From the Statehouse

Successful day for education bills

Half a dozen education measures, including bills that would exempt back-to-school purchases from state sales taxes and that would encourage wider use of students’ life experience for college credit, advanced Wednesday in the legislature.

Back to school sale illustrationBut House Bill 12-1069, the sales tax holiday, is limping along on a wing and prayer, and some members of the House Finance Committee who voted on the winning side of the 8-5 tally said they only were supporting the bill “for now.”

The measure, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Joe Miklosi and Dan Pabon of Denver, would suspend state sales taxes during the first weekend of August on certain school-related purchases, such as school supplies, clothing, sports equipment and some electronics. (There would be a per-item price ceiling on items purchased.)

The bill came up as late afternoon was turning to early evening, and it consumed 90 minutes of committee time as panel members and witnesses debated whether the measure would cost the state tax revenue or increase tax collections, whether the bill would be a boon to big chain retailers and a headache for small businesses and other issues.

Pabon and Miklosi were clearly eager to do whatever they could to get the bill out of committee. They offered an amendment – which the committee accepted – that would lower the price ceiling for exempt items and also reduce the potential cost of the bill.

An analysis by legislative staff estimates the bill could cost the state about $5.8 million in lost revenue. The amendment supposedly would reduce that to $4.4 million. (Chris Howes, head of the Colorado Retail Council, testified in support of the bill and, gently disputing the staff analysis, said the tax holiday actually would increase state revenue, based on the experience of states that have such laws.)

Some Democratic members of the committee criticized the bill for potentially threatening state funding of schools. (Nobody mentioned that $4-$6 million is a tiny fraction of total school support of more than $5 billion.) Some Republicans were nervous about the bill’s possible effect on small businesses.

Summing up, Pabon promised that if he and Miklosi can’t find a way to pay for the bill, he would personally move that it be killed in the House Appropriations Committee.

That apparently convinced some members, although three of the eight yes voters said they were only supporting the bill “for now.”

Get college credit for your life

A bit earlier in the day the House Education Committee took up House Bill 12-1072, which would direct the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and the state’s colleges and universities to develop a system for giving adult students college credit for life experiences and learning, such as that gained in the military and the workplace.

Some state campuses already offer such programs, and there’s an established set of tests run by the College Board to assess life and professional experience. (The College Board’s lobbyist testified in favor of the bill.) But the idea here is to encourage greater use of the idea – and thereby perhaps increase graduation rates in the state higher ed system.

The committee did approve an amendment that would have the effect of requiring individual colleges to do more of the work developing the program, rather than the CCHE and the Department of Higher Education. The idea behind that change was to eliminate any new costs and thereby avoid sending the bill to the dreaded House Appropriations Committee.

House Ed members voted 12-0 to pass the bill to the floor.

The committee also considered House Bill 12-1043, a measure that would expand concurrent enrollment options for students who are still in high school but want to take college classes. The measure would add to current double enrollment options by requiring school districts to help students take courses as the college of their choice – and pay for part of the cost.

School district lobbyists have pushed back at the bill because of potential costs. Sponsor Rep. Kathleen Conti, R- Littleton, on Wednesday proposed an amendment – which the committee approved – that would reduce some of the perceived burden on districts.

But, like the sales tax-holiday bill, HB 12-1043 has uncertain future prospects. Even committee chair Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, who voted for the bill, told Conti she needs to do more work on the measure. The bill passed 8-4.

Compliments all around in Senate Ed

The Senate Education Committee Wednesday gave 7-0 approval to House Bill 12-1001, which would ratify the regulations issued by the State Board of Education to implement Senate Bill 12-191, the educator evaluation law.

Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver
Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver / File photo
SB 10-191 gave the legislature special review powers over the regulations, a compromise Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, inserted into the bill in order to placate the Colorado Education Association and its legislative supporters. The idea was that the legislature could be the backstop on any proposed rules that might be seen as punitive on teachers.

But the rules, crafted over two years by the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education, have gained support from every segment of the education community. So, legislative approval has become kind of a pro forma process.

Still, Johnston, the father of SB 10-191, marked Wednesday’s committee approval as a notable moment.

And Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said, “We probably anticipated at that time that we would not have this kumbaya moment.”

(The State Board of Education Wednesday started the approval process for a subset of the SB 10-191 rules, those involving teacher appeals of ineffective ratings – see story.)

Senate Ed also approved Senate Bill 12-061, a measure designed to improve and standardize the processes of charter school authorizing and dealing with failing charter schools. The committee did a little in-the-weeds tinkering with the measure, but the original core of the bill remains. The bill is being pushed by the Colorado League of Charter Schools, is supported by the Colorado Association of School Boards and stems from the recommendations of a study panel that recommended improvements in charter school standards and authorizing.

Metro name bill introduced

The only education bill introduced Wednesday was Senate Bill 12-148, which would change the name of Metro State to Metropolitan State University of Denver.

For the record

The following education bills of interest (but of less interest than the ones noted above) advanced in the legislature Wednesday:

  • House Bill 12-1090, which would move the annual Oct. 1 student enrollment count day if a religious holiday fell on that date. Received preliminary House floor approval.
  • Senate Bill 12-145, which caps current-year transfers from state school lands revenues into annual school funding. Passed by Senate Education.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

More grades?

Schools with lots of transfer students say A-F labels don’t fit

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Schools with large numbers of kids who transfer in or out should get an extra grade from Indiana’s A-F system, a legislative committee said Thursday.

The proposal, backed by both Democrats and Republicans on the House Education Committee, would give schools a second A-F grade based just on the scores of students who have attended for at least a year.

