult jails.

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

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