From the Statehouse

Funding bill gets final House approval

Updated 12:45 p.m. April 30 – The House Tuesday voted 52-12 to pass the bill needed to fund K-12 education in the coming school year.

Text of Monday story follows.

The bill needed to fund K-12 education in the coming school year breezed through preliminary House consideration Monday evening.

Pile of cashThe easy passage of Senate Bill 13-260 was in contrast to some of the suspense around the bill in the Senate Education Committee (see story) and the drama both on the Senate floor (see story) and in the House Education Committee (see story).

For school districts, the bill is a welcome change from the school finance bills of recent budget-cut years. Total program funding, the combination of state and local funding that pays for basic school operations, would rise to $5.5 billion, increase of about $210 million. Average per pupil funding would rise from the current $6,479 to $6,652, a 2.7 percent increase. (Get more details on the bill here.)

Sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, proposed a successful amendment to require that 75 percent of any excess state revenues at the end of 2013-14 go into the State Education Fund, the dedicated account used to supplement education funding. As the bill came from the Senate, only 50 percent of the surplus would have gone to the education fund.

There was a brief out-of-left-field moment when Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, proposed amendment to eliminate a tax exemption for newspaper advertising inserts and put the $6 million raised into special education. No one was quite sure where that came from, and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, went to the podium to note that Republicans usually oppose elimination of tax exemptions. The amendment was defeated.

Asked why the bill moved so quickly on the House floor in contrast to the drama at earlier stages, one lobbyist quipped, “They’re tired.” The 2013 session has to adjourn by May 8.

Also on the move Monday

• The House overwhelming rejected a conference committee report on House Bill 13-1081, the controversial bill to create a new grant program for districts programs in comprehensive human sexuality education. The House wants a new conference committee to talk about language in the bill related to abstinence education.

• The House Education Committee gave 12-0 approval to Senate Bill 13-214, the measure that would require the Building Excellent Schools Today program to maintain a reserve equal to annual lease-purchase payments and give the legislative Capitol Development Committee final review of BEST lease-purchase project lists.

• House Education was divided on Senate Bill 13-193, which passed on a 7-6 party-line vote. The measure is intended to encourage increased involvement of school accountability committees in school improvement plans, would require school districts to have a designated staff member as a parent contact and allow the state Department of Education to hire a parent involvement specialist.

Committee Republicans were skeptical of the need for the bill and its cost. Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, even attempted to amend the bill to include the text of his defeated House Bill 13-1172, which proposed a parent trigger law and an A-F grading system for schools. That went nowhere.

• The Senate gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 13-279, which would require new school buildings to meet various energy efficiency standards.

• The Senate State Affairs committee passed House Bill 13-1257, which would give CDE oversight of educator evaluation systems when districts choose to create their own.

Budget bill now law

Gov. John Hickenlooper Monday signed Senate Bill 13-230, the 2013-14 state budget. The bill contains base funding for K-12 education, which will be augmented by money in SB 13-260 (see above). The bill also includes $31 million in additional funding for higher education, a boost of $5.3 million in need-based financial aid and about $102 million for college campus construction and renovation projects.

Colorado's 2017 General Assembly

Colorado students could earn biliteracy credential on diploma

A 2010 graduation ceremony of Denver's Bruce Randolph School (Hyoung Chang/ The Denver Post).

Colorado high school graduates next year likely will be able to earn a new credential that proves to colleges and employers they can communicate in at least two languages.

The House Education Committee on Monday approved Senate Bill 123, which lays out the criteria students must meet to earn a biliteracy endorsement.

The bill already has won support from the state Senate and faces one last debate in the House of Representatives before going to the governor’s desk.

Three school districts began issuing their own bilingual endorsements in 2016.

Last year, the State Board of Education rejected a resolution that would have encouraged more schools to develop their own seal of biliteracy. Republicans on the board voiced concern about a lack of statewide criteria and that the endorsement would be handed out unevenly.

If this bill becomes law, that would change.

For a students to earn the seal, they would need to prove they’ve mastered both English and another language by earning at least a B in all of their language classes, earning high marks on the English portion of the SAT, and pass both an English and foreign language test provided by either the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs.

