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Sen. Mike Johnston (center, facing camera) talks with lobbyists and senators.

Sen. Mike Johnston (center, facing camera) talks with lobbyists and senators.

Chalkbeat Colorado

Unresolved transparency fight stalls Success Act

After months of work on 2014’s major school finance bill, the debate boiled down to late-evening haggling inside and outside the Senate chamber about how schools and districts should report their financial information on the Web.

Unable to reach agreement on the issue, the Senate threw in the towel at about 8:45 p.m., when Majority Leader Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, laid the bill over until Wednesday.

House Bill 14-1292 includes such major provisions as a $110 million reduction in the state’s school funding shortfall (the so-called negative factor), a $20 million boost in funding for early literacy programs and increased support for charter school facilities.

The bill has been substantially amended – some would say whittled down – since it was introduced in the House in late February.

But the unresolved issue has been financial transparency – how and in what format schools and districts should report spending information on the Internet.

Bill sponsors and the Hickenlooper administration want a central state website that citizens and parents can use to view and compare school spending. School districts say they already report extension financial information on their own websites and that creating a state site would impose additional, and unnecessary, data reporting requirements on them.

The bill left the House with a central website in it. That provision has been amended in various ways as HB 14-1292 traveled through three Senate committees, which basically contradicted each other.

Bill sponsors thought they’d finessed a compromise on Tuesday night, but they hadn’t. Discussion on the bill was repeatedly interrupted for huddles on the side of the Senate chamber. At one point sponsor Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and other senators went outside the chamber for a vigorous exchange with a big scrum of district lobbyists (sometimes known as the “K-12 mafia.”)

Shortly after that, Heath announced consideration of the bill had been delayed.

School finance act has easier time

Things went more smoothly for the Success Act’s companion measure.

There’s been less controversy about House Bill 14-1298, this year’s version of the annual school finance act. But it’s had several elements added to it since it was first introduced in the House. Here are the key elements of the $60 million bill as of now:

  • $30 million to improve services to English language learners, along with some changes in those programs
  • $17 million to fund an additional 5,000 slots for at-risk preschool and full-day kindergarten students
  • $10 million to slightly increase per-student state reimbursement for full-day kindergarten
  • $2 million for boards of cooperative educational services to help districts with implementation of new education laws
  • $298,000 for an early childhood data system
  • Maintenance of the negative factor at the same level in 2014-15 and 2015-16
  • Setting of minimum per-pupil floor funding for all charter schools

The Senate removed from the bill a House amendment that would have swept 75 percent of any state surplus in 2014-15 into the State Education Fund.

Get more details on HB 14-1298 in this legislative staff summary.

There was little discussion on the finance act, other than from the sponsors.

“This is not everything we should be doing, but I believe it is everything we can be doing at this time,” said Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood.

The additional funding for at-risk preschoolers and kindergarteners “is one of the bright spots in this year’s school finance act,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver.

In other action

Several other education bills were on the move at the Capitol Tuesday, on these issues:

Student data privacy – The Senate gave preliminary approval to House Bill 14-1294, which sets various student data privacy and security requirements for the state Department of Education. “This is a pretty significant topic right now,” said Steadman. “The goal here is to have a clear and protective data policy.”

The bill doesn’t apply to local school districts, although CDE would be required to prepare data policy guidance for districts. See this legislative staff summary of the bill, and see this Chalkbeat Colorado story about the defeat of a more stringent bill.

Colorado Counselor Corps – The Senate agreed to House amendments and re-passed Senate Bill 14-150 22-13. The measure will double funding for the program to $10 million.

Minority teachers – The Senate took less than a minute to vote preliminary approval of House Bill 14-1175, which would assign CDE to study and develop strategies for recruitment and retention of minority teachers.