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Final school funding debate fails to materialize

The question of $5 million hung over final resolution of the legislature’s school funding package Tuesday, but in the end the question faded away.

Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, wanted the $5 million added to House Bill 14-1298, the 2014-15 School Finance Act, to slightly increase state support for kindergarten students. (Kindergarten students are funded at 58 percent of the per-pupil rate for students in grades 1-12.)

Kerr, chair of the Senate Education Committee, added $10 million for kindergarten when HB 14-1298 came through his committee. But he lost that Monday in a conference committee, which also rejected his suggestion for $5 million. (Get details in this story.)

Kerr was shopping for support Tuesday to add the $5 million on the Senate floor, but he didn’t find enough.

After the conference report came to the floor vote late in the afternoon, the Senate accepted the report without change and re-passed the bill 23-12.

Kerr referred to the issue only obliquely during brief remarks, saying, “Vote your conscience on the conference committee report. … In the conference committee some of our programs took a haircut, and some were completely lopped off.” Kerr voted against the report but for the bill.

The House knocked off for the day before considering the conference report but is expected to approve it and re-pass the bill Wednesday, the last day of the 2014 session.

Senate moves on last education bills

The Senate on Tuesday morning cleared its calendar of the remaining education bills that needed final votes.

Two of those weren’t amended in the Senate so go right to Gov. John Hickenlooper for consideration:

Academic gaps – House Bill 14-1376 is intended to shed light on tracking of minority students into less-rigorous classes and 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) by student demographic groups, correlated where possible with the proficiency levels of students in each core course level as measured on statewide assessments. The bill also would require school districts to use that data as the basis for proposed actions in their school and district improvement plans. Cost: $144,216. Passed 19-16.

Trophies for academic growth – House Bill 14-1385 would set up a system of annual awards – with trophies – for high schools with the highest academic growth in each prep football conference. “This bill attempts to incentivize student to excel in academics just as they do in athletics,” sponsor Sen. George Rivera, R-Pueblo, said during preliminary debate Monday. “Trophies are for sports,” groused Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa. Passed 27-8.

Four other bills also are on their way to the governor after the House Tuesday agreed to Senate amendments. They include:

Higher education funding – House Bill 14-1319 would create a new funding formula for the state’s higher education system that gives greater weight to enrollment and would base a modest amount of funding on institutional performance measures such as graduation and student retention. A pet project of lame-duck House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, the bill gives substantial flexibility to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to hash out the details, setting up a long summer and fall of haggling among higher education interests. The formula won’t go into effect until 2015-16. Being speaker is powerful: The bill passed the Senate 33-2 and the House 59-5.

Gifted and talented – In a session of “haircuts,” House Bill 14-1102 took several trims. It originally proposed increasing G&T funding by nearly $6 million and requiring districts to screen all students and provide certified G&T program supervisors. The bill’s price tag has been reduced to a $1.6 million grant program, and most of its mandates have been softened to encouragements. Passed 21-14, re-passed 40-25 by the House.

Advanced Placement incentives – The House voted 56-9 to re-pass House Bill 14-1118, which would budget $261,561 to provide incentives for rural school districts to offer Advanced Placement classes. Passing the bill is a victory for a House Republican, Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, a retired rural superintendent known for his Western-cut suits and aw-shucks manner.

Traffic safety – House Bill 14-1301 allocates $700,000 to the Safe Routes to School program, which provides information for students and parents about safe walking and biking to school, as well as grants for driveway and sidewalk improvements and similar work. The House re-passed it 47-18.

Still pending on the last day

A handful of other education bills still require House review of Senate amendments, although there isn’t expected to be disagreement between the two chambers. Those measures are:

Scholarships – House Bill 14-1384 proposes a new college scholarship program that would take more than $33 million in so-far unused proceeds from the state’s 2010 sale of its student loan portfolio and devote it to a new program that would both provide financial aid to students and give funding to state and private organizations that offer college counseling services. The idea is modeled on the Denver Scholarship Foundation. Actual scholarships wouldn’t be awarded until 2016, after the program has been set up and additional funding has been raised. During Monday debate Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, complained that the program wouldn’t give out money immediately. But sponsor Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster, said delay was necessary because “We’re talking about building a long-term investment so it’s sustainable.” Passed Senate 24-11.

School closures – Anticipating possible changes for schools on the accountability clock, House Bill 14-1381 sets public communication, timetable, student reassignment and other requirements districts must follow when schools are to be closed for low academic performance. Passed Senate 18-17.

Online schools – House Bill 14-1382 contains a new definition of online education and new requirements for transfer of student records between schools, but mostly it sets up a task force to study how multi-district online schools should be overseen. Largely the product of an initial task force, the bill originally proposed having the Department of Education set standards for districts that authorize multi-district programs. (CDE now certifies the programs.) There were lots of objections to that plan – and complaints that the original task force wasn’t inclusive, so the bill ended up proposing another study. Passed Senate 28-7.

And the House Tuesday gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 14-214, a bill that could have future implications for the 130,000-some teachers who are covered by the Public Employees’ Retirement Association. The bill proposes three studies of PERA, possibly setting up pension legislation in the 2016 legislative session. The measure needs Senate approval of a minor House amendment.