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Legislative review 2012

An improving economy and a willingness to listen may have been the key factors behind passage of significant education bills by the 2012 legislature.

Rep. Tom Massey said, “There’s no question” that improving state revenues made the early childhood literacy bill and a no-cuts school finance act possible. Massey, a Poncha Springs Republican and chair of the House Education Committee, was at the center of most education debates this year. His name was on 38 measures, most of them related to schools or higher education.

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins and chair of Senate Education, also cited a cooperative spirit among lawmakers, interest groups and others as key to the session: “Time after time, we came together.” Bacon was a key figure in Senate debates on the literacy bill.

What the session means to you

As a legislative session unfolds, it’s often hard to translate the legalistic language of bills into impacts on real people. And, as with most legislation, the effects of many 2012 bills won’t be felt until after state bureaucrats, school administrators and college leaders have worked out the details of implementing the new laws.

But here a high-level look at what this year’s education legislation will mean for parents and students, teachers and administrators, bureaucrats and others:

Young learners, parents and teachers – More than 20,000 K-3 students who struggle with reading will get additional, structured help – and a few of them may find themselves repeating third grade. Schools will be required to involve parents more closely in efforts to improve reading skills. Teachers in the early grades will have to learn some new skills for teaching literacy. All of this will flow from the early literacy bill, House Bill 12-1238 – see summary.

Counselors and troubled kids – An easing of zero-tolerance discipline laws will mean teachers, counselors and vice principals will have more flexibility in school discipline and will have to brush up on new techniques. Some students who otherwise would have been expelled or suspended likely will find themselves staying in school. And some administrators will have more paperwork to file tracking the impact of new policies. The original discipline bill, Senate Bill 12-046, had to be folded into another measure because of a parliamentary screw-up; read the summary here.

High school students – There may be more tests to take in the state’s high schools, given passage of a bill providing $1 million in state aid for districts to give Accuplacer skills assessment tests. The hope is the tests will give early indications of student deficiencies that can be fixed before kids get to college. This plan, originally Senate Bill 12-047, also had to be merged into another bill. See the summary.

Bright kids and students who are behind – House Bill 12-1043 is supposed to prompt wider distribution of information about high school-college dual enrollment opportunities, and House Bill 12-1146 will continue programs that allow older dropouts with few high school credits to catch up at community colleges.Future students – There are still lots of hurdles to be jumped before Colorado has permanent replacements for the TCAP tests, but a bill requiring the State Board of Education to commit to one of two groups developing multi-state tests is one step down that road.

College students – Some students at state colleges and universities will be freed from the current system of having to take remedial classes before they can take for-credit courses. House Bill 12-1155 (see summary) will allow more targeted remediation for specific skill gaps while student take regular classes.

Future college students – In future years, graduates of Adams, Metro and Western state colleges will have the word “university” on their sheepskins, thanks to three name-change bills passed this year.

Adults who want degrees – The state is making a push to increase the number of Coloradans with degrees or certificates. Senate Bill 12-045 is supposed to make it easier for adults with some community college credits and some four-year credits to combine them and earn an associate’s degree. And House Bill 12-1072 is intended to create easier ways for adults to earn college credit for such “life experiences” as professional and military training.

Parents – There may be a bit more school paperwork to fill out because of Senate Bill 12-036, which tightens requirements for parent consent before students can fill out various surveys and questionnaires. Parents won’t have to worry when the Oct. 1 enrollment count day falls on a religious holiday; count day will be moved. But parents won’t be able to opt kids out of achievement tests, get a sales-tax break on back-to-school purchases, petition for conversion of low-performing schools or sit in on district-union bargaining sessions. Bills proposing all those things didn’t make it. And a State Board rule requiring parents be notified when school employees are arrested will expire because the legislature didn’t ratify it.

Teachers – Teachers with national board certifications will receive $4,800 stipends for working at high-needs schools via House Bill 12-1261. Two sets of regulations intended to implement the new educator evaluation system were ratified by the legislature, meaning that system as designed by the Colorado Department of Education is moving ahead. The legislature also provided CDE with some extra funding for implementation work.

Higher ed policymakers – A new law on regulation of for-profit colleges will enable the state Department of Higher Education to gather more information about enrollment, degrees granted and other data from those institutions. That in turn will provide a fuller picture of higher education in the state as policymakers try to increase the number of degrees and certificates granted. This was yet one more bill that had to be folded into another measure; read the summary here.

