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Testing, school liability bills will ramp up ed debates

New bills on testing and on the liability of schools for violent incidents were introduced in the legislature Friday. The bills add another big element to the testing debate and introduce a new hot-button issue to the legislative session.

The testing measure, Senate Bill 15-215, is notable for a couple of reasons. (Read the full text here.)

The proposal is bipartisan and has sponsors in both houses. Senate sponsors are Republican Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and Democrat Andy Kerr of Lakewood. In the House Democrat John Buckner of Aurora and Republican Jim Wilson of Salida are the prime sponsors.

The mix of sponsorship is important, given that Republicans control the Senate and Democrats run the House.

To a large degree SB 15-215 incorporates the key recommendations of the Standards and Assessments Task Force, which proposed reducing high school testing and streamlining school readiness and early literacy assessments.

The six testing bills introduced earlier have more partisan sponsorship, and some of the Republican bills propose sweeping changes like Colorado’s withdrawal from the Common Core State Standards and PARCC tests and greater flexibility for school districts to use their own tests.

(For detailed information about all 2015 testing bills, see our new Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom on this story.)

Despite its sponsorship, SB 15-215 doesn’t represent a grand compromise supported by a wide number of legislators.

It may not go far enough for many education interests. And there may be additional bills introduced including one on parental opting out of tests. There’s also interest by some groups in using a testing bill as a way to reduce the current requirement that student growth data, which is derived from test results, be used for a teacher’s evaluation.


The other major bill that surfaced Friday was Senate Bill 15-213, a bipartisan measure that would limit school district immunity from lawsuits for claims stemming from violent incidents at schools. This is a bill driven by the fatal shooting at Arapahoe High School. (Read the text here.)

Significantly, among the prime sponsors are Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder. But district interests may fight this one.

Another bill introduced Friday also is related to student safety. Senate Bill 15-214 would create a permanent legislative study panel on school safety and youth mental health.

House Bill 15-1275, which was introduced earlier, would tighten up requirements for reporting and compilation of violent and criminal incidents in schools. It will be considered by the House Education Committee on Monday afternoon.

The other new measure of interest introduced Friday was Senate Bill 15-216, which would place new restrictions and requirements on school districts that want what’s called exclusive chartering authority. (If a district has such authority it means the state Charter School Institute can’t authorize a charter within that district’s boundaries.) Among other things, the bill would tie chartering authority to a district’s accreditation rating. The measure is sponsored by the interesting duo of Hill and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora.

For the record

The House Friday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 15-1240, Fields’ proposal to encourage school districts and police departments to make formal agreements about how school incidents are handled.

The Aurora Democrat wants to reduce contacts between police and students for what she sees as disciplinary problems that should be handled by teachers and school administrators.

The debate largely reprised committee discussion earlier this week. Fields argued the bill makes an important statement that would motivate school districts to change policies. Republicans countered that the bill isn’t needed because districts are free now to enter formal agreements with police departments.

Another discipline-related measure, Senate Bill 15-184, passed the Senate Education Committee Thursday. The bill aims to end jailing of truant students who ignore court orders to return to school.

Despite passing on a 5-4 partisan vote, the committee had a long, thoughtful and non-partisan conversation about how to handle truancy. The bill would take truancy cases out of juvenile courts and assign them to administration judges, who don’t have the power to send people to jail.

Some members were concerned passage of the bill would cut off promising truancy court programs that have been developed in a few counties. An amendment that would have turned the bill into a study of truancy policies and practices was defeated. The Senate sponsor is Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, and Fields is the House prime sponsor.

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.