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Literacy, ASSET vie for attention

Revisions to the early childhood literacy bill, expected to be offered in committee Wednesday, would give more flexibility to school districts in carrying out the program, and the amendments also include $16 million in funding.

The hearing on House Bill 12-1238 is in the Senate Affairs Committee at 1:30 p.m. – the same time at which the House Finance Committee convenes to take up Senate Bill 12-015, the undocumented students tuition bill.

The overlapping hearings come as the pace of events is getting faster at the Capitol, given that lawmakers face a May 9 deadline to adjourn for the year.

Other big bills are also stacked up, including House Bill 12-1345, the 2012-13 school finance act. It passed the House Tuesday on a 63-1 final vote and now must make its way through the Senate.

Crucial hearing for literacy bill

The Colorado Early Literacy Act, House Bill 12-1238, has drawn a lot of attention since the idea surfaced last year, pushed by business and education reform groups and modeled on a Florida law.

The main lightning rod was a proposal to require holding back third graders who are significantly below grade level in reading. Faced with widespread criticism, mandatory retention never made it into the bill. But the bill has been subject to intense scrutiny by – and jockeying among – education interest groups since it was introduced Feb. 7.

The House Education Committee spent seven hours on the bill, and House floor debate lasted two hours.

As passed by the full House on March 21, the bill’s original “preference” for retention of struggling third graders was softened. (See this story for details on the bill’s provisions as it left the House.)

The measure faced an uncertain future in the Senate, given a skeptical Democratic leadership and lobbying from school district interests who saw the bill as too restrictive and underfunded. The bill was assigned not to the Senate Education Committee but to State Affairs, sometimes used as a “kill committee.”

But key Democratic senators – sponsor Mike Johnston of Denver, State Affairs chair Rollie Heath of Boulder, vice chair Bob Bacon of Fort Collins and other senators – have been working on amendments. House sponsor Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and staff from the governor’s office also were in on the talks.

Proposed amendments were circulated to lobbyists and interest group leaders at midday Tuesday. Key features of the proposed changes include:

• A focus on students with a “significant reading deficiency” (to be defined by the State Board of Education). The House version of the bill also covers students with “reading deficiencies,” defined as those reading below grade level but above the level of significant deficiency.

• Use of interest revenue from the state school lands permanent fund to provide about $16 million in per-pupil funding (about $700 per student) to districts working with students who have significant reading deficiencies. The House version of the bill included about $5 million in funding. Proposed changes in the bill’s legislative declaration specifically note the need for financial resources.

As in the House bill, additional funds, about $4 million, would be available for a grant program for districts who need help implementing the program.

• Easing of some of the more detailed requirements for parent consultation and notification contained in the House version.

• While the proposed amendments still have specific references to retention as an option for struggling readers, the language is somewhat softened compared to the House version. Superintendent review of retention decisions for third graders remains in the bill.

• Addition of specific interventions, such as enrollment in full-day kindergarten, summer school and tutoring, for K-3 students with reading problems.

The State Affairs hearing on the bill will be in the Old Supreme Court Chambers on the second floor of the Capitol.

At the same time the House Finance Committee will hear the ASSET tuition bill in room LSB-A of the Legislative Services Building, across the street from the Capitol at 200 E. 14th Ave. The measure passed out of the House Education Committee Monday night on a 7-6 vote (see story).

The measure, freighted as it is with arguments over illegal immigration, faces tough prospects in the Republican-controlled House. Some observers believe House Finance is where it will die this year.

Testing costs last stumbling block to budget deal?

The Joint Budget Committee Tuesday started – but didn’t finish – trying to reconcile House and Senate amendments to House Bill 12-1335, the 2012-13 state budget.

The main stumbling point appears to be restoration of $5.7 million that the JBC originally included in the budget for development of new state science and social studies tests. The Senate stripped that money and put it in the budget for state economic development efforts.

Committee members seem inclined to restore the testing funding but couldn’t agree Tuesday on other sources for the economic development budget. The six-member panel had to break off discussions because Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, had to leave at 4 p.m., reportedly for President Obama’s speech in Boulder. Chair Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, was not happy.

Houses send each other fresh bills

Both houses voted final passage for several bills Tuesday, including:

House

  • House Bill 12-1345 – School finance act (63-1)
  • House Bill 12-1306 – Reimbursement of school districts for mid-year enrollment increases (43-21)
  • House Bill 12-1069 – Creation of a three-day sales tax holiday in August for school supplies and clothing (44-20)
  • House Bill 12-1331 – Western State name change to Western State Colorado University (60-4)

Senate

  • Senate Bill 12-047 – Requiring skills tests, such as Accuplacer, for all students at least once during high school (34-0)
  • Senate Bill 12-164 – Regulation of for-profit colleges that award bachelors and graduate degrees and establishing consumer protections for students (25-8)

Lawmakers can’t help themselves

Sure, the session enters its 106th of 120 days Wednesday, and things are already getting a little nutty. But that doesn’t prevent lawmakers from introducing new measures. New this week are resolutions for proposed constitutional amendments on initiative petitions, use of lottery revenues for education and PERA transparency, plus a bill to allow resident tuition rates for some military dependents.

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

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