Teacher prep bill a done deal

(Updated at noon Jan. 15)

The House Friday morning gave 50-11 final approval to Senate Bill 10-036, which would correlate student growth data with educator identifiers to develop information about the effectiveness of individual teacher preparation programs.

The bill, introduced Wednesday on the first day of the session, is being fast-tracked so that it can be used as part of the state’s application for a federal Race to the Top grant.

Prime sponsor Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, told EdNews that Gov. Bill Ritter was to sign the bill during a brief event Friday afternoon. The governor’s office technically was closed Friday because it was a state furlough day.

The House gave preliminary approval Thursday afternoon following the Senate’s 26-7 final vote in the morning. The bill had passed out of the House Education Committee unanimously after lunch and sailed on to the House floor.

Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver

The bill would require the Department of Education, starting in July 2011, to produce an annual report on how the academic growth of students in new teachers’ classrooms, plus teacher placement, mobility and retention, correlates to the colleges or alternative programs where they were trained.

On Wednesday, the bill moved through every step of Senate consideration except final passage. It’s extremely rare for a bill to move so quickly on the legislature’s opening day, which also was marked by the usual high-minded leadership speeches and a flood of bill introductions, 31 of them education related.

SB 10-036, known by the acronym PREP (Program Results for Teacher Preparation), is sponsored by freshman Sen.  Johnston. Veteran Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs and chair of House Education, is the prime House sponsor.

Johnson, a former Mapleton district principal who was appointed just last summer to fill a statehouse vacancy, played a bit on his boyish freshman/aw shucks persona during his first day in the spotlight on Wednesday. But for the most part he seemed very much to know what he was doing.

He also was punked during traditional freshman hazing rituals, including the Senate Education Committee first killing his bill before passing it a few minutes later. (Some freshman lawmakers are wise to such tricks, but Johnston fell for it hook, line and sinker, judging by the bewildered look on his face.) The same thing happened on the Senate floor, where a couple of lawmakers also made good-natured jabs at Johnston.

“There is nothing more important we can do … than ensuring we have well-prepared teachers and principals,” Johnston said during the Senate Ed hearing, which was packed with lobbyists and education advocates.

The program could not be used to sanction teacher preparation programs, Johnston told his fellow committee members. He also noted that in practical terms, the program would cover only language arts and math teachers, since those subjects are the only ones tested annually by the CSAP tests. The program would cover only teachers in the first three years of their careers.

The bill has a $26,000 price tag over two budget years. It’s hoped that R2T money can be used for the program, if Colorado wins a grant. Otherwise, Johnston hopes the money can be raised from local foundations.

Once the bill reached the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, the R2T connection agitated some of the more conservative members of the Republican caucus, who went to the microphone to complain about federal spending and the deficit. But their attempts to amend the measure predictably failed.

On Thursday, members of that GOP group voted against the bill, including Sens. Greg Brophy of Wray, Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs, Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch, Mike Kopp of Littleton, Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud, Scott Renfroe of Greeley and David Schultheis of Colorado Springs.

A few mild questions about cost were raised in House Education and on the House floor, but there was none of the rhetoric heard in the Senate.

All the House “no” votes on Friday were Republicans, plus House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville. Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, also voted no. All members of the House Education Committee supported the bill on the floor.

Under legislative rules, the bill (text and fiscal note) was able to go through the whole process in three calendar days.

Education bills clog inbox on first day

More than 100 bills were introduced Wednesday, some 30 of them related to education.

Among major measures in that category were bills to change the funding mechanism for some small school districts (House Bill 10-1015), provide scholarships for early childhood educators (House Bill 10-1030), require school districts to post financial information online (House Bill 10-1036), require colleges to provide campus safety orientations to new students (House Bill 10-1054), require CDE to help BOCES buy school lunch supplies (House Bill 10-1066) and bar some felons from working in non-teaching school jobs (House Bill 10-1082).

Also introduced Wednesday were the PERA rescue bill (Senate Bill 10-001),  the higher education flexibility bill (Senate Bill 10-003), the proposed study of changing the enrollment count system (Senate Bill 10-008), a pilot program in weighted student funding (Senate Bill 10-017), one version of teacher tenure reform (Senate Bill 10-050), a proposal to change the allocation of categorical aid to districts (Senate Bill 10-062), streamlining of the College Opportunity Fund (Senate Bill 10-064) and the proposed cutback in 2009-10 state aid to school districts (Senate Bill 10-065).

(We’re still working to set up the 2010 Education Bill Tracker. We’ll have that running and more details on new bills later this week. In the meantime, you can read bill texts through the legislature’s website.)

Opening day promises

Speeches Wednesday by Democratic and Republican legislative leaders were long on rhetoric and short on details, as is always the case. Most of those comments focused on the need to balance the state’s budget and improve its economy.

On education, House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, said, “We are aggressively positioning our schools for Race to the Top, and moving away from CSAP toward a better, more comprehensive form of assessment.”

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Boulder, said, “A good job requires a good education. We will improve our measurement tools for student success and teacher performance.  This will strengthen our schools and our competitiveness in Race-to-the-Top … a race we intend to win.”

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, urged lawmakers to take a  bipartisan approach to solving the financial problems of higher education.

Gov. Bill Ritter gets his moment in the spotlight at 11 a.m. Thursday, when he delivers what will be his last state-of-the-state speech. (Check the legislature’s website for a link to live video of the governor’s speech.)