Online bill has rocky outing in House Education

Proposed changes in state law governing multi-district online schools got generally bad reviews from witnesses at a committee hearing Monday, and a vote on House Bill 14-1382 was delayed so its sponsors can work up some amendments.

The bill was one of 10 bills on a House Education Committee calendar that was an odd mix of big bills, relatively routine measures, a couple of new ideas and bills that have no chance of passage but are being kept alive out of courtesy.

Those sorts of long mixed-bag calendars become increasingly common as committees race to finish their work before the legislature’s May 7 adjournment deadline.


House Bill 14-1382 proposes to update the definition of online education in state law, make changes in how online enrollment is counted, require school districts to more promptly transfer student records to online schools and to create pilot programs to test innovations in online education. (Read bill summary here.)

Its most controversial recommendation is to have the Department of Education set standards for districts that authorize multi-district online programs, rather than certify online programs themselves and then let districts supervise them, as is the case now.

The bill was developed by a bipartisan group of four lawmakers based partly on the recommendations of a task force they convened in late January and that issued its recommendations in late March (see story).

The bill drew plenty of criticism Monday from witnesses, including representatives of the for-profit online company K12 Inc., the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families. GOAL Academy and even some members of the task force itself.

The major complaints were that the task force wasn’t fully representative of the online community, that switching CDE’s role in multi-district online schools would be disruptive for schools and that there’s not enough time left in the 2014 session to handle such a complex topic.

After an hour of testimony, House Education chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, huddled with the House sponsors, Democrat Dave Young of Greeley and Republican Jim Wilson of Salida. After a brief break, she announced the bill would be laid over to allow the sponsors to work on amendments.

They’ll have to work fast, as the legislature has to adjourn two weeks from Wednesday.

Something new

A new bill that could provide more scholarship money and college counseling for Colorado students passed the committee 11-1.

House Bill 14-1384 would create a program call the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative to scholarships and other forms of assistance to Colorado students starting in 2016. The bill is focused on students who are eligible for federal Pell grants and students whose household incomes are 100 to 250 percent above Pell requirements.

The bill, partly based on the structure of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, also would provide college counseling service to high school students. The program would initially be funded by an infusion of $33 million that’s been hanging around in the Department of Higher Education since a 2010 law required the College Invest program to sell off its portfolio of students loans. The bill also envisions future state appropriations and private grants as funding sources for the loans. (Get more details in this legislative staff summary.)

One big bill

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia made a cameo appearance to testify in favor of Senate Bill 14-001, and the committee voted 10-2 to advance the measure. This is the so-called College Affordability Act, which would increase higher education funding by $100 million in 2014-15 and put a 6 percent cap on tuition increases next year.

The measure hasn’t been controversial, but it represents a significant increase for colleges and universities after years of cuts, and it is being promoted by legislative Democrats as a good-news election year measure.

(This year’s other big higher education measure, 59-3 – House Bill 14-1319, received final 59-3 final passage on the House floor Monday morning. This is the bill that would create a new method for allocating funding among colleges and universities, partly based on institutional performance, starting in 2015-16.)

Counselors and closures

The committee voted 7-4 to advance Senate Bill 14-150, which would add $5 million in funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps program (doubling the funding) as well as expand the number of schools eligible for grants, which are used to train existing counselors and hire additional ones. (See this legislative staff summary for details on the bill and this CDE report for program information.)

House Bill 14-1381 passed with an 8-4 committee vote. This measure would establish requirements for public communications, timetables and student reassignment procedures in the closure plans for schools that are to be shut down for low academic achievement.

Doomed courtesy bills

Republicans introduced a package of education-related bills early in the session, most of them proposing to resurrect various portions of last year’s Senate Bill 13-213, which didn’t go into effect. Variations of those proposals related to English language learners, charter facilities funding, district financial transparency, kindergarten funding and enrollment counting have been incorporated into two other measures, House Bills 14-1292 and 1298. Those are pending in the Senate and are surrounded by a bit of uncertainty and controversy (see story).

Because of that, four of the GOP bills were laid over by House Education until after the Senate acts on those bills, kind of delaying the inevitable as a courtesy to their sponsors.

But one measure, House Bill 14-1212, was postponed indefinitely at the request of Wilson, its sponsor. It would have provided state funding for all full-day kindergarten programs.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to texts of bills mentioned in this story plus other information. The Tracker includes all education-related bills introduced this year.