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Third version of higher ed makeover passes committee

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino’s proposed overhaul of Colorado’s higher education funding system got a 10-2 endorsement from the House Education Committee Wednesday, but more work and likely some controversy are in House Bill 14-1319’s future.

The bill approved by the panel was the second rewrite of the massive bill since the Denver Democrat introduced it less than a month ago. Ferrandino has long been a critic of the state’s somewhat patched-together college funding system, and the bill is intended to funnel more money to lower-income students and to reward colleges and universities modestly for meeting such goals as improving graduation rates.

The speaker is term-limited, and some see the bill as his policy swan song.

But critics of the original measure – much of the higher education establishment – argued it didn’t contain much reform, undermined the work of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, could have lots of unintended consequences and unfairly shifted scarce funding from research universities and rural colleges to access institutions like Metro State and the community colleges. Critics also have noted that a college performance contract system already is in place and current law calls for future performance-based funding.

Ferrandino got plenty of questions when he unveiled his plan to the CCHE (see story). There were still more issues when he brought a rewrite to House Education last Monday (see story).

The speaker brought a third version to House Education on Wednesday, and a bunch of additional amendments. While the bill – and the amendments – are complicated, but in general the changes are aimed at giving CCHE a greater role in the new system, cushioning rural colleges against possible losses of funding and to prevent a possible “ratchet effect” in the bill’s requirement that 52.5 percent of higher education funding be given to students through the stipend program known as the College Opportunity Fund. (That mechanism basically provides colleges with enrollment-based funding.)

The rest of college funding is provided through a device known as fee for service, which supports special services individual colleges provide, such as offering access in rural areas and providing graduate and professional education.

Noting the hectic discussions that have been taking place, Ferrandino told this committee, “If this is not the death of me I don’t know what will be.”

Read the current form of the bill (not including some of Wednesday’s smaller amendments) here. The measure next goes to House Appropriations.

The session’s other big higher education measure, Senate Bill 14-001, moved to the Senate floor from the appropriations committee Wednesday morning. The bill would increase college funding in 2014-15 by $100 million – and 11 percent increases for institutions – and cap resident undergraduate tuition increases at 6 percent for the next two academic years. The bill is on Friday’s Senate preliminary consideration calendar.

Lots of other education bills on the move

The day’s big education action was debate and passage of two school finance bills in the House (see story here).

But there was a lot more going on – here’s the rundown:

Rural districts – The House gave 64-0 final approval to House Bill 14-1319, which would give some rural districts with fewer than 1,200 students relief from some Department of Education paperwork requirements.

Teacher evaluation – House Education voted 11-1 for Senate Bill 14-165. This is the measure that would allow districts to choose how much weight to assign to student academic growth in 2014-15 when evaluating teachers. In the following year the evaluation system would revert to a 50-50 balance of growth and professional practice in evaluations.

Security – The Senate Education Committee voted 7-0 to pass House Bill 14-1291, which would allow charter schools to hire armed security guards, something districts already are allowed to do.

Alternative ed campuses – Senate Ed voted 4-3 to pass Senate Bill 14-167, which would set up a pilot program to test ways to improve outcomes at alternative education campuses, usually high schools that serve at least 95 percent at-risk students.

Bullying – Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to kill her House Bill 14-1131, which would have created separate misdemeanor crimes of cyber bullying. (The panel obliged.) The measure passed the House easily but ran into opposition in the Senate from legal and youth advocacy groups. Newell said those differences need time to work out and that she will introduce a new bill to refer the whole issue to a state criminal justice board for further study.

Immunizations – The Senate State Affairs Committee was taking testimony Wednesday evening on House Bill 14-1288, the controversial measure that would require parents who want to opt children out of vaccinations for reasons of “personal belief” to obtain a note from a doctor or medical professional certifying they have been briefed on the benefits and risks of shots. The testimony was expected to repeat much of what was said at a six-hour House committee hearing last month (see story). The Senate panel wasn’t expected to vote Wednesday.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to texts of the bills mentioned above (and all 2014 education bills), plus other information. Check our Top Bills list for education bills still in play during the session’s last month.