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Trigger bill passes House

Updated – The House this morning gave final approval to House Bill 12-1149, the measure that would allow parents at failing schools to petition the State Board of Education to restructure the school.

Text of Thursday story follows

A significantly amended version of House Bill 12-1149, this year’s milder “parent trigger” bill, got preliminary House approval Wednesday despite Democrats’ energetic efforts to amend or stop it.

The vote was just one development in a busy day that also saw the proposed testing reduction bill die in committee, the defeat of a bill that would have set energy efficiency standards for new school buildings and an unexpected delay by the Joint Budget Committee in setting proposed spending for state colleges and universities in 2012-13.

At midday Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia – along with a couple of familiar sports mascots – held a pep rally for early childhood literacy at the Capitol. They unveiled an administration literacy policy paper and announced grants to agencies that work in the field.

Trigger bill gets a makeover

All the successful amending of HB 12-1149 was done by sponsor Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield and vice chair of the House Education Committee.

Like a curler knocking an opponent’s stone out of position on the ice, Beezley followed several Democratic amendments with substitute motions of his own. His amendments were passed, rendering the Democratic amendments moot.

As originally introduced, HB 12-1149 would have allowed parents of students enrolled in a school that has operated under a priority improvement or turnaround plan for two consecutive years to submit a petition to the State Board of Education requesting the board direct the school be reconfigured immediately.

The original version of the bill would have required petition signatures be signed by more than 50 percent of the families at a school. The state board could deny the petition, direct an action to take effect in the next school year or reconsider the petition in a year.

Successful Beezley amendments adopted Wednesday would:

  • Involve local school boards by requiring that after the state board decides on an appeal it send the case back to the local board for implementation.
  • Raise the signature requirement to 60 percent after two years but allow a 50 percent threshold for petitions submitted after the third year of low performance by a school.
  • Specifically direct the state board to consider a school’s progress in student test scores, growth, closing achievement gaps and graduation rates when hearing a petition. (Those are the four elements that make up a school’s performance rating.)
  • Require that only one adult in a family could sign a petition, allow for challenges to signatures and require language on petitions explaining who is eligible to sign.

Democrats weren’t mollified. “This bill is so wrong on so many levels,” said Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, a retired teacher. “I believe in parents having the right to decide for their own kids, but the question is do parents have the right to decide for the whole school?”

Opponents of the bill argued that it would disrupt school reform efforts that can take several years to bear fruit, create divisions among parents at a school and violate local control of schools. Critics also are concerned that the bill’s signature verification procedures are inadequate.

Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, complained the bill was “red tape” and imposes yet another mandate on districts already swamped by years of school reform legislation.

“This is ridiculous,” she said.

Beezley, who mostly kept his cool during a sometimes-chaotic debate, snapped, “Parents are not red tape.” (Beezley repeated pitched the bill as a parental involvement measure.)

There also was debate over whether the bill would cost anything for the Department of Education to administer. The issue of whether the bill should carry an appropriations clause – meaning that it would cost money – has been contentious. A legislative staff fiscal note estimated it would cost the Department of Education “at least” $23,897 in the first year to administer the law.

But the House Appropriations Committee last week accepted Beezley’s assertion that CDE could handle the program without additional money. (Given the lack of money for new programs in the state budget, having an appropriations clause sometimes can weaken a bill’s chances of ultimate passage.)

That fight was repeated briefly on the floor Wednesday, but the Democrats also lost that one.

Mainline education interest groups including the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and the Aurora Schools publicly oppose the bill.

A similar Beezley bill died in the House Education last year, but the landscape has changed this session. “In years past I’ve been very skeptical,” said Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs and chair of House Ed. “This year the bill has been carefully recrafted.”

Beezley also noted – twice – that Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, had helped him craft some of the amendments. Johnston is one of the most influential senators on education issues.

One education lobbyist commented Wednesday that the bill may have a good shot in the Democratic controlled Senate with Johnston behind it.

JBC has a rocky afternoon

Higher education funding for 2012-13 was supposed to be a done deal. The state’s often-fractious colleges and universities agreed last fall on an allocation formula that would cut total state support to a total of $489.7 million next year, down from the current $519 million and down 30.6 percent from the recent high of $706 million in 2009-10. The Colorado Commission on Higher Education and the Hickenlooper administration signed on to the formula.

