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New bills: Literacy, gaming and more

House members return to work Wednesday facing more than 50 new bills in their file folders, including some key and interesting education measures.

The expected third-grade literacy measure was introduced as House Bill 12-1238. This year’s attempt to expand electronic gambling for help fund higher education came in as House Bill 12-1280.

Many lawmakers took most of the day off Tuesday to return to their districts for precinct caucuses, so the avalanche of new bills moved across the House front desk largely unnoticed by members.

The literacy bill, in the works for months, is expected to be the focus of one of the key education policy debates of 2012. An alliance of education reform and business groups are pushing the measure, and early literacy also is a priority for the Hickenlooper administration.

The proposal already has been the focus of extensive negotiations, partly because early versions proposed mandatory retention for third graders who didn’t meet specified test scores. That prompted lots of push back from wide segments of the education community.

The bill as introduced would rewrite the existing Colorado Basic Literacy Act and, starting in 2013-14, would create a detailed system for testing third-graders and determining their reading skills. Students who fell below a certain level would be recommended for retention, subject to discussions among parents, teachers and administrators. Superintendents would have the final say.

The measure would take money from the existing Read-to-Achieve program (and abolish that effort) to create a grant fund the Department of Education would use to help school districts pay for programs to help struggling students.

The 44-page bill has some powerhouse bipartisan sponsors, including Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs and chair of the House Education Committee and Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and the author of 2010’s landmark teacher evaluation bill.Bills have yet to be introduced on such key issues as regulation of online schools, school finance reform, revenue adjustments for the BEST program and modernizing regulation of for-profit colleges.

House Bill 12-1280 is sure to revive old debates about expansion of gambling and the needs of the higher education system. The bill has bipartisan sponsorship in both houses and proposes a complicated formula for distributing revenue from video gaming terminals to a college scholarship fund and a variety of other programs. The bill also includes geographic limits on where the new games could be offered.

The distribution formula and the limits appear to be efforts to defuse interest-group opposition that doomed similar efforts in past sessions.

Two other new education bills raise interesting ideas but may have a hard time advancing.

House Bill 12-1252 would require state colleges and universities to post various kinds of financial information online, much as other state agencies are required to do. In recent years higher education institutions, pointing out continually decreasing state support, have won large amounts of financial autonomy from the state and may well be resistant to a new mandate. The bill is sponsored by Rep. BJ Nikkel, R-Loveland, and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, both of who are lame ducks.

Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, along with Massey and Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, is sponsoring House Bill 12-1261, which would given certain teachers, based on their effectiveness ratings, preference in applying for jobs at high-needs schools. The measure also would establish a fund, seeded with gifts, grants and donations that would be used to help recruit and retain such teachers.

House Bill 12-1240 is a CDE cleanup bill that, among other things, would delay development of statewide graduation guidelines and development of specialized kinds of high school diplomas.

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

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