From the Statehouse

Senate passes sex education bill

Updated March 18 – The Senate Monday voted 20-15 to pass the comprehensive sex education bill.

Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora
Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora

The vote came after 45 minutes of discussion that consisted primarily of Republican senators coming to the microphone to oppose the bill, mostly on moral grounds. The vote fell along party lines, with majority Democrats backing the bill. (House passage of the bill also was along party lines.)

Here’s a sampling of some of the opposition comments:

“This isn’t about parents teaching their children, this is about the state taking over the role of parents. … There is no room for teaching solid moral values. … What about staying morally pure? … Have we become so jaded as to right and wrong?” – Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud

“We have forgotten what morality is. … Sexual activity is a sacred thing between a man and a woman after marriage. … [The bill has] “an agenda to have a free-flowing sexual society. We’ve seen where that’s got us in the last 30 years.” – Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley

“For so many years we have been taking power away from the family. … We can’t even discipline our children in the way we think appropriate. … We can’t even have our kids work on the farm anymore.” – Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins

“I think sex education is appropriate … but I think this goes too far. … I think the family is the best place for these kinds of conversation to happen.” Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango

The measure returns to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

Text of March 15 story follows.

The comprehensive sex education bill has passed its first floor test in Senate after a long debate that featured discussion of body parts, sexual diseases, agency infighting, government tyranny and teen psychology.

The debate was part of what turned out to be a long, ideological day at the Capitol Friday, during which both houses had protracted debates over gun-control legislation and the House wrangled over abortion.

The sex-education measure, House Bill 13-1081, has been controversial every step of the way since it had its first, six-hour hearing in a House committee on Feb. 7.

The bill wouldn’t impose any uniform new sex ed requirements on Colorado schools nor override existing state content standards on health education. Rather, it would create a new grant program, to be funded with expected federal and private funds, within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Schools that wanted grants would have to abide by standards set in the bill for “age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, and comprehensive human sexuality education.”

Prime sponsor Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, noted that teen pregnancies and some sexually transmitted infections are down in Colorado, but “this is still a very significant issue in our state,” with 15 babies born to teen moms in Colorado every day. “That’s preventable” with better sex education, she said.

Critics of the bill, primarily conservative Republicans, have several objections:

Abstinence: The chief critic of the bill was Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who criticized a health department report on teen sexual health for slighting abstinence. “My deep suspicion is this is about anything but abstinence,” Lundberg said. Democrats, with some Republican votes, added an amendment that beefed up language about the importance of abstinence.

Parental involvement: The House amended the bill to require the health department to appoint a parent to the advisory committee that will oversee the program. Lundberg tried various amendments that would have required the State Board of Education to appoint two parents to the panel, but those changes were rebuffed.

Big government: “I am the parent here, not this Senate, not the department of health, not the Department of Education. … It’s none of your business. Stay out of my family’s life,” said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch. Lundberg grumbled about “busybody social engineering of everybody’s life.”

Homosexuality: The bill specifies that sex education should be sensitive to the needs of gay and lesbian students, which has made some Republicans uncomfortable. Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, complained, “This is not about sex education, this is about an agenda of the left to promote gay and lesbian sex education.”

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, responded to all the criticism by saying, “I’m pretty sad that this bill is being perceived as a radical bill … or promotion of unusual sexual practices. … I would think we would want some medically based information. Many people believe we shouldn’t talk about sex in school or that we can just tell kids not to have sex and they won’t. That’s not reality.”

The bill also has a subtext of agency infighting. The State Board of Education recently voted to oppose the bill and sent a letter to every senator.

Lundberg repeatedly hammered the point that CDE, not the health department, should run the program. Todd replied that CDE would have a seat on the advisory board and that the bill doesn’t touch state health content standards.

SBE members complained about the bill during a meeting earlier in the week. “We’ve been chasing this from behind from the beginning,” said chair Paul Lundeen of Monument. He said the move to take CDE out of the process was a “strategic” one by others.

The Senate will have to take a final recorded vote on the bill before it can return to the House for consideration of amendments.

STEM in Colorado

Colorado lawmakers are stepping in to help prepare students for the state’s booming tech sector

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students at Northglenn High School who are studying biomedical science work on an assignment. The class is part of the school's STEM offerings.

More Colorado students could be building smartphone apps by the end of next school year.

In an effort to prepare students for the state’s booming technology job market, lawmakers are considering three bills that would beef up access to computer science classes and provide students with new credentials after they leave high school.

A Chalkbeat analysis last year found that only about two out of every seven students in Colorado have access to courses in STEM — short for science, technology, engineering and math.

The bipartisan bills could change that, increasing access to computer science courses for the state’s black, Latino and rural students, and — for the first time — begin to define what a quality STEM program is.

