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Advanced Placement incentives bill gets in line

The House Education Committee on Wednesday apparently agreed with Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, when he said, “I believe all students should have equal opportunity to pursue Advanced Placement classes.”

The panel voted 12-1 to approve Wilson’s House Bill 14-1118, which would provide rural school districts with financial support to offer AP classes.

But the bill faces a big barrier before even getting to the floor – the House Appropriations Committee. That panel is the gate keeper for new spending bills, which already are piling up and which may not get sorted out until March or April. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for an overview of the challenges facing education spending bills this year.)

“Good luck in appropriations,” Rep. Millie Hamner said brightly to Wilson after the committee vote. Hamner, a Dillon Democrat, is chair of the committee.

The idea is something of a crusade for Wilson, a former rural district superintendent who saw a similar measure defeated last year.

“This bill is back, and it’s better than it was last year,” Wilson said as he launched a rapid-fire recitation of the value of AP classes plus statistics about how rural students lag behind in AP participation.

Wilson proposed, and the committee accepted, an amendment to shave the bill’s cost. The original cost estimate came in at $2 million for aid to small or rural districts. Wilson amendment narrows the eligibility definition to districts that are small and rural, halving the fiscal impact to $1 million.

Key provisions of the bill include:

  • A requirement that participating districts give a college entrance exam to all 10th graders to help determine potential for passing an AP exam.
  • Participating districts to already offer at least one AP class.
  • Designation of a district staff member to support students.
  • Payment to districts of $500 for each student who takes an AP class and $500 for each student who takes the corresponding AP test.
  • Payment to teachers of $50 for each student who takes and AP class and the test.

Native American tuition bill advances

The committee spent most of its time Wednesday – nearly 90 minutes – on another measure, House Bill 14-1124.

The bill would give resident tuition eligibility to Native American students who are enrolled members of tribes “historically” associated with Colorado.

(If you remember your Colorado history, you may think of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. But a legislative staff analysis of the bill reported there are 48 tribes with historic ties to the state, according to the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs and History Colorado.)

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, said the idea has been in the works for sometime but is being introduced this year partly in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, a 1864 tragedy during which state militia killed and mutilated Native Americans in an eastern plains encampment.

A long parade of witnesses testified in support of the measure, saying it would help underserved Native American students attend and complete college. Many of the witnesses were administrators or students from various Native American programs at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Resident tuition rates – significantly cheaper than out-of-state charges – generally apply to students who have lived in Colorado for at least a year.

But there are existing exemptions to that rule, including active and honorably discharge military members, Canadian military members stationed in Colorado, athletes training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and even Russian and Chinese students studying public policy at the University of Colorado Denver.

The bill wouldn’t apply to Fort Lewis College in Durango. Under the terms of a decades-old federal treaty, Native American students already get free tuition there, regardless of their home state. (Colorado taxpayers pick up that tab, and persistent lobbying efforts to get the federal government to chip in have been unsuccessful.)

Legislative fiscal analysts estimate the bill could cost $5.3 million in lost tuition revenue. But Salazar said that estimate is inaccurate and is being revised.

The bill passed 9-4, with a majority of Democrats and Republicans supporting it and four GOP members voting no.

Like the Advanced Placemen bill, this measure now goes to House Appropriations.