From the Statehouse

Sex ed bill advances in Senate

The “comprehensive sex education” bill passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a narrow party-line vote Thursday, following a lengthy hearing full of the same kinds of arguments that marked debate in the House.

Colorado CapitolThe measure, House Bill 1081, would set requirements for school sex education programs that receive funding from a to-be-created grant program. The bill would not mandate statewide standards for sex education nor replace existing programs. (See this EdNews story for more background on this issue.)

Supporters of the bill argue that it’s needed to improve sex education for Colorado students and to reduce rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

But the bill has proved to be a lightning rod for conservative lawmakers and citizens, who fear it would usurp parent rights, downplay abstinence education and encourage teen sexual activity.

Daily roundup

Use the Education Bill Tracker to read texts of bills mentioned in this article.

“I suspect an agenda,” said committee member Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud and one of the Senate’s more socially conservative members. Sex education “is none of the state’s business in the first place. This is one of reasons why I have never let the state have a moment with my children in their education.”

A long parade of witnesses testified on the bill. Students, directors of sex education and teen service agencies, and public health officials supported it; several parents opposed it.

Lundberg proposed an amendment that would have required parents to opt in to the program – it was defeated. The current language of the bill allows parents to opt out of any programs created under the bill. Lundberg also proposed an unsuccessful amendment that would allow the State Board of Education to appoint two members to the grant program’s oversight committee.

There also are some turf issues involved in the bill. Although it deals with programs that would operate in schools, the program would be run by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, not the Department of Education.

After sitting through more than three hours of testimony, the committee passed the bill 4-3, with majority Democrats prevailing.

Salazar wins Senate confirmation

The Senate Thursday voted 21-14 to confirm Tony Salazar, executive director of the Colorado Education Association, as a trustee of the University of Northern Colorado, which has one of the state’s largest educator preparation programs.

Tony Salazar, with UNC President Kay Norton at left
Tony Salazar, with UNC President Kay Norton at left

Some Republican senators had opposed the nomination because they felt Salazar has a conflict of interest in advocating for K-12 funding in his job while needing to support adequate financing of higher education in his trustee role.

Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, led the criticism of Salazar, noting the state’s constant struggle between funding K-12 and higher education. “The question I posed to Mr. Salazar was ‘how can you balance this conflict.’ … His answer was a bigger pie [of funding], but that’s not reality.”

Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, took mild umbrage at the whole conflict-of-interest argument, noting that several legislators, like him, are teachers and are able to balance K-12 and higher ed needs.

There have been several education-related appointments considered by the Senate this session, but only Salazar’s has been controversial.

School board election bill stalls

Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, is known for some unconventional ideas, and one of his interesting bills ended up in the Senate Education Committee Thursday.

Senate Bill 13-164 proposed to eliminate residency requirements for school board candidates, allowing someone who lives in one district to run for the school board in another.

Actually the bill was a little more complicated in that it wouldn’t have applied to districts where board members represent specific geographic areas within a district.

Brophy argued loosening residency requirements make sense in an era of cross-district choice for students and when district-run online programs serve students from many districts.

Some committee members had a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea, and representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards opposed the bill.

“We found absolutely no support from our members and plenty of concern,” said lobbyist Jane Urschel.

A motion to pass the bill stalled on a 4-4 vote. A fifth committee Democrat, Sen. Nancy Todd of Aurora, was across the hall presenting the sex ed bill. That leaves the bill technically in limbo, but it’s expected to formally die one way or the other.

power players

Who’s who in Indiana education: Sen. Dennis Kruse

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos and Sarah Glen

Find more entries on education power players as they publish here.

Vitals: Republican representing District 14 and parts of Allen and Dekalb counties. So far, has served 13 years in the Senate (current) and 15 years in the House. Kruse began his career as a teacher in 1970, spending five years in the classroom. Once he left education, he became an auctioneer and got involved in real estate.

What he’s known for: Kruse has served as Senate Education Committee chairman for eight years. While he is a less vocal advocate for choice-based education reform measures than his House counterpart, Kruse is a staunch conservative who has pushed — with varying levels of success — for incorporating more religion in public schools.

Career highlights: In 2011, Kruse was the author of Senate Bill 1, a massive bill that established the state’s formal teacher evaluation system. He has also consistently supported bills seeking to improve school discipline, before- and after-school programs and teacher preparation. This year, Kruse has authored bills dealing with school start dates, contracts for district superintendents, school employee background checks and testing.

On religion in schools: Kruse and fellow Sen. Jeff Raatz introduced a resolution this year that, according to the National Center for Science Education, has the “teaching of evolution” as “the specific target of the bill.” Previously, Kruse has put forward other legislation that would encourage the teaching of creationism and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at the start of the school day, but none of the bills passed. In 2015, Kruse was also a co-author of the controversial religious freedom bill.

On toeing the party line: Despite his conservative politics, Kruse doesn’t always line up with the will of his party. Republican leaders this year are calling for making the state superintendent an appointed, rather than elected, position, but Kruse won’t back the switch. Instead, Kruse has said he believes in elections and that people should get to make choices about their representation.

For that reason, some have speculated that’s why the senate’s version of the bill bypassed his education committee and instead was heard through the elections committee.

Who supports him: Kruse has received campaign contributions from Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country; and Education Networks of America, a private education technology company.

Legislative highlights via Chalkbeat:

Bills in past years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Also check out our list of bills to watch this year.


Tennessee required more recess, but teachers now say it’s too much

PHOTO: Jon Zlock, LEAD Public Schools
Nashville students play during recess at a charter school operated by LEAD Public Schools.

For years, Jamie Petty’s sixth-grade students didn’t have recess — a problem, he thought, since research shows that recess keeps children healthy and focused.

Then Tennessee’s legislature passed a requirement last year that students through the sixth grade get a minimum of two 20-minute periods of non-structured physical activity at least four days a week.

Now play time is overtaking valuable class time, says Petty, a world history teacher at Normal Park Magnet Middle School in Chattanooga. He said one daily period of recess should suffice.

“Physical activity is so important for the kids, and we definitely want that,” he said. “But at the same time, we have to protect instructional time, too.”

Lawmakers have heard similar concerns from educators across Tennessee since the school year started.

“We passed a bill, and it was a fiasco,” said Rep. Bill Dunn.

The Knoxville Republican wants to rein in recess in Tennessee schools. On Wednesday, his bill to do so was approved by a House education subcommittee. Instead of daily mandates of three 15-minute periods for kindergarten and two 20-minute periods for grades 2-6, the bill would institute weekly requirements of 130 minutes of physical activity for elementary schools and 90 minutes for middle and high schools.

Lawmakers hope the change will give schools more flexibility to fit recess into their schedules.

Dunn’s bill also would allow recess to include “structured play.” Last year’s legislation said students must have “non-structured” play, meaning teachers can’t organize sports or games.

Teachers argue that both kinds of play have value.

Kennisha Cann, a literacy coach with Hamilton County Schools, occasionally leads students in games to get the wiggles out. “Kids need to learn how to follow directions, take turns, how to socialize with other children,” she said.

Either way, many educators are happy that the legislature is recognizing the importance of recess.

“Standards are so much harder now,” said Pat Goldsmith, a school psychologist at Chattanooga’s Red Bank Elementary Schools. “Students really need that break.”