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New bill would roll back key element of evaluations

Colorado Capitol

One of the first education bills introduced in the 2015 legislative session would eliminate a major part of the state’s educator evaluation system. It’s expected to spark some lively debate, even if its chances of passage are unlikely.

A few of the dozen other education bills introduced Wednesday, the session’s opening day, also fit into the category of “statement” bills – measures intended to make a point and spark debate, even if they have little chance of passage.

Among those are two proposals to provide state funding for full-day kindergarten, one to divert state surpluses to education and another to provide tax credits to taxpayers who pay private school tuition

The evaluation measure, Senate Bill 15-003 would eliminate student academic growth measures from the state’s principal and teacher evaluation system.

The bill was introduced by new Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, and he’s the only sponsor for now. (That’s usually not a good sign for a bill’s chances.) He previously served in the House, was chair of the House Education Committee and a regular critic of various education reform measures. Merrifield had indicated previously that he likely would introduce such a bill.

Senate Bill 10-191, passed five years ago, created a new evaluation system that required principals and teachers be evaluated 50 percent on “professional practice” and 50 percent on student academic growth as measured by a variety of tests and evaluations, not just growth as measured by scores on state assessments.

While Merrifield’s bill is a long shot, the use of growth data in evaluations is expected to be a larger discussion during the 2015 session. In 2014 lawmakers gave districts flexibility in use of growth data during the current school year (see this story for background), and there may be efforts to extend that flexibility or otherwise tweak the current evaluation system.

Here’s a look at the other bills introduced Wednesday:

House Bill 15-1001 – Proposes creation of a program in the Department of Human Services that would distribute grants to non-profits and colleges to be used for scholarships for students seeking credentials in early childhood education. No price tag yet. Prime sponsors: Democratic Reps. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood and Alec Garnett of Denver; Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora.

House Bill 15-1003 – Requires the state Department of Transportation to award at least $3 million in grants to the Safe Routes to Schools program in 2015-16. The program helps schools protect the safety of students while going between school and home. Prime sponsors: Democratic Reps. Max Tyler of Lakewood and Diane Mitch Bush of Steamboat Springs; Sen. Todd.

House Bill 15-1020 – Would provide state funding to all school districts for full-day kindergarten. No price tag yet, but this will be expensive. Prime sponsor: Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. Wilson has made a crusade of this issue, and this bill will be part of a larger debate about kindergarten and preschool funding, although it’s not likely to pass in its original form.

House Bill 15-1024 – Proposes increases funding for an additional 3,000 students in the Colorado Preschool Program on top of the current 20,160. This idea also becomes part of the debate over increased funding for both preschool for at-risk students and full-day kindergarten. Prime sponsors: Pettersen; Democratic Sens. John Kefalas of Fort Collins and Todd.

House Bill 15-1027 – Makes American Indian students from tribes with “historic ties” to Colorado eligible for resident tuition rates at state colleges and universities. This idea has been proposed, but defeated, in previous sessions. Prime sponsors: Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton; Sen. Lucia Guzman. D-Denver.

House Bill 15-1037 – Prohibits state colleges from discriminating against student groups that require their leaders to adhere to certain religious beliefs. This idea involves conservative religious clubs that oppose homosexuality and is a favorite Republican cause. Prime sponsors: Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson; Sen. Tim Neville, R-Lakewood.

House Bill 15-1063 – Changes for ages for compulsory school attendance from 6 and 17 to 7 and 16. Prime sponsor: freshman Rep. Kim Ransome, R-Douglas County.

House Bill 15-1058 – Requires that any annual surpluses in the state’s main account, the general fund, be diverted to education, with 70 percent to K-12 and 30 percent to higher education. Prime sponsors: Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan; Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

Senate Bill 15-032 – Repeals current laws requiring permits for concealed carry of firearms but retains the ban on carrying concealed weapons on school grounds. Prime sponsor: Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins.

Senate Bill 15-033 – Would submits to voters a proposal to retain revenues above the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights cap and devote the money to funding full-day kindergarten. (Any attempts to divert taxpayer refunds under TABOR are likely non-starters this session.) Prime sponsor: Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood.

Senate Bill 15-045 – Creates a private school tuition tax credit under which taxpayers could claim credits for such tuition or for funding private school scholarships. This is a perennial proposal for conservative GOP members and has little chance of ultimate passage, given continued Democratic control of the House. Prime sponsor: Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Bethoud.

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