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CSAP “rights” bill meets expected fate

Impassioned testimony and pre-hearing lobbying by the sponsor didn’t dissuade the House State Affairs Committee, which on Thursday killed House Bill 12-1049, the testing opt-out bill. Four committee Democrats supported the bill, but the five Republicans voted no.

State Affairs is traditionally the “kill” committee where majority leaders send a bill they oppose, so the bill’s fate probably was preordained.

“I know why the bill was sent to State Affairs. I think we all do,” said committee member Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, who gave an emotional plea for members to at least pass the bill to the House floor. A retired teacher, Todd also complained about the culture of testing and its effects on some students. “I’ve had children throw up on their tests.”

As originally proposed by Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, HB 12-1049 contained provisions forbidding schools from penalizing students for not taking statewide tests and prohibiting the Department of Education from lowering a school’s performance rating because of testing no-shows, as is done now.

Thursday, the committee approved a Solano amendment that created an explicit parent right to take kids out of state tests, now known as TCAPs. (It’s not uncommon for committees to approve amendments to doomed bills.)

Solano pitched the bill as parents’ rights measure in the spirit of U.S. Supreme Court rulings on that subject. A parade of witnesses, mostly mothers and a couple of teachers, provided emotional testimony about problems their children have suffered because they didn’t take state tests.

The lone opposition witness was Jo O’Brien, assistant education commissioner in charge of testing. The State Board of Education voted yesterday to oppose the bill, with Chair Bob Schaffer, D-4th District, the only dissenter.

Solano, a retired teacher who’s serving in her last session because of term limits, has made a legislative career of criticizing standardized testing, but she’s had little success in her crusade.

Her “big” testing bill this year – House Bill 12-1091 – would eliminate CSAP writing tests and one set of high school tests. She got a similar bill through the full House in 2010. But this year the bill has also been assigned to State Affairs.

Other dead bills

The Democratic-controlled Senate Finance Committee killed two Republican bills that proposed to change the operations of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, the pension provider for thousands of retired and active Colorado teachers and other civil servants.

Senate Bill 12-119 would have required the PERA board to adjust benefits in order to maintain the solvency of the system. Senate Bill 12-082 proposed to rise the retirement age for future PERA members to match those of the Social Security system.

Many legislative Republicans have a variety of ideological and financial beefs with the way PERA does business, and several other GOP bills on PERA are pending. None are expected to pass.

Atmosphere sunnier – if long-winded – in Senate Ed

The Senate Education Committee spent three hours Thursday afternoon on four bills, passing three of them on 7-0 votes.

The most interesting is Senate Bill 12-045, the “reverse transfer” bill. The measure would allow students who’ve earned community college credits (but not enough to earn an associate’s degree) and four-year college credits (but not enough to earn a bachelor’s degree) to retroactively combine those credits to qualify for an associate’s.

The bill is touted as a way to increase the number of Coloradans with post-secondary degrees. An extensive amendment approved by the committee Thursday made key changes in the bill. The new version would require students to initiate the process of combining credits. The original proposal required colleges to do the work, a system opposed by some institutions. The amended bill also allows individuals colleges to develop partnerships to achieve the same goal. (Metro State has been working on its own program with community colleges.)

The committee also approved Senate Bill 12-067, which requires all charter school boards to be incorporated as non-profits. The intent of the bill is to prevent for-profit charter school operators from contracting directly with school districts, or from setting up “captive” boards. Under the bill charters would have to be stand-alone non-profits to enter into charters with districts. Charter boards could contract with for-profits to run schools.

The wouldn’t change any existing charters in the state, and districts could continue to contract with for-profit operators to run what are called contract schools.

The bill comes out of recommendations by a study committee that recommended improvements in how charters operate and how districts authorize charters. Both the Colorado League of Charter Schools and the Colorado Association of School Boards support the bill.

The committee discussed, but didn’t vote on, Senate Bill 12-106, which proposes to allow accredited early colleges to grant associate’s degrees and would add early colleges to the list of institutions that have a guaranteed transfer of core course credits to community and four-year colleges. Colorado has only five early college programs, which are kind of a hybrid high school and community college. Bill sponsor Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, is the administrator of Colorado Springs Early Colleges, a charter school overseen by the state Charter School Institute. King, who’s not running for reelection this year, is a tireless evangelist for the concept and says he wants to replicate it in Douglas County and Fort Collins.

He spoke passionately Thursday about his proposals, and lined up students from his school to testify in favor.

Geri Anderson, an executive of the community college system, praised King’s long record of work and commitment to students, but she opposed the bill. Matt Gianneschi, deputy director of the Department of Higher Education, said his agency has no position on the bill but noted that early colleges would have to undergo a long and expensive outside accreditation process in order to offer associate’s degrees.

The committee also spent more than an hour wandering in the semantic weeds of Senate Bill 12-036, a relatively minor measure that would beef up state law requiring parent consent for students to take certain kinds of surveys. The committee approved an amendment the clarify that parent consent isn’t required for taking academic tests.

For the record

The House gave unanimous final approval to House Bill 12-1201, which provides a midyear increase in school funding, and House Bill 12-1090, which requires that the Oct. 1 student enrollment count be moved if it conflicts with a religious holiday.

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