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Ulibarri makes personal plea for opportunity gap bill

A bill intended to shed light on tracking of minority students into less-rigorous classes passed the Senate Education Committee Thursday after its sponsor made a personal plea based on his own experience as an Hispanic high school student.

“I found myself challenged with discrimination in school,” said Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Commerce City, arguing for passage of his House Bill 14-1376. Ulibarri is a 2001 International Baccalaureate graduate of Thornton High School. (He likes to joke that he’s the only member of the legislature who graduated from high school in the current millennium.)

The bill would require the Department of Education to create a “course level participation performance report” that breaks out student enrollment in core courses (English, math, science and social science), broken out by student demographic groups, correlated where possible with the proficiency levels of students in each core course level as measured on statewide assessments, also broken out by student groups.

The bill also would require school districts to use that data as the basis for proposed actions in their school and district improvement plans.

Although officially neutral on the bill, representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards sure sounded opposed during testimony.

“We don’t need mandates, we need resources,” said Michele Murphy, a lawyer who represent CASB.

The committee passed the bill on to the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 4-3 party line vote. (Voting no is a default Republican position on many education bills this session.)

The committee also voted 4-3 to pass House Bill 14-1381, a measure would require school districts to establish procedures for public notification, timetables and student reassignment when schools are closed for low academic performance. (This is more than an academic question as schools and a few districts near the end of the five-year accountability clock.)

Scholarship bill eats up lots of time

Senate Education spent more than an hour Thursday on House Bill 14-1384, which would create a new state merit scholarship program modeled somewhat on the Denver Scholarship Foundation, which serves DPS students.

The program would take more than $30 million in so-far unused proceeds from the state’s 2010 sale of its student loan portfolio and devote it to a new scholarship program that would both provide financial aid to students and give funding to state and private organizations that offer college counseling services to students.

Actual scholarships wouldn’t be awarded until 2016, after the program has been set up and additional funding has been raised. The hope is that the program could attract outside donations to build up the fund so that it would become a long-term source of financial aid. The grants would go directly to students, unlike the state’s current financial aid program, which awards money to colleges to use in financial aid packages.

The proposal is a favored project of Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has a fondness for “public-private partnerships.”

The bill passed on another 4-3 vote. Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, seemed particularly skeptical of the program and asked a long series of questions. Get more details on the plan in this legislative staff summary.

More compromises for online bill

Senate Education did manage to vote 6-0 for an amended version of House Bill 14-1382, the one bill this year that affects online education.

The bill, which grew out of work by a quick-turnaround task force that was appointed by four legislators, has been heavily amended and now basically just proposes creation of a task force to study how multi-district online schools should be regulated.

The bill originally proposed a significant switch in the roles of the Department of Education and local districts in overseeing multi-district programs, which have been criticized for poor student performance.

But online education is a tricky and heavily lobbied issue, and the bill has been amended into just a study. Amendments approved by Senate Education added further tweaks to that study to satisfy the demands of various online interest groups.

And a feel-good bill

There was neither testimony nor debate on House Bill 14-1385, which would award athletic-style trophies to high schools that have the highest levels of academic growth in each prep football conference.

“We thought this was one small way to recognize those schools that are achieving incredible success … complete with an actual trophy to put in the trophy case,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, a cosponsor.

The bill passed 6-1, with only Renfroe, apparently still feeling negative, voting no.

With only four weekdays left in the 2014 session, the Senate Ed meeting meeting oddly was the sort of soup-to-nuts session usually seen much earlier in the session.

The big act was consideration of Senate Bill 14-221, a proposal to roll back the state’s social studies tests. Read that story here.