House panel endorses study of minority teacher pipeline; school finance law remains on ice

An articulate seventh grader helped to convince the House Education Committee Wednesday to pass a bill that would require the state Department of Education to study the shortage of minority teachers and develop ways to recruit, develop and retain more of them.

“There is a high sense of urgency” about the issue, said sponsor Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, noting that about 12 percent of Colorado teachers are minorities while 44 percent of students are.

Fields marshaled a long list of educators, parents and others to testify about the importance of diversity among teachers and the value of students having teachers they can identify with. Even Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg was in the room to testify, although he had to leave before speaking because the committee was running late.

But the star witness was Aliyah Cook, a middle school student in the Cherry Creek district.

Reading clearly from a statement, Cook related how, as a third grader, she written to her principal asking why her school had no black teachers.

She said she was looking for “a role model I could look up to and say, ‘I want to be just like you.’”

She said her middle school has no black teachers, although the principal is Hispanic and the assistant principal is black. “Sometimes I feel a little discouraged,” she said. “I have not written a letter to my new principal, but I plan to.”

Committee members and the audience applauded loudly after Cook finished.

The committee voted 10-3 to pass House Bill 14-1175 on to the House Appropriations Committee. It has a $50,000 price tag, and CDE would have to finish the study by the end of this year and report back to the legislature in January 2015.

Senate Bill 13-213 remains alive but in the freezer

The committee warmed up for the minority teachers bill with a somewhat esoteric discussion of whether to effectively repeal Senate Bill 13-213, a law that actually isn’t in effect.

That law, passed during last year’s legislative session, is the massive overhaul of Colorado’s school finance system. The catch was that it needed approval of a $1 billion tax increase – which voters rejected last November – to go into effect.

But the law contains a clause that will switch it on if voters approve a revenue increase as late as 2017.

Rep. Chris Holbert’s House Bill 14-1120 would have shortened that timeline and given SB 13-213 backers only one more shot – this year – to persuade voters to provide more K-12 revenue.

Holbert basically argued that it’s time put SB 13-213 in the past and get on with discussion of other education reforms funded in other ways. (Some of the education bills under discussion this year would cherry-pick individual pieces of the law. See this story for details.)

He got some surprising support from witnesses representing the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives.

But Chris Watney of the Colorado Children’s Campaign and Wade Buchanan of the Bell Policy Center, both major backers of Amendment 66, urged that SB 13-213 be kept on its 2017 clock, if only as a reminder of the importance of improved school funding.

Committee Democrats, as expected, agreed with them and killed Holbert’s bill on a 7-6 party-line vote.

Higher ed tuition bill gets more guardrails

The Senate Education Committee Wednesday voted 6-1 to advance Senate Bill 14-001, the measure that would provide $100 million in additional funding for the state’s higher education system and cap tuition increases at no more than 6 percent for the next two years.

The bill’s been in the shop while senators worked on amendments to draw Republican support to what’s been an all-Democratic effort.

The initial version of the bill would have allowed colleges to apply to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education if they felt they needed tuition hikes of more than 6 percent. (That was a carryover from an existing law, which originally had a 9 percent cap.)

Amendments proposed by Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, made the 6 percent a “hard” cap – no appeals – and also tweaked distribution of the additional funding to colleges. Democrats agreed to the changes. Renfroe said he probably won’t sign on to the bill as a cosponsor but will vote for SB 14-001 on the floor.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.