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.

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.