The goal is to account for schools with “high mobility,” common in poor neighborhoods where families move frequently and kids sometimes change schools several times in a single school year. When kids change schools, their test scores often sink. Lawmakers argued the schools where they end up on test day can be unfairly saddled with a low grade that doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of teaching at the school.

Even so, the schools will still be judged the same as all schools in Indiana on their first A-F grade.

The proposal was added as an amendment to House Bill 1384, which is mostly aimed at clarifying how high school graduation rate is calculated. The bill passed out of committee today, 8-4. It next heads to the full House for a vote, likely later this week.

The amended bill would require the Indiana State Board of Education to first define a “high-mobility” school. Then, starting in the 2018-19 school year, the board would assign those schools both the typical grade based primarily on state tests and a second grade that only considers the test and other academic data of students who have attended the school for one year or more.

The second grade could not be used by the state board to make decisions about state sanctions, the bill says. But it would help parents and others better understand the circumstances at the school, said Rep. Bob Behning, the bill’s author and chairman of the education committee.

“Especially in our urban centers, there are several schools … that have very high mobility rates,” Behning said. “We could all recognize that if you’re being moved from school A to school B to school C to school D in a year, it’s going to be very difficult for your performance to be where it needs to be.”

The bill also makes a similar change to high school graduation rates, which would help Indiana better comply with new federal law, Behning said. The bill would alter the graduation rate calculation so that students who drop out would only count in a school’s rate if they attended that school for at least 90 percent of the school year. Otherwise, their graduation data gets counted at the previous school they attended for the longest time.

Melissa Brown, head of Indiana Connections Academy, one of the largest online schools in the state, testified in support of the bill. She said the graduation rate change and second letter grade better reflect the work they’re doing with students.

“We really believe that if we can keep a student, we can help them,” Brown said.

Virtual schools have performed poorly on state tests, which some school leaders argue is because they serve a challenging population of students, including those who frequently move and switch schools, come to school far behind grade level and have other learning difficulties that make them more difficult to educate.

Read: The broken promise of Indiana’s online schools

Indiana Connections Academy sees about 20 to 25 percent of students come and go each year, Brown said. Other virtual schools, such as Hoosier Academies, have reported more than double that rate.

Although the rates for individual schools could vary widely, Beech Grove schools had the highest district mobility rate in 2015 in Marion County, where 20.1 percent of students left a Beech Grove school to go outside the district, according to state data. Franklin Township had the lowest, with 8.5 percent. Generally, transfer within districts was much lower.

In IPS, the rate was 18.4 percent for students leaving to attend a school in another district, and 8.2 percent of students left their home school to attend another in IPS.

Brown said she thinks the second school grade could help all schools that see high turnover, but it also could dispel some misinformation about what virtual schools are for — it’s not a “magic pill” for kids who are far behind, she said, a scenario she encounters frequently.

“At the end of the day, it’s really about what’s best for the kid,” Brown said. “And it’s not best to send a student to another school with two weeks left in the semester expecting a miracle to happen.”

new plan

Lawmakers want to allow appeals before low-rated private schools lose vouchers

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, authored HB 1384, in which voucher language was added late last week.

Indiana House lawmakers signaled support today for a plan to loosen restrictions for private schools accepting state voucher dollars.

Two proposal were amended into the existing House Bill 1384, which is mostly aimed at clarifying how high school graduation rate is calculated. One would allow private schools to appeal to the Indiana State Board of Education to keep receiving vouchers even if they are repeatedly graded an F. The other would allow new “freeway” private schools the chance to begin receiving vouchers more quickly.

Indiana, already a state with one of the most robust taxpayer-funded voucher programs in the country, has made small steps toward broadening the program since the original voucher law passed in 2011 — and today’s amendments could represent two more if they become law. Vouchers shift state money from public schools to pay private school tuition for poor and middle class children.

Under current state law, private schools cannot accept new voucher students for one year after the school is graded a D or F for two straight years. If a school reaches a third year with low grades, it can’t accept new voucher students until it raises its grade to a C or higher for two consecutive years.

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the bill’s author, said private schools should have the right to appeal those consequences to the state board.

Right now, he said, they “have no redress.”  But public schools, he said, can appeal to the state board.

Behning said the innovation schools and transformation zones in Indianapolis Public Schools were a “perfect example” for why schools need an appeal process because schools that otherwise would face state takeover or other sanctions can instead get a reprieve to start over with a new management approach.

In the case of troubled private schools receiving vouchers, Behning said, there should be an equal opportunity for the state board to allow them time to improve.

”There are tools already available for traditional public schools and for charters that are not available for vouchers,” he said.

But Democrats on the House Education Committee opposed both proposals, arguing they provided more leeway to private schools than traditional public schools have.

“Vouchers are supposed to be the answer, the cure-all, the panacea for what’s going on in traditional schools,” said Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary. “If you gave an amendment that said this would be possible for both of them, leveling the playing field, then I would support it.”

The second measure would allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a private school accredited and allow it to immediately begin receiving vouchers once it has entered into a contract to become a “freeway school” — a type of state accreditation that has few regulations and requirements compared to full accreditation.Typically, it might take a year or so to become officially accredited.

Indiana’s voucher program is projected to grow over the next two years to more than 38,000 students, at an anticipated cost — according to a House budget draft — of about $160 million in 2019. Currently in Indiana, there are 316 private schools that can accept vouchers.

The voucher amendments passed along party lines last week, and the entire bill passed out of committee today, 8-4. It next heads to the full House for a vote, likely later this week.