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Budget passes Senate, goes back to JBC

Senators from both parties verbally patted each other on the back Thursday before passing House Bill 12-1335, the 2012-13 state budget, by an historic 30-5 margin. The House last week approved the budget 64-1. All the no votes were Republicans.

Of course, the two versions of the bill aren’t identical, so the Joint Budget Committee, acting as a conference committee, will have to come up with a final version to be ratified by both houses. One item that will have to be ironed out is a Senate amendment that took about $6 million intended to be used for state test development and allocated it to economic development efforts. It’s expected the testing money will be restored.

The budget contains relatively good news for education, including a cut of only about $7 million to the state’s higher education system.

While the budget bill sets base funding for school districts, the hold-the-line K-12 funding proposed for 2012-13 also requires passage of the school finance act, House Bill 12-1345. That measure is on ice in the House while lawmakers try to work out differences over the funding of yet another measure, House Bill 12-1238, the controversial early childhood literacy proposal (see this story for background).

The JBC goes to work on budget reconciliation next week, and the literacy bill has a committee hearing scheduled next Wednesday.

Testing bill introduced

Updated April 20 – Senate Bill 12-172, introduced in the legislature this week, would require the State Board of Education to join one of two multistate testing consortia as a governing member, effectively casting Colorado’s lot with one of the projects.

The bill would commit Colorado to use multistate tests for language arts and math instead of the developing its own tests, which is what the State Board of Education has wanted to do, at least up to now.

Colorado is participating in both the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, but it isn’t a governing member of either. States that join a group’s governing board have a greater say in test development – but they also commit to use that group’s tests. Both are expected to be available in 2015.

The bill doesn’t specify a consortium, nor does it set a deadline for the SBE to decide. The measure’s prime sponsors are Sens. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and Nancy Spence, R-Centennial. Johnston said Friday that pretty much everyone involve in the discussion favors the PARCC group but that the bill doesn’t mention it because of the standard practice of not naming specific organizations such as vendors in bills. The measure doesn’t yet have a House sponsor.

Senate Ed approves Colorado Mesa upgrade

The Senate Education Committee Thursday gave 7-0 approval to House Bill 12-1324, the measure that would change Colorado Mesa University from a “moderately selective” institution to a “selective” one.

The change means that applicants would need an index score of 92 for automatic admission to Colorado Mesa, rather than the current 85. Index scores are a combination of ACT test scores, grade point average and class rank that state colleges use to determine admission eligibility. Colleges also are allowed to admit some students with lower index scores, a process known as “the window.”

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, questioned whether the bill would mean a change in Colorado Mesa’s mission of serving a broad spectrum of Western Slope students. (The institution was changed to university status only last year.)

President Tim Foster said that wasn’t the case and that the change would reflect the university’s changing student body. He said 99 percent of entering students now are above the 85 index level. Raising admissions standards would allow Colorado Mesa to admit students with lower index scores as provisional students. That in turn would allow the school to control course loads and course registration for those students and give them a better chance of success, Foster said.

Colorado Mesa also operates a community college program.
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

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