That didn’t prevent the Joint Budget Committee from burning a lot of time Wednesday afternoon on whether the formula is correct. There was a lot of discussion about tinkering with the amounts of the two elements of state aid – College Opportunity Fund stipends and fees for service. (The former is the per-student discount of tuition for Colorado resident students; the latter is an amount paid to colleges to account for high-cost graduate programs and the like.)

Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen / File photo

Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen / File photo

JBC Chair Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, even floated the idea of abolishing the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, arguing the money spent on that coordinating agency could be better spent directly at colleges.

Gerou kept characterizing CCHE as an overbearing regulatory agency, not mentioning that the commission only exercises powers granted to it by the legislature, or that in the matter of allocating funds to individual colleges, CCHE and the Department of Higher Education act more like referees among the colleges than as dictators.

Former JBC member and current House Minority Leader Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, sat in on the discussion and voiced a complaint he’s made many times before – that higher ed funding formulas don’t provide enough money to the fastest-growing institutions, like Metro State and the community colleges.

Rep. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, also sat in on the JBC session and challenged Gerou’s complaints about CCHE. Without the commission “institutions will protect their territory and not think about helping kids,” King said.

Gerou withdrew her motion to run a bill abolishing the CCHE. But, after a fair amount of rhetoric and some out-of-the-hearing-room consultation, the committee laid over until Thursday a decision on how much COF and fee-for-service money to allocate to colleges next year.

The JBC already is scheduled to consider 2012-13 K-12 spending on Thursday, so it’s going to be a busy day. And if the JBC tinkers too much with the proposed 2012-13 allocation formula, that could tear the scab off the colleges’ carefully arranged compromise and create some messy lobbying. (Get more details on the issue in this story from the Education News Colorado archives. And read the JBC staff’s recommendation for higher ed spending here.)

Judy Solano’s last stand

The House State Affairs Committee voted 5-4 (Republicans yes, Democrats no) to kill House Bill 12-1019, which proposed to eliminate statewide student writing tests and one set of high school tests and use the money saved to pay for enrolling more students in the Colorado Preschool Program.

Sponsor Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton and a retired teacher, has crusaded against statewide, standardized testing for most of her legislative career, with basically no success. She’ll be leaving the legislature because of term limits, so HB 12-1019 was her last shot.

She marshaled a grab bag of witnesses to support the bill; three Department of Education bureaucrats testified against, arguing that the bill would screw up the data in the Colorado Growth Model and jeopardize the state’s recently won waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

State Affairs is known as the “kill committee,” and the deep-sixing of Solano’s bill was expected.

The committee also fulfilled its role with House Bill 12-1235, a proposal by Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, to require various energy efficiency standards to be met in construction of new schools. (Kerr has tried versions of this twice before.)

The panel politely listened as testimony and discussion dragged on until 6 p.m., but the result was the same as that for the testing bill – a 5-4 party-line vote to kill the bill.

Kerr’s 2-year-old son, Griffin, joined his dad at the witness table late in the hearing, calming looking at a children’s book as the discussion dragged on.

“I dare anyone to vote no on my bill now,” the elder Kerr joked. No dice.

Kerr is something of a marked man this year, as he’s facing off against Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, for a Senate seat this fall. So majority House Republicans aren’t inclined to give him any legislative victories that can be touted in campaign literature.

Dinger and Miles join Hick and Joe

The governor and lieutenant governor used a packed noontime rally/news conference to unveil the administration’s early literacy program and help announce grants from Mile High United Way to 11 agencies that will use the funds for literacy programs.

In addition to a large crowd of early childhood advocates, the two elected officials were joined by Rockies’ mascot Dinger and Broncos’ mascot Miles, to the delight of a crowd of Colfax Elementary School students who’d been brought in for the event.

The literacy program is a mix of volunteer efforts, grant-funded tutoring programs and previously announced bills that would streamline state early-childhood agencies and improve how school districts serve young students who are struggling with reading.

Read the literacy plan here.

For the record

The full Senate gave final, 33-1 approval to Senate Bill 12-148, the bill that would change Metro State’s name to Metropolitan State University of Denver. (House Bill 12-1080, which would elevate Adams State College to university status, was on the House State Affairs agenda Wednesday but has been transferred to House Education.)

The House gave final approval to House Bill 12-1144, which allows state colleges to have multi-year contracts with non-tenure track faculty.

The Senate Education Committee passed House Bill 12-1013, which would encourage schools to develop intervention programs for middle school students who show risk factors for dropping out.

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