It’s not often that a legislative committee is faced with a completely new idea or an issue that hasn’t come up before.

But that was the case Wednesday with the Senate Education Committee and Senate Bill 14-185, which proposes a creative new way to fund early learning programs.

The proposal is something that hasn’t come up before at the Capitol, unlike the usual run of education bills, which generally involve issues and subjects that most committee members have at least passing familiarity with.

SB 14-185 would create something called the Pay for Success Contracts for Early Childhood Education Services Program. The program would allow the Office of State Planning and Budgeting and school districts to contract with providers of early childhood development services – and then pay them later with savings realized from the program’s success.

The bill’s idea, based on what are called “social impact bonds” or “results-based financing,” is that service providers can attract private investors to invest in support programs such as high-quality preschool. The theory is that quality programs reduce costly interventions such as grade retention or special education once a child enters school. If the state and a school district realize savings from reduced need for interventions, then the program is paid and investors repaid with interest.

The concept is seen by supporters as a creative way to fund needed services such as early childhood education in a time of constrained government budgets. (The proposal is complicated – get details in this Chalkbeat Colorado story and in this legislative staff summary of the bill.)

The detailed – sometimes too detailed – explanations from the sponsors, Democratic Sens. Mike Johnston of Denver and Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada, gave committee members an awful lot to absorb in a short period of time.

“This is pretty deep to be having [a discussion] today,” noted Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley. (Two sets of Senate committee meetings Wednesday were sandwiched between two floor sessions.)

Trying to finish up before another committee took over the hearing room, chair Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, nudged the members to a vote. The bill passed 4-3, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing.

Despite his yes vote, Kerr said he still had questions about the bill and noted, “These are the things we are forced to do in Colorado” because of revenue constraints.

The panel also split 4-3 on Senate Bill 14-182, a second attempt at shining a little light on school board executive sessions. An earlier measure, House Bill 14-1110, passed the House but was killed by its Senate sponsor because she didn’t have the votes for floor passage. That earlier bill would have required boards to maintain a public log of subjects discussed during closed sessions and also required recording of those meetings. There was heavy lobbying against the bill from the legal community, concerned about an erosion of attorney-client privilege.

The new bill would require the log of subjects discussed but imposes no recording requirements. The bill was sparked by citizen complaints about alleged misuse of executive sessions by the Douglas County school board, and two representatives of Dougco parent groups testified for the bill Wednesday.

Senate Education gave unanimous 7-0 support to two other bills. House Bill 14-1204 would allow small rural districts that are rated in the state’s top two accreditation categories to file performance plans every two years instead of annually. It also would allow such districts to get help from boards of cooperative education services in complying with the READ Act. House Bill 14-1314 would require districts formally include charter schools in planning for tax override elections, but it wouldn’t force districts to share override revenues with their charters.

Education spending bills roll on

Republican members gave Democratic Rep. Cherilyn Peniston a bit of hard time on the floor, but she had the votes to win preliminary approval of her House Bill 14-1102, which would boost gifted and talented funding by $3.4 million.

Most of the funds would be used to pay for universal screening of all kids to determine their gifted status and to compensate districts for having half-time G&T coordinators. (An earlier version of the Westminster Democrat’s bill would have cost $6 million and required full-time coordinators in every district.)

Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, urged a no vote, saying, “We should have put this into the negative factor.”

“Have you checked with your district to see if they support this?” asked Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. (Lobbyists for key district interest groups testified against the bill in committee.)

Two other education spending bills received final approval in the Senate. There wasn’t any rhetoric, but most Republicans voted no.

Senate Bill 14-150 would increase funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps to the tune of $5 million. Senate Bill 14-167 would create a pilot program for improvement of alternative education campuses’ performance, at a starting cost of $62,639.

To round out the spate of spending, the Senate also gave preliminary approval to  Senate Bill 14-124, which would create a $2 million program to develop school turnaround leaders

Use the Education Bill Tracker to read the texts of bills covered in this story and see this list of all education-related bills introduced this session.