From the Statehouse

Session ends and CSAP bill dies

Final roundup
CAP4K delay bill
Financial aid bill
Other action

The Colorado legislature ended its 2010 regular session early Wednesday evening with the usual mix of chaos, frivolity, backslapping and hurried meetings, and with the usual dead bills.

There are always a few measures that die on the last day of the session because of House-Senate differences. Last year higher education flexibility legislation died on the last day; this year it was House Bill 10-1430, the CSAP bill.

What many thought in January would be a measure designed to clarify and expand on the testing changes mandated by the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids turned out to be something quite different when introduced in the House on April 29.

Colorado CapitolThe version by Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, proposed to phase out high school CSAP tests starting next year and replace them college-and-workforce readiness assessments. The bill also would have shifted the responsibility for writing tests from the state to school districts. Some legislators, agencies and interest groups privately felt Solano had sidestepped them to continue her years-long anti-CSAP crusade.

The House passed her bill overwhelmingly. The Senate Education Committee returned the bill to its original pre-introduction version, and senators passed that 21-14 and sent it back to the House on the session’s last afternoon Wednesday.

Solano and the House requested a conference committee; the Senate declined. So, late in the day, Solano called on the House to stick to its version. That killed the bill.

Debate on CAP4K delay bill takes lively turn

The Senate voted 22-13 final approval for a little-discussed bill that pushes back some CAP4K deadlines, but there still was some lively debate on House Bill 10-1013 Wednesday afternoon.

On preliminary consideration Tuesday Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, slipped on an amendment that requires a certain district budget report be posted on district websites. (The original purpose of the bill was to clean up various school finance details in state law.)

That budget report, which goes by the name of CDE-18, has been a minor point of contention because the only organization that reportedly uses it is the Colorado Education Association. School districts and the Colorado Department of Education wanted to eliminate it; conservative Republicans have used the issue as an excuse for a little union bashing.

After a fight, the CDE-18 report was eliminated in another bill.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, on Friday objected to Romer’s maneuver. But, his attempt to extract CDE-18 from the bill was defeated by Democrats, some of whom voted against the CEA on the much bigger issue of educator effectiveness.

The most important part of the bill, the CAP4K delays, have been little noticed or discussed. The bill slips the upcoming Dec. 15 for adoption of a new state testing system “until financially practicable.”

Scholarship bill passes

Both houses Wednesday also approved House Bill 10-1428, which will transfer $15 million from the pending sale of a CollegeInvest loan portfolio to state financial aid for college students.

News of the pending sale broke late in the legislative session and offered lawmakers a rare chunk of unclaimed money to plug into higher education.

Romer on Tuesday night tried to tap $5 million for teacher professional development – seen as a sop to the CEA – but the Senate turned that idea down.

There was a brief flap Wednesday over minor House-Senate differences, but House sponsor Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, and the House backed down to avoid the measure experiencing the same fate as the CSAP bill.

In other action

Two low-profile but important charter school bills are headed to the governor after the House accepted Senate amendments and re-passed House Bills 10-1345 and 1412 Wednesday morning. The first would create a method for the state to intervene with charter schools in emergencies; the second creates a commission that will develop and recommend operational standards for both charter schools and for authorizers. HB 10-1345 was re-passed 62-3, and the HB 10-1412 vote was 64-1.

The House also already has accepted Senate amendments and voted 65-0 the re-pass House Bill 10-1274, the two-years-in-the-making measure that requires notification of schools when students are to return from treatment centers.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts, status information and a listing of all the education bills that were killed this year.

language proficiency

Educators working on creating more bilingual students worry new state requirements aren’t high enough

A second grade class at Bryant Webster K-8 school in Denver (Joe Amon, The Denver Post).

Colorado educators who led the way in developing high school diploma endorsements recognizing bilingual students worry that new legislation establishing statewide standards for such “seals of biliteracy” sets the bar too low.

Two years ago, Denver Public Schools, Eagle County Schools and the Adams County School District 14 started offering the seal of biliteracy to their students. The three districts worked together to find a common way to assess whether students are fluent in English and another language, and recognize that on high school diplomas. Advocates say the seal is supposed to indicate to colleges and employers that students are truly bilingual.

A bill passed by state legislators this year that will go into effect in August sets a path for districts that want to follow that lead by outlining the minimum that students must do to prove they are fluent in English and in another language.

According to the new law, students must meet a 3.0 grade point average in their English classes and also earn a proficient score on the 11th grade state test, or on Advanced Placement or IB tests. For showing proficiency in the second language, students can either earn proficient scores on nationally recognized tests — or meet a 3.0 grade point average after four years of language classes.

Although educators say the law sends a message of support for bilingual education, that last criteria is one part of what has some concerned.

“It allows for proficiency in a world language to be established solely by completing four years of high school language classes,” said Jorge Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education. “Language classes in one school district may have a different degree of rigor than they do in another.”

