Unpaid school fines? In Colorado, it’s no longer an obstacle to getting your transcripts

Colorado schools will no longer be allowed to withhold students’ transcripts if they have unpaid fines.

State lawmakers gave final approval to House Bill 1301 Monday. The bill, which still needs the governor’s signature, puts an end to a practice established in 1999 that supporters say has disproportionately harmed the state’s poorest students.

Heather O’Mara, CEO of the HOPE Online charter school, told lawmakers earlier this month that when a school fails to release a student’s transcript, it makes it difficult to place students in the right classes.

“It continues to impede their education,” she said. “We need to know where they need to be placed in classes, we need to know what kind of testing they’ve had so we can meet their needs where they are.”

HOPE serves an overwhelmingly poor and highly mobile student population. O’Mara said the charter, which receives public tax dollars but operates independently, often pays the necessary fine to have transcripts released.

The bill had the high-profile backing of Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, a Parker Republican. He told the Senate Education Committee he supported the bill because he believes the practice of withholding a transcript was a barrier to school choice.

Holbert said the bill represented an attractive policy for personal reasons. As a student, Holbert attended nine different schools.

“I can’t imagine what (my mother) would have done had the school refused to give her that transcript,” he said.

State Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat, and state Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, also sponsored the bill.

“We must give every student access to a free public education,” Michaelson Jenet said in a statement. “That includes access to their grades and transcripts if they need to change schools or reenroll. Grades, transcripts and academic records belong to the student and no student should be prevented from receiving or continuing their education because of inability to pay.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that schools could no longer prohibit a student from participating in a high school graduation ceremony if they had unpaid fines. Schools will still be allowed to prohibit students from participating in events if they have unpaid fines.