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Online bill started with study, now proposes yet another study

Key bills related to online education and gifted and talented programs ran into headwinds Wednesday as nearly two dozen education bills were in play on the floor and in committee at the Capitol.

The day’s frantic pace of activity highlighted the perils some bills face and the surprises that pop up as lawmakers scramble to work through long calendars at the end of the session.

Sponsors of House Bill 14-1382, who saw the breadth of concern about their bill during a hearing earlier in the week, returned to the House Education Committee with a rewrite designed to soften objections.

“We hope we have captured their concerns and addressed them,” said Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley.

The major issue with the original bill by Young and Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, was a recommendation that the Department of Education be stripped of its authority to certify multi-district online schools and instead set requirements for and oversee school districts that authorize online programs. (See this story for more details about the bill and about Monday’s hearing on the measure.)

The Young/Wilson rewrite, which the committee approved 8-5, now merely would set up a task force to study authorization of multi-district online programs. Ironically, the bill itself largely was the product of small task force that Young, Wilson and two senators convened in late January to come up with possible legislation this year. Now it looks like the issue will be tossed to the 2015 legislature – if HB 14-1382 survives another House committee, floor debate and review by the Senate – all in the next two weeks. (Read the amended version of the bill here.)

Regulation of online education is a notoriously tricky issue, given the vocal and competing interest groups and the skilled lobbyists involved. There are longstanding concerns about the quality of some online programs, but no new legislation on the issue has been passed in several years, despite repeated promises by some lawmakers to pursue reforms.

Other bills stand on shaky ground

No education bills were killed Wednesday, and none took quite the haircut HB 14-1382 experienced, but other measures do face uncertain futures.

Some witnesses in the Senate Education Committee had plenty of criticism for House Bill 14-1102, a proposal that would increase funding for gifted and talented programs, require screening of all Colorado students for gifted and talented eligibility and require all districts to have certified coordinators for such programs.

Representatives from the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado BOCES Association were out in force, urging the bill be defeated.

“Our schools don’t need more mandates, they need more resources,” said Michelle Murphy, a lawyer who represents CASB.

Sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, announced before the hearing started that the committee wouldn’t vote Wednesday because he’s still working on amendments. (Kerr also chairs Senate Education.) The committee next meets on Thursday. Get more details on the bill in this legislative staff summary.

House Education passed two bills whose futures are uncertain.

House Bill 14-1376, a recently introduced measure, would require the Department of Education to analyze student “opportunity gaps” by gathering and reporting data on how students, broken out by ethnicity and other characteristics, are assigned to and perform in various core high school courses. (Get details on the bill here.)

The committee passed the bill 7-5. District lobbyists would like the bill at least to be amended so that it’s voluntary, not mandatory. Because most of the key lobbyists were tied up in Senate Education opposing the gifted and talented bill, they hope to amend or kill House Bill 14-1376 in the House Appropriations Committee or in the Senate.

House Education also voted 12-1 to send House Bill 14-1139 to the appropriations panel. The measure would require the state convert to the average daily membership method of counting enrollment. Approval of the bill is considered to be a courtesy to sponsor Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, by his fellow education committee members, and the bill isn’t expected to survive appropriations. Average daily membership originally also was part of House Bill 14-1292, the Student Success Act, but that’s been stripped from the bill, and ADM is considered to be a dead issue this session.

Amid the hubbub, other bills advance

Senate Education did pass three bills Wednesday.

House Bill 14-1287 would allow earmarking of some Building Excellent Schools Today funds for schools damaged by natural disasters, House Bill 14-1175 would require a study of minority teacher recruitment and retention, and House Bill 14-1294 would impose various student data security requirements on the Department of Education.

Some Republicans – and citizen activists – don’t think that bill goes far enough, but the legislature isn’t expected to pass anything more stringent this year.

About half a dozen education-related bills were laid over Wednesday, some because there wasn’t time during floor sessions or for additional work on amendments.

GOP senators oppose toothless immunization bill

The amended version of House Bill 14-1288 doesn’t impose any requirements on parents who choose not to have their children vaccinated, but that didn’t prevent a couple of Republican senators from seeing a threat to freedom in the measure.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, even appeared to question the science behind vaccinations, using phrases like “scientifically unproven,” “not actually serving the best interests of our kids” and “somehow assuming the science is settled” in urging colleagues to vote no.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, was skeptical of the bill’s requirement that the Department of Public Health and Environment set up an immunization information website. “The information I see from health officials is not complete … it gives you half the story.”

Several Democrats spoke in support of the bill, which in its current form sets up the education website and also requires schools collect and report data about the percentages of students who aren’t immunized. A Senate committee earlier stripped a provision that required parents who choose to opt out receive educational information before doing so.

With the rhetoric exhausted, the Senate voted 19-16 to pass the bill, with Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango the only Republican yes vote. The bill now returns to the House, where sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said he won’t fight to keep the education requirement on the measure, according to The Associated Press.

All 17 Republicans voted against two other measures up for final consideration Wednesday, but the bills passed with support from all 18 Democrats.

Senate Bill 14-182 would require that school boards keep executive session minutes that include the subjects discussed and the amount of time spent on each. (An earlier bill that also included requirements for audio recording passed he House but was killed in a Senate Committee because of lack of support.)

Senate Bill 14-185 would create the Pay for Success Contracts for Early Childhood Education Services Program which would allow the Office of State Planning and Budgeting and school districts to contract with providers of early childhood development services – and then pay them later with savings realized from the program’s success.

On the way to the governor

The Senate gave 35-0 final approval to two House bills that weren’t amended in the Senate, so they now go directly to the governor for consideration. They are:

House Bill 14-1314 would require that charter schools be formally involved in district planning for tax override elections. But the measure leaves the final decision to school boards on whether to share new revenues with charters. The bill mirrors existing law requiring charters to be involved in planning for bond issues.

House Bill 14-1204 is intended to give small rural districts some modest relief from Department of Education paperwork requirements. Primarily it would allow such districts that are in the two highest state accreditation categories to file performance plans every two years instead of annually.

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