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Without funding, ELL bill dies

Updated 9:30 a.m., May 3 – The Senate Appropriations Committee this morning voted 6-1 to kill House Bill 13-1211, which proposed to upgrade programs for English language learners.

Sponsors weren’t able to find funding for the bill’s $7 million cost. “This is something we need to do, [but] the truth of the matter is we just don’t have the $7 million,” said committee member Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder.

The Senate Education Committee had voted 8-1 Thursday to approve the bill, which was designed to improve teaching of English language learners, even though committee members knew it faced long odds.

“There’s some great stuff in this bill, and there’s also a price tag that we’re still working on,” sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, told the committee during the Thursday afternoon hearing that was squeezed in between floor sessions.

HB 13-1211 would have updated standards for school district ELL programs and for reporting to the state on those programs, and it outlined how the Department of Education would oversee such programs. Current law allows districts to spend state ELL dollars on individual students for only two years. The bill would change that to five years.

Districts currently receive about $14.5 million a year in state funds this year plus $11.3 million in federal money. HB 13-1211 would cost an additional $7 million a year for additional CDE staffing and for additional professional development for teachers and for student support. Colorado has an estimated 110,000 ELL students, about 85 percent of who are Spanish speakers.

The bill had bipartisan sponsorship.

HB 13-1211 has been somewhat overshadowed by Senate Bill 13-213, the proposal to modernize the state’s school funding system. That bill contains substantial increases for ELL programs, but it wouldn’t go into effect until 2015-16 and also requires voter approval of a $1 billion income tax increase. (See this legislative staff summary for more details on HB 13-1211.)

GOP loses fight over extra higher ed funding

House members ate up about an hour Thursday evening throwing partisan stones at each other over House Bill 13-1144, a measure that extends a tax on cigarettes that was due to expire. When the House passed the bill way back on Feb. 4, it included a Republican amendment that earmarked the $28 million in revenue for higher education.

The Senate stripped that amendment before passing the bill on March 5. Ever since then the Democratic leadership has been holding the bill, with no intention of restoring the higher education amendment. (The Democrats felt it would be more prudent to spread the revenue among other programs.)

That hasn’t been a secret around the Capitol. But when the bill finally was brought up in the House Thursday for consideration of the Senate changes, Republican members made a big display about being betrayed.

“I want to know why no one told us,” complained Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch. “I never felt as played as I do now.”

“Bad, bad, bad. Bad, bad really bad,” scolded Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument.

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, pointed out that some of the complaining Republicans actually voted against the bill last February, but that just made GOP members madder.

Two Republican motions on the issue were defeated; the House voted to accept the Senate version of the bill and re-passed it on a 37-27 party-line vote.

Energy conservation bill flap defused

The House Thursday evening gave preliminary approval to a bill setting energy conservation standards for new school buildings after passing an amendment that apparently ends much of the controversy over the measure.

School districts had been fretful about the potential costs of such requirements. The amendment softens some of the original bill’s requirements for third-party verification of building projects and loosens some other mandates in the measure.

If the bill passes, as it now looks like it will, it will be a long-awaited victory for Sen. Andy Kerr, R-Lakewood. He sponsored several variations of the bill while serving in the House, but all were defeated. But the bill now is a fairly mild mandate. “I think this is as good as we’re going to get,” said Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen and a somewhat reluctant House prime sponsor.

No problems for BEST oversight bill

The House Friday gave quick preliminary approval to Senate Bill 13-214, the measure that tweaks some provisions of the Building Excellent Schools Today school construction grant program.

The bill requires the BEST board to maintain an annual reserve to cover the costs of annual lease-purchase agreements (something the board already does) and gives the legislative Capital Development Committee final say over the annual list of BEST lease-purchase projects. During the 2012 session there was some legislative hand wringing over the potential for BEST spending to require a legislative bailout in future years. That concern has ebbed, and the bill is seen as more symbolic than substantive.

Sex education bill finally goes to governor

Both the House and Senate Thursday agreed to a conference committee report on House Bill 13-1081, which creates a grant program for comprehensive sex education, and re-passed the bill.

The bill, first debated in committee early in February, prompted culture wars-style partisan rhetoric over abstinence and the role of schools in teaching sex education, with an undercurrent of anxiety about homosexuality. The bill actually went through two conference committees, but the changes didn’t appease Republican critics.

“This bill still stinks,” Stephens said Thursday, and the 37-27 House final vote split on partisan lines. The Senate was similarly split, re-passing the bill 20-13.

Down to the wire for merit aid bill

The Senate Education Committee will have a rare Friday session to consider House Bill 13-1320, a proposal designed to make it possible for state colleges to again offer merit scholarships to Colorado.

The bill allows state colleges to adjust ratios of resident and non-resident students so as to raise more tuition revenue from out-of-staters, giving colleges revenue they can use for resident merit scholarships. The bill currently also contains $3 million in state funds for merit aid.

Advocates had hoped the bill would be heard in committee on Thursday, but the necessary updated fiscal analysis by legislative staff wasn’t ready. Lobbyists working the measure expect the $3 million may be eliminated or reduced, and they’re also working on both wavering Democratic and Republican votes on the committee.

The measure is the last 2013 education bill pending in a committee other than appropriations. Lawmakers have to adjourn by May 8.

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