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DREAM bill introduced

The measure intended to give undocumented students resident tuition at state colleges and universities, Senate Bill 11-126, was introduced Monday, setting up what’s likely to be a contentious and uphill fight in a divided legislature.

The measure would apply to undocumented students who have attended a Colorado high school before graduating or earning a GED and who has been admitted to a state college or university within 12 months of graduating.

Such students would have to notify the college or university that they have applied for lawful status or intend to do so when eligible.

However, such students would not be eligible for College Opportunity Fund stipends, meaning they’d actually be paying higher tuition that other Colorado students, and they wouldn’t be eligible for state need-based scholarships.

Resident tuition bills have been pushed in several states as kind of an interim alternative to a federal DREAM Act covering undocumented students, something that Congress has declined to pass.

The idea has become something of an emotional flash point in education policy, with supporters arguing that it’s only fair to promising undocumented students who were brought to this country at a very young age. Supporters also say having more college graduates will be good for the economy. Opponents of the idea generally bring an anti-immigration view to the debate.

A similar bill died in the Senate in 2009 with five Democratic senators joining Republicans to muster 18 no votes against the bill. Supporters didn’t bring up the idea in 2010. Given divided control of this legislature this session, the proposal isn’t given much of a chance in the Republican-controlled House, if it makes it out of the Senate.

The bill has 20 sponsors and cosponsors – 12 in the Senate and eight in the House – and they’re all Democrats. The prime sponsors are Sens. Mike Johnston of Denver and freshman Angela Giron of Pueblo, and Denver Reps. Joe Miklosi and freshman Angela Williams.

Another education measure introduced Monday, Senate Bill 11-111, would create the Educational Success Task Force, yet another appointed group to study education issues, in this case to “review the junctures within a student’s academic career in which intervention education services are critical to the student’s success.”

The panel would include six legislators and additional members appointed by the State Board of Education and Colorado Commission on Higher Education “in such numbers as they deem appropriate.”

The task force would make a first report by July 1, 2012, and a second one a year later before going out of business on July 1, 2013.

The legislature has a fondness for appointing education task forces, commissions, councils and advisory panels.

The last few sessions have led to three groups studying various aspects of educator effectiveness plus a panel designed to encourage parent participation in schools, a group to oversee concurrent enrollment in high school and college, an early childhood panel, a higher education planning committee (which in turn spawned four advisory sub-panels), a group working on charter school quality standards and a short-lived committee to study an alternate method of counting enrollment. In response to the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, the Department of Education had to create several “stakeholder” and expert committees to work on new state standards and tests.

And governors have to have their own education groups. Gov. Bill Ritter created the P-20 Education Coordinating Council, and new Gov. John Hickenlooper recently created his own Educator Leadership Council, to be headed by Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs

Prime sponsors of the Education Success Task Force bill are Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, and House Education Committee Chair Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs. King has signed on five fellow members of the Senate Education Committee, both Republicans and Democrats. Chair Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and Vice Chair Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, aren’t among them. Massey doesn’t have any House cosponsors yet.

Yet another Public Employees’ Retirement Association bill also surfaced Monday. Senate Bill 11-127 would require all new members of the PERA, starting in 2012, to participate in a defined contribution plan – similar to a 401(k) – and bar them from joining PERA’s existing defined benefit plan.

It’s the fourth PERA bill to be introduced so far this session and is certain to be opposed by PERA because of the destabilizing effect it would have on the system’s trust funds. The sole sponsor for the moment in Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, a conservative member of Senate Education.

A final proposal of interest to education is Senate Bill 11-109, which is perhaps a sign of how concerned some education advocates are getting about K-12 funding. The bill would create a checkoff on state income tax forms that taxpayers could use to designate money for school funding. Prime sponsors are Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton and ranking minority member of House Education.

Charter grants bill advances

The House Education Committee on Monday passed an amended version of House Bill 11-1089, which would allow charter schools to apply for federal grants available under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act without sign-off by their chartering districts. The measure also would apply the same provision to state grants. The state Charter School Institute would administer grants for such schools.

There’s been discomfort with the bill in some quarters because of concerns it could pit charters and their districts against each other. The committee approved an amendment that requires charters to notify their districts about such grants.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said the group wanted such a “good neighbor” provision. Committee member Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, coincidentally, he said, offered such an amendment.

Freshman Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County, proposed an amendment that would have restricted the bill’s provisions to charter schools whose free and reduced lunch enrollment was equal to or greater than the district’s FRL percentage. That was defeated on a 6-7 party-line vote.

The bill was passed to the House floor on a 10-3, with only Kerr, Hamner and Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, voting no. The bill is among a package of priorities being pushed this session by the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

For the record

House final approval

  • House Bill 11-1019 – Waiver of copays at school-based health centers
  • House Bill 11-1017 – Replacement procedures for student and faculty members of the Auraria board
  • House Bill 11-1060 – Rescheduling the expiration of UNC trustee terms
  • House Bill 11-1077 – Cleanup of special education and gifted and talented statutes

Senate final approval

  • Senate Bill 11-029 – Reporting requirements for State Land Board

House Agriculture Committee postponed indefinitely

  • House Bill 11-1062 – San Luis Valley farm-to-school pilot project

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