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ASSET bill clears the Senate

The Senate Monday morning voted 23-12 to pass the bill that makes undocumented students eligible for resident tuition rates at state colleges.

Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa

Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa

Senators spent just a few moments making some last rhetorical points about Senate Bill 13-033 before taking the final roll call vote. Three Republicans joined all 20 Senate Democrats in voting for the measure.

“This is a bill that will today light up cell phones in high school classrooms across Colorado,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and a prime sponsor. “There is a profound ripple of hope being sent from this chamber today.”

Republicans supporting the bill were Sens. Greg Brophy of Wrap, Larry Crowder of Alamosa and Owen Hill of Colorado Springs.

The bill was introduced in the House later Monday and is expected to be considered by the House Education Committee Wednesday morning.

Daily roundup

The Senate spent three hours last Friday fully debating the measure during preliminary consideration, known as “second reading” in legislative jargon. Full debate generally takes place on second reading, not before a final vote.

Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, opened the arguments for the bill on Friday, saying in a quavering voice, “It will certainly change the lives of young aspiring students. … ASSET stands to raise millions of dollars in annual revenue for our financially strapped colleges and universities.”

ASSET supporters argue that making college less expensive for undocumented students will increase enrollment of such students, generating more tuition revenue for state institutions. Previous versions of the proposal have proposed undocumented tuition rates higher than in-state tuition but below out-of-state rates, which is what undocumented students have to pay now if they choose to attend.

To be eligible students must have attended a Colorado high school for three years prior to graduation or finished a GED, be admitted to a state college or university and provide an affidavit stating they have applied for lawful residency in the U.S. or will apply as soon as they are eligible to do so.

Three Republican senators went to the podium Friday to speak in support of ASSET, including two freshmen.

Crowder said, “I’m of the opinion that this is a very conservative idea. … We need to do everything we can for everybody we can. … I will have no problem whatever supporting this bill.” Sen. Owen Hill of Littleton said the bill “moves us forward to a future that is consistent with our past” of individual liberty and opportunity.

Brophy noted, “I’ve had a hard time arguing against this bill,” mentioning bright, undocumented students he’s met in his sprawling Eastern Plains district.

He said he thought again about the issue last year after GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney talked about illegal residents “self-deporting” themselves. Brophy said he thought about students in his district. “They can’t leave here to go home because they are home.”

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, spoke against the bill more than once. “It is a step toward amnesty,” he said. “When I see the word ASSET I see amnesty.”

Johnston closed out the arguments Friday with the story of a former student who ultimately joined the military so he could stay in the U.S. “These kids are kids who grew up knowing they’d have to fight for everything, and they are the most grateful,” he said, “That’s all they’ve asked, that opportunity be open to them.”

Legislative fiscal analysts estimate the bill will raise $2 million in additional tuition revenue in 2013-14 and $3 million in 2014-15. The analysis projects 500 students would take advantage of the law next school year, with 250 more a year joining the program through 2016-17.

Republicans objected that the bill would cost colleges money, dismissing Democratic arguments as a “Jedi mind trick.” But GOP efforts to add what’s called an appropriations clause to the bill were rebuffed.

Parent trigger bill saved from “kill committee”

The House State Affairs Committee Monday passed House Bill 13-1172 on to the House Education Committee rather than give it a polite hearing before killing it. (The State Affairs panels in both houses are where leaders of the majority party send bills to die.)

The measure isn’t expected to suffer a different fate in House Education, but at least the discussion may be more informed than it would have been in State Affairs, which was busy with other things Monday.

The bill would allow parents of students at schools that have been tagged with the lowest state ratings – “priority improvement” or “turnaround” – for two or more years to petition the State Board of Education to take action to convert the school. The board could deny the petition, direct the local school board to act or defer a decision for a year. The measure is similar to a 2012 bill that passed the House but died in a Senate committee.

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 measure is sponsored by 10 Republican lawmakers. (See this story for more details.)

Evaluation confidentiality bill advances

The House Education Committee Monday gave 10-2 approval to House Bill 13-1220, which would clarify state law to ensure that individual teacher and principal evaluations remain confidential.

Evaluations and related materials would be available to administrators and others authorized to see them. Aggregate data about evaluations (without individual identification) would be available for use by the Department of Education and researchers and could be released publicly.

The bill was supported by witnesses representing the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Association of School Administrators, the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Quality Teacher Commission, a state advisory body.

The committee gave the bill a moderate amount of discussion and passed it with only one technical amendment. (Read the bill text and a legislative memo summarizing it.)

The education committee also voted 7-5 to pass House Bill 13-1007, which proposes to resurrect the Early Childhood and School Readiness Legislative Commission, which expired last year, and continue it until July 1, 2018. The amended bill would reduce the membership from 10 to six lawmakers.

The bill is a priority for Rep. Cherylin Peniston, vice chair of House Education, and Sen. Evie Hudak, chair of Senate Education, who both believe the legislature needs a focused, year-around committee on early childhood. The executive branch has its own such panel, the Early Childhood Leadership Commission. Proposed changes to that body are dealt with in another measure, House Bill 13-1117.

Rep. Carole Murray of Castle Rock, the ranking Republican on House Education, opposed the bill, noting the legislature doesn’t have dedicated committees for other levels of education and that she doesn’t like multi-year study committees.