The first bill scheduled to be debated by the House Education Committee on Monday would require schools to include technology in lessons alongside traditional subjects, such as English and civics.

It would also require the education department to create lessons to help educators teach computer science as a standalone course, and set up a $500,000 grant program to help train them.

“Kids need to be up to speed on these things in order to function in the current marketplace,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Canon City Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors, along with Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat. “The more they’re attuned to the technology of the times — all the better. It will help them in college and getting their job and careers.”

The technology sector is the fastest growing in Colorado. There are an estimated 13,517 open computing jobs in the state, according to Colorado Succeeds, an education reform advocacy group that represents the state’s business community.

Some states have already made the shift to include technology in their learning standards. In Arkansas, which made the change in 2015, officials say the new standards have already started to break down stereotypes about who can do computer science.

“What we’re trying to do is to make computer science a normal part of their academic lives,” said Anthony Owen, the state director for computer science education in Arkansas. “When we make it normal for everyone, it’s abnormal for no one.”

A second bill under consideration in Colorado would make mostly technical changes to the state’s new P-Tech schools, a model that mirrors a New York City school that partners with IBM to give students work experience and a path to an associate’s degree while in high school.

The model allows students to stay in high school for up to six years — which has caused schools that house P-Tech programs to worry about their graduation rates.

House Bill 1194 would change the way the state calculates graduation rates to avoid penalizing schools that have P-Tech students enrolled for an extra two years.

The third bill, House Bill 1201, would create a special kind of diploma that shows colleges and employers that its holder is proficient in STEM subjects. To get the diploma, students would have to take a variety of STEM classes, earn high marks on standardized math exams, and demonstrate their science skills through a special project they complete their senior year.

“I want to make sure, across Colorado, that we have clear expectations and that they’re equitable expectations,” said Rep. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat and sponsor of the bill. “All of our schools are doing a good job preparing our kids, but I want to be specific in terms of what our colleges and workforce is seeking in our graduates.”

The bill, however, stops short of defining what coursework students must complete. Local schools will decide that. That was important to Jess Buller, the principal of West Grand’s K-8 school who helped write the bill. He noted that different schools and districts offer different STEM courses.

“We want that STEM endorsement to be that sign of distinction, that a student completed a program and does not need the remedial work that might be required for other students,” Buller said. “The bill is specific enough, but flexible enough.”

Morgan Kempf, the STEM science specialist for Pueblo City Schools, said she is excited to offer such a credential.

In the absence of a special diploma, Pueblo Central High School, the city’s STEM school, has sought outside accreditation to give weight to its STEM courses. The school has also started handing out school letters, usually a tradition reserved for varsity athletes, to exceptional STEM students.

“It’s an extra stamp of approval that recognizes and appreciates what they’re doing and at the level of rigor they’re doing it at,” Kempf said. “That stamp of approval lets students and potential employers know they’re meeting expectations.”

power players

Who’s who in Indiana education: House Speaker Brian Bosma

PHOTO: Sarah Glen

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

Vitals: Republican representing District 88, covering parts of Marion, Hancock and Hamilton counties. So far, has served 31 years in the legislature, 9 of those as Speaker of the House. Bosma is a lawyer at the firm Kroger, Gardis & Regas.

Why he’s a power player: Bosma was House Speaker in 2011, when the state passed its large education reform package, creating the first voucher program for students from low-income families. Along with Rep. Bob Behning, Bosma helped develop the state’s voucher program bill as well as the bill that expanded charter school efforts that year. As a party and chamber leader, he plays a major role in setting House Republicans’ legislative agendas.

On toeing the party line: With the debate over state-funded preschool front and center during this year’s session, Bosma has expressed far more enthusiasm than his fellow Republicans for expanding the state’s program. Indeed, Bosma has long been a supporter of state-sponsored preschool. Currently, low-income families in five counties can apply for vouchers to use at high-quality preschool providers. Bosma has said he’d like to see that number triple, if not more.

Recent action: In 2016, Bosma ushered through one of the few teacher-focused bills that became law in the wake of news that some districts in the state were struggling to hire teachers. The bill created a state scholarship fund for prospective teachers, and began awarding money to students this year.

A perhaps little-known fact: In the late 1980s, Bosma worked at the Indiana Department of Education as the legislative adviser to H. Dean Evans, the state superintendent at that time. Then, as with this year’s House Bill 1005, lawmakers advocated to make the state superintendent an appointed position, a bill Bosma is carrying this year.

Who supports him: In past elections, Bosma has received campaign contributions from Education Networks of America, a private education technology company; Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; Stand for Children, a national organization that supports education reform and helps parents to organize; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country.

Conversely, given his support for choice-based reform, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education gave Bosma an “F” in its 2016 legislative report card highlighting who it thinks has been supportive of public schools.

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.