The second language criteria should be comparable to the English criteria, several educators said. In the requirements set by Denver, Eagle County and Adams 14, students must at a minimum demonstrate language proficiency through a test score, or in some cases with a portfolio review and interview if a test is not available.

The three districts also catered their requirements based on what each community said was important. In Adams 14 and in Eagle schools, students must perform community service using their language skills. Students also have to do an interview in both languages with a community panel.

“Our school district team developed the community service criteria because we wanted our kids to have authentic practice in their languages,” said Jessica Martinez, director of multilingual education for Eagle County Schools. “We also wanted students to be a bridge to another community than their own. For example, one group of students created academic tutoring services for their peers who don’t yet speak a lot of English. Another student started tutoring her mom and her parents’ friends so they could get their GED.”

The state law doesn’t require students to do community service. But it does allow school districts to go above the state’s requirements when setting up their biliteracy programs.

“Thoughtful school districts can absolutely address these concerns,” Garcia said.

Several school districts in the state are looking to start their own programs. In March, the school board for the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs voted to start offering the seal. Summit School District also began offering the seal this year.

Leslie Davidson, the dual language coordinator for Summit, said that although her program will change in the next year as she forms more clear requirements around some new tests, she will continue to have higher requirements than the state has set.

This year her students had prove proficiency in their second language by taking a test in that language. They also had to demonstrate English proficiency through the ACT. In addition, students did oral presentations to the community in both languages.

“Their expectations aren’t as high as mine are,” Davidson said. “We’ll probably stay with our higher-level proficiencies. I do have some work to do in terms of how that’s going to look for next year, but I certainly don’t want to just use seat time.”

Meanwhile, the districts that started the seal are increasing their commitment to biliteracy so as many students as possible can be eligible to earn seals in the future.

The Adams 14 school district in Commerce City is using Literacy Squared, a framework written by local researchers for teaching students to read English by strengthening literacy in the native language. The program is being rolled up year by year and will serve students in 34 classrooms from preschool through fourth grade in the fall.

In Eagle County, Martinez said parents have shown such a strong demand for biliteracy that most elementary schools are now dual language schools providing instruction to all students in English for half of the school day and in Spanish for the other half.

Both districts are also increasing the offerings of language classes in middle and high school. The options are important for students who are native English speakers so they too can become bilingual and access the seal. For students whose primary language is not English, the classes can help ensure they don’t lose their primary language as they learn English.

Of Eagle’s 25 students who graduated with a seal of biliteracy this year, 17 were native Spanish speakers and eight were native English speakers.

“We want all kids to see their bilingualism is an asset,” Martinez said. “It’s huge for them.”

 

money matters

Why so negative? Colorado lawmakers seek to rebrand controversial tool that limits spending on schools

A student works at Tollgate Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Nic Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Colorado lawmakers are tired of hearing about the “negative factor.”

So they changed its name — at least in statute.

Going forward, the tool that budget writers will use to spend down the state’s financial obligation to public schools to balance the state budget officially will go by its original name: the “budget stabilization factor.”

The change was made when lawmakers passed the state’s annual school funding bill earlier this month.

The negative factor “has been used as a pejorative,” said state Sen. Kevin Priola, the Henderson Republican who put forth the idea of the name change. “The budget is never perfect. But these are the economic realities we have to deal with.”

Some education funding advocates are rolling their eyes. The term, they say, has become so well known and accepted that any attempt to change it will be difficult.

“You can change the name, but the debt’s the same,” said Lisa Weil, executive director of Great Education Colorado, a nonprofit that advocates for more school funding.

The negative factor — oh, sorry, we mean the budget stabilization factor — is just one part of a much larger and complex formula used to determine school funding.

The budget tool was first created in 2009 when state lawmakers were forced to slash the budget after the Great Recession.

School advocates knew they couldn’t escape the cuts the rest of the state was facing. So a team of lawmakers, lobbyists, superintendents and financial officers helped developed the tool.

Here’s how it works: After lawmakers determine how much funding schools should receive based on a formula developed in 1994, they compare that amount to available tax revenue. The difference is that year’s “stabilization factor.”

At the time the tool was created, the group wanted the cuts to be systematic — applied equally across all schools — and transparent. As part of the compromise, the state was required to track how much money it was withholding from schools.

In 2014, funding advocates sued the state, claiming the negative factor was unconstitutional. But the state Supreme Court disagreed.

Since then, Republican lawmakers have become more critical about the provision that requires them to track how much money the state isn’t giving schools. They argue that other state services such as roads, hospitals and parks all share a burden when it comes to balancing the budget.

Lawmakers have withheld about $5.8 billion from schools since the budget balancing tool was created. However, funding has slowly crept up each year, just not as fast as school leaders would hope.