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Parent trigger bill pops up

A group of 10 Republican lawmakers has introduced a measure that would allow parents to petition the State Board of Education for conversion of struggling schools.

The “parent trigger” proposal introduced Thursday, House Bill 13-1172, is similar to a 2012 bill that passed the House but died in a Senate committee (see story).

But this year’s version comes with a twist – it also proposes to convert the state’s district and school rating categories to a system of A-F letter grades.

The trigger portion of the bill is fairly mild. It would allow parents of students at schools that have been tagged with the lowest ratings – “priority improvement” or “turnaround” – for two or more years to petition the state board to take action. The board could deny the petition, direct the local school board to act or defer a decision for a year.

The state’s current accreditation law requires the state board to act on schools that have been listed in those two categories for five consecutive years. Such schools can be closed, converted to charters or otherwise converted. The system enters its fourth year next July, and the conversion clock is ticking louder for several schools around the state. (See this EdNews story about the latest district ratings and this article for details on school ratings.)

The current system assigns five rating categories to districts and four to schools. Both would be converted to letter grades by the bill.

Letter grades for schools are a touchy issue in education. Some education reformers and conservative lawmakers think they are easier for parents to understand and would generate more public pressure for improvements, while many educators resist them as simplistic and punitive.

In Colorado the business-related group Colorado Succeeds, along with other organizations, runs a shadow rating system that uses Department of Education data to put schools into a letter-grade system. (See Colorado School Grades.)

Last year’s parent trigger bill – without the A-F grades – had a prominent Democratic sponsor – Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and a leading education reform voice. This year’s bill currently has only Republicans backing it. The prime sponsors are GOP Rep. Kevin Priola of Henderson and Sen. Scott Renfroe of Greeley.

Medicaid vs. education

Many Republican lawmakers don’t like “Obamacare,” including its expansion of the Medicaid program. They’re concerned that in the years ahead the state could find itself picking up the tab for that expansion, putting the squeeze on other state programs such as education. Expansion critics are unhappy with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s announcement earlier this month that Colorado would participate in Medicaid expansion. (See this Associated Press story for details.)

Republicans have expressed their dissatisfaction by introducing two bills.

The first, Senate Bill 13-006, would have banned state spending on Medicaid expansion if that caused a reduction of K-12 spending.

Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, made his best pitch Thursday to the Senate Education Committee, but the outcome wasn’t in doubt. The panel’s Democratic majority killed the bill on a 5-4 vote.

“I appreciate the spirit in which you brought this,” Johnston told Balmer. “I think this bill is really a debate about Medicaid rather than education. … I feel like this bill is asking us to hit a nail with a saw.”

“Sorry you didn’t have the happiest outcome, but we had a nice conversation,” committee chair Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, said to Balmer after his bill was “postponed indefinitely,” to use the the legislative term for what happened.

As it happened, another Medicaid-education bill was introduced on Thursday, but it would take a different bite of the apple.

House Bill 13-1175 would ban any state spending on Medicaid expansion until state support of higher education reaches $747 million a year. It’s currently about $513 million, plus another $100 million for financial aid. The bill’s sole sponsor is Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland.

Speaking of trying again

Also introduced Thursday was House Bill 13-1176, a Republican-sponsored measure that would allow income tax credits for private school tuition and for donations to private school scholarships.

If this sounds familiar, you’re thinking of Senate Bill 13-069, which was introduced earlier this month and proposes the same thing.

Duplicate bills are introduced periodically, usual by minority party members who know their original proposal will be killed but who want to at least have the debate in both houses, even though they know the second version of the bill also is doomed. Legislative procedures require that every bill get at least one committee hearing.

Another clone bill was introduced Wednesday. House Bill 13-1170 would allow individual school boards to decide whether to have staff members carry guns at school, if those employees hold concealed-carry permits. The Senate Judiciary Committee killed Senate Bill 13-009, the original version of that idea, on Monday (see story).

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