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Parent involvement bill passes Senate

The Senate Monday gave 22-13 final approval to House Bill 11-1126, which would require greater parent notification and involvement in school turnaround plans.

Senators rejected yet another attempt by Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, to change the terms used by the state to designate different levels of school performance.

The bill would require parent notification and meetings at schools that have been designated by the state Department of Education for improvement, priority improvement or turnaround plans because of inadequate student growth.

Spence proposed an amendment that would have changed the descriptions in the state accountability system, which currently are accredited with distinction, accredited, improvement, priority improvement and turnaround. Spence wanted to change those to outstanding, satisfactory, needs improvement, needs significant improvement and turnaround.

She argued her suggested terms would be easier for parents to understand.

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster and Senate sponsor of the bill, argued against the amendment. She noted, among other things, that the five descriptions are used formally for districts in the school accountability system but that districts don’t necessarily have to use them for individual schools. The amendment lost on a 15-20 vote.

Earlier, during Senate Education Committee consideration, Spence had proposed an A, B, C, D, F letter grade system but the committee defeated that amendment.

Last Friday, during preliminary Senate debate of HB 11-1126, Spence proposed a lengthy amendment that would have turned the measure into a “parent trigger” school closure bill, similar to House Bill 11-1270, which was killed by the House Education Committee on March 14 (see story).

Another parent involvement measure, Hudak’s Senate Bill 11-080, is pending in Senate Education while proposed amendments are being developed by various interest groups and negotiated with Hudak. In addition to notification provisions, that bill also would expand the options districts and schools could choose for turnaround schools.

It’s the more controversial of the two bills. Hudak says it’s needed to give struggling schools more options that are less punitive. During a lengthy Feb. 24 hearing, witnesses supporting the bill included critics of the Denver Public Schools’ reform plans in Far Northeast Denver and the Colorado Education Association. Opponents included officials of the Colorado Department of Education and leaders of education reform groups. The Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Colorado League of Charter Schools are opposed. (See story on committee hearing.)

New charter bonds bill passes House Ed

The House Education Committee Monday voted 13-0 to pass Senate Bill 11-188, a measure designed to update the current state bonding program for charter schools.

State law now allows charter schools that have been open for at least five years and that meet certain financial standards to finance capital with bonds issued on a school’s behalf by the Colorado Educational and Cultural Facilities Authority.

The bill creates an additional mechanism for financing the bond fund, gives the state treasurer additional oversight over the program and creates a ‘cooling off’ period before the revocation of the charter of a school that has bond debt. (More details in the bill’s fiscal note.)

The bill replaces another measure, Senate Bill 11-132, which was killed earlier in the session so that a compromise version could be introduced.

Budget, budget, budget

The ongoing House/Senate/JBC/executive branch negotiations over the 2011-12 budget were the focus of reporters’ attention at the statehouse Monday, but there was no resolution by late evening.

The possibility of the Senate introducing its own budget bill ended for the day when the body formally adjourned just before 6:30 p.m. That may still be an option for later.

Normally, the annual budget bill is introduced by the Joint Budget Committee. But the traditional process has been stalled this year because split partisan control of the legislature means the JBC has three Democrats and three Republicans.

Leaders in the Democratic-controlled Senate have said they’ll introduce their own bill if the JBC can’t produce one, just to get the budget process rolling.

Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer’s morning prediction that things might be resolved one way or the other by mid-afternoon proved to be wishful thinking – or a tactic.

Shaffer and Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty met separately with reporters late in the afternoon, and both managed to talk a lot without saying very much.

Both said they hope for bipartisan agreement, that only a few budget differences remain, that there are no deadlines to reach agreement and that pretty much everything remains on the table. Neither would get specific about which issues remain open and which have been resolved, although McNulty did indicate setting the state reserve at 4 percent, rather than dropping it to 2 percent, is pretty much settled.

A 4 percent reserve is a key goal for Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose aides were involved in today’s talks with lawmakers.

Disagreements over the budget appear to have less to do with the main state budget itself than they do with a fleet of associated bills that are necessary to balance state spending next year. Differences have been reported over K-12 spending, a variety of tax exemptions the legislature canceled last year, reinstating the fee paid to retailers for collecting property taxes, shifts in PERA contributions and how much to use various cash funds to supplement the state’s main general fund.

There have been conflicting indications over the past several days about how important specific issues are and whether they were settled or still in dispute.

The major concern in the talks for education is the size of the 2011-12 cut to state support of school districts. Hickenlooper proposed a $332 million cut to total program funding, about 6 percent. Shaffer reportedly wants to take that down to $222 million. McNulty said majority House Republicans want to reduce the pain for schools but didn’t give a number.

The House GOP also wants to give school districts more financial flexibility by allowing them to reduce their own contributions to teacher pensions while requiring employees to contribute more. Democrats so far have resisted that idea.

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