Charter school administrators – A bill setting uniform minimum standards for charter school applications and authorization (Senate Bill 12-061) passed, but a measure that would have encouraged districts to follow “model” standards of authorizing didn’t (House Bill 12-1225). And some charters may have an easier time qualifying for Building Excellent Schools Today grants because of Senate Bill 12-121.

Lunch ladies – If they haven’t done so already, kitchen administrators will have to get rid of foods with added trans fats under the terms of Senate Bill 12-068. But the measure is riddled with exceptions; get the details in this summary.

One issue is big every year

The state provides about two-thirds of K-12 operating funds every year, and the legislature sets the combination of state and local revenue used to pay for schools.

The recession and resulting state revenue drops forced the 2009, 2010 and 2011 legislative sessions to cut school funding. This year was a different story because improving revenues allowed the legislature to keep school funding stable at about $5.3 billion in 2012-13, an average of $6,474.24 per student.

“School finance was one of the victories,” said Bacon, a view Massey shares.

That doesn’t mean rising costs, such as for pensions, aren’t going to force individual districts to make cuts. But at the statehouse, there definitely was less tension around school finance this year.

Improved revenues also allowed lawmakers to keep higher education budget cuts to “only” about $7 million below current levels.

Get more information on school finance in the Education News Colorado archive and in this legislative staff document. And find out how much funding is allocated to individual districts in our database.

What didn’t get done

There was a lot of speculation early in the session that online schools and the BEST construction program would be big education issues. As it turned out, neither was.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, promised a bill to better regulate online schools but ended up not touching the issue, partly because of his focus on a jobs bills. Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, considered online legislation but ended up not introducing any. He had plenty on his plate, including membership on the Joint Budget Committee and sponsorship of the civil unions bill.

There also was chatter about legislation to tighten up the BEST program and perhaps cap its income from state lands revenues. A funding bill never got introduced, and a bill to change structural review procedures for BEST projects and to change the board was killed.

There also were predictions that the December 2011 court decision in the Lobato v. State lawsuit would hang over the 2012 session. But “Lobato” was a word that didn’t get uttered much. An amendment to fund a study of the cost of Lobato compliance was withdrawn, and a resolution urging legislative legal intervention in the case was killed. The case, of course, is on appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Dead for this year

The most prominent education bill that failed was Senate Bill 12-015, the so-called ASSET bill intended to reduce college tuition rates for undocumented students. This year marked the sixth time such legislation has been attempted. Backers promise a new version next year.

In addition to bills mentioned above, here are some other education bills that were killed or hadn’t been considered by the time the adjournment deadline came.

  • House Bill 12-1067 – Contribution limits in school board campaigns
  • House Bill 12-1235 – Requirements for energy efficiency in new school buildings
  • House Bill 12-1252 – Online posting of college and university financial information
  • House Bill 12-1280 – Establishment of a Western Slope gaming hall with video gambling machines, partly to fund community colleges and scholarships
  • Senate Bill 12-098 – Requiring CPR for high school graduation

Seven bills proposing significant changes in the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which covers all Colorado teachers and many other public employees, either were killed or didn’t make it out of committee.

A lot of farewells

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins
Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins

The 2012 session was the last for several members of the House and Senate education committees. The loss of Massey and Bacon, seen as the General Assembly’s senior statesmen on education, is lamented by many statehouse observers. Republican Sens. Keith King and Nancy Spence also have been key figures on education for years.Here’s who’s leaving the two committees:

House Education (13 members)

  • Massey (term-limited)
  • Don Beezley, R-Broomfield (chose not to run)
  • Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood (running for Senate against Summers)
  • Judy Solano, D-Brighton (term-limited)
  • Ken Summers, R- Lakewood (running for Senate against Kerr)
  • Nancy Todd, D-Aurora (term-limited but running for Senate)

Senate Education (7 members)

  • Bacon (term-limited)
  • King, R-Colorado Springs (district changed by redistricting; chose not to run)
  • Spence, R-Centennial (term-limited)

And several other members of both committees are running for reelection, so some may or may not be back.

See the full archive of EdNews’ 2012 legislative stories.

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