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“Trigger” bill passes first test

The House Education Committee Monday split on party lines, voting 7-6 to approve House Bill 12-1149, a slimmed-down version of a parent trigger bill that the committee killed last year.

Last year two Republicans, Reps. Tom Massey of Poncha Springs and Robert Ramirez of Westminster, joined Democrats to kill House Bill 11-1270. That plan would have allowed a bare majority of families at a low-performing school to petition their local school board to close the school or convert it to a charter or innovation school. A school board would have had limited grounds for rejecting an appeal, and a rejection could have been appealed to the State Board of Education.

This year’s bill, also sponsored by Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, is milder. It would authorize the parents of students enrolled in a school with a priority improvement or turnaround plan for two consecutive years to submit a petition to the SBE requesting the school be reconfigured. The state accountability system is set up for the SBE to take action on such schools after five years on either accreditation status. Schools are rated annually and required to file improvement plans.

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

Beezley pitched the bill to the committee as a plan that fits within the accountability system.

“Help me offer a little bit of hope … to parents with children in some of our lowest performing schools,” Beezley said.

Committee Democrats quizzed Beezley about why local school boards weren’t part of the process and about details of the parent petition process, such as who would verify signatures.

Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield / File photo
Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield / File photo

“I didn’t look at it as bypassing the local board,” Beezley said, predicting such parent activism would spur administrators and school boards to more actively engage parents. He also said he expects there would be few such petitions.Michelle Murphy, a staff lawyer for the Colorado Association of School Boards, testified against the bill, saying, “We do feel strongly about this bill; we oppose this bill.”

She added, “This bill allows a parent group to sidestep and potentially derail” a school improvement plan. Existing law “provides for parent input on numerous occasions and strong state oversight.”

Julie Whitacre, a lobbyist for the Colorado Education Association, also opposed the bill, saying the idea is good but her group has concerns with the details.

Vinny Badolato, lobbyist the Colorado League of Charter Schools, and Denver parent Nola Miguel, representing Metropolitan Organizations for People, testified in support.

“It injects some parent rights into the process,” said Badolato, adding that such a process could be helpful to improving the quality of charter schools.

Miguel said the current five-year turnaround process is “way too long.”

Whitacre said, “A lot of studies have shown that turnarounds need more than three years.”

The bill goes next to the House Appropriations Committee, because a legislative staff analysis has estimated it could cost the Department of Education about $23,000 a year to handle the parent appeals (see fiscal note). Some 105 schools currently are on priority improvement or turnaround status. The state accreditation system has gone through two years of school ratings.

If the bill passes the House, its prospects in the Senate are uncertain, given that chamber’s Democratic majority and expected lobbying efforts by CASB and other mainline education groups.

New bills

Three new education-related bills were introduced Monday.

House Bill 12-1235 would schools built in 2013 or later to meet certain energy efficiency standards. House prime sponsor Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, has unsuccessfully tried variations of this bill before.

House Bill 12-1225 would establish a model charter school authorizer program under which schools districts could apply to be model authorizers. If designated as such by the Department of Education, decisions by such districts on charter applications would carry an additional presumption of validity in appeals to the State Board of Education.

The bill is sponsored by the unlikely due of Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, and Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver.

House Bill 12-1227 would authorize the state community college system to design a certificate program through which students who are identified as needing basic skills remedial course work or who are eligible for adult literacy education may obtain a career and technical education certificate within 12 months.

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

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