If such a test doesn’t exist for a language the student has studied, the school may either create a test that must be vetted by the state education department or the student may submit a sample of work for review.

Ella Willden, a seventh grader at Oberon Middle School in Arvada, told Colorado lawmakers she and her fellow students are excited for the chance to earn the diploma seal, and that it would mean a better shot at a good college or career after high school.

“I know many of my classmates will jump at the chance to earn this seal if given the opportunity because they want to get into some of the top schools in the nation and they want every advantage they can get,” she said. “Whether I go to college or I go to work, this seal will open doors for me throughout the state.”


Lawmakers take first step to ease testing burden for young English language learners

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post
Justin Machado, 9, reads on his iPad during his 3rd grade class at Ashley Elementary in 2015.

State lawmakers from both political parties are seeking to undo a controversial State Board of Education decision that called for schools to test thousands of Colorado’s youngest students in English — a language they are still learning.

House Bill 1160 cleared its first legislative hurdle Monday with unanimous support from the House Education Committee.

The bill would allow school districts to decide whether to use tests in English or Spanish to gauge whether students in kindergarten through third grade enrolled in dual-language or bilingual programs have reading deficiencies.

The bill is sponsored in the House of Representatives by Reps. Millie Hamner, a Frisco Democrat, and Jim Wilson, a Salida Republican.

If the bill becomes law, it would overrule a decision by the State Board of Education last year that required testing such students at least once in English. That meant some schools would need to test students twice if they wanted to gauge reading skills in a student’s native language.

Colorado’s public schools under the 2012 READ Act are required to test students’ reading ability to identify students who aren’t likely to be reading at grade-level by third grade.

The bill is the latest political twist in a years-long effort to apply the READ Act in Colorado schools that serve a growing number of native Spanish-speakers.

School districts first raised concern about double-testing in 2014, one year after the law went into effect. The state Attorney General’s office issued an opinion affirming that the intent of the READ Act was to measure reading skills, not English proficiency. The state board then changed its policy to allow districts to choose which language to test students in and approved tests in both English and Spanish.

But a new configuration of the state board in 2016 reversed that decision when it made other changes in response to a 2015 testing reform law that included tweaks to early literacy testing.

The board’s decision at the time was met with fierce opposition from school districts with large Spanish speaking populations — led by Denver Public Schools.

Lawmakers considered legislation to undo the board’s decision last year, but a committee in the Republican-controlled Senate killed it.

Capitol observers believe the bill is more likely to reach the governor’s desk this year after a change in leadership in the Senate.

Some members of the state board, at a meeting last week, reaffirmed their support for testing students in English.

Board member Val Flores, a Denver Democrat who opposed the rule change last year, said she opposes the bill. In explaining her reversal, Flores said she believes the bill would create a disincentive for schools, especially in Denver, to help Spanish-speakers learn English.

“If the district does not give the test in English, reading in English will not be taught,” she said.

Board member Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, said he still believes the intent of the READ Act was to measure how well students were reading in English.

“I think this is a serious departure from what the legislature intended initially,” he said last week. “The READ Act had everything to do with reading in English.”

Hamner, one of the sponsors of House Bill 1160, also sponsored the READ Act in 2012. She disagrees with Durham and told the House committee Monday that the intent was always for local school districts to decide which language was appropriate.

“We’re giving the local educators and districts the decision-making authority on what’s best for the students,” she said.

Multiple speakers on Monday said the requirement to test native Spanish speakers in English was a waste of time and money, and provided bad information to teachers.

“A teacher who teaches in Spanish will not be able to use data from an English assessment to drive their instruction, much like a hearing test would not give a doctor information about a patient’s broken arm,” said Emily Volkert, dean of instruction at Centennial Elementary School in Denver.

The bill only applies to students who are native Spanish speakers because the state has only approved tests that are in English and Spanish. Students whose native language is neither English nor Spanish would be tested in English until the state approves assessments in other languages.

“The question is can you read and how well,” said bill co-sponsor Wilson. “We’re trying to simplify that.”