All smiles as Hick signs testing bills

With the nail-biting legislative session safely behind them, Gov. John Hickenlooper and key lawmakers were brimming with good cheer Wednesday as Hickenlooper signed two testing bills into law.

The governor called the two bills “a significant improvement” to the state’s assessment system that will reduce testing while maintaining “high standards and accurate assessment.”

The two measures that are law are House Bill 15-1323, which primarily reduces testing in high school and the early grades, and Senate Bill 15-056, which reduces the frequency of statewide social studies testing. (Get the details on the two bills in this Chalkbeat story. And see this chart for a grade-level breakdown on how the bills will affect testing times.)

Lawmakers attending the signing noted how tough it was to reach compromise.

“None of us were 100 percent sure this day actually would happen,” said Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. “The path to victory was littered with the skeletons of other bills that fell by the wayside.”

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, noted “all these friendly faces [in the audience] that weren’t so friendly when we were working on this.” The good-sized crowd included education lobbyists, interest group and union leaders, legislative staff and Jefferson County politicians and activists.

The bills jelled in the session’s final days after “A lot of us came together and started talking,” said Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker. Hickenlooper said, “Once again Colorado did this in a different way” than other states and “tried to address it in a bipartisan bill.”

While acknowledging that testing debates are “not over,” Wilson urged, “Let this play out.”

Hickenlooper also brought up the mini-flap over the location of the signing ceremony. “We were disappointed we couldn’t be at Lakewood High School,” he said. Jefferson County Schools officials declined to host the event, citing security and disruption concerns. But others see politics behind the district’s decision, even though the testing bills passed with broad bipartisan support.

“It’s a reflection that education has become more polarized and political,” Hickenlooper said. He noted that his last visit to Lakewood High was for the widely covered 2013 visit by entertainer Katy Perry and quipped that security didn’t seem to be a concern then.

The signing was held in a 19th century restored schoolhouse that’s now on the grounds of the Lakewood Heritage Center museum.

Other education bills set for signing

Hickenlooper on Wednesday also traveled to a Westminster early childhood center to sign House Bill 15-1317, which will allow the state to create “pay for success” programs under which investors and foundations can fund social services like early childhood education.

On Friday Hickenlooper will be in Canon City to sign House Bill 15-1321, which gives small rural districts flexibility in meeting state regulations about parent involvement committees and more importantly provides $10 million in extra funding for such districts.

Read our 2015 legislative review for background on those bills and on what lawmakers did – and didn’t – do on education issues.