Compromise and significant amendments got two high-profile bills out of the House Education Committee Monday, and another controversial measure was dealt off to a different panel.

The committee voted 12-1 to pass House Bill 11-1069, which would require schools to provide minimum amounts of “physical activity” to all elementary school students. Amendments removed some of the provisions that school districts opposed.

House Bill 11-1055, intended to give charter schools easier access to vacant district buildings, also underwent significant amending but only squeaked out of committee on a 7-6 party-line vote, with Republicans prevailing.

The two bills consumed more than four hours of committee time, but both would seem to have fairly narrow impacts if they ultimately become law.

Republican Rep. Tom Massey of Poncha Springs, House Ed chair and a prime sponsor of HB 11-1069, estimated that 90 percent of elementary schools already provide the level of physical activity required by the bill.

And a legislative staff analysis of HB 11-1055, based on Department of Education data, estimated that there are only 20 vacant schools in just six districts that might be subject to the bill.

The committee also was expected to spend considerable time on House Bill 11-1048, the 2011 version of a perennial conservative proposal to give state tax credits for private school tuition, home schooling and donations to private school scholarships.

At the end of the meeting, Massey moved to reassign the bill to the House Finance Committee because it involves tax policy. Democrats objected, but the transfer was approved on a 7-6 vote.

Asked about the move after the meeting, Massey said the transfer had been requested by House GOP leadership. There was some evidence the bill might not survive in House Education.

If the bill does get out of the House, it’s considered dead shortly after arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Witnesses urge approval of activity bill

A long list of witnesses representing various health and other advocacy organizations, plus a couple of P.E. teachers and several nutritionists, testified that HB 11-1069 is needed to help combat childhood obesity and improve overall fitness and that physical activity makes children mentally sharper.

Alluding to the bill’s limitations, Cody Belzley, a vice president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, said, “I don’t want to oversell the benefits of this bill … but I think this bill is an important first step.”

The lone witness to oppose the bill was lawyer Michelle Murphy of the Colorado Association of School Boards. She noted Massey’s statement about the percentage of schools that already provide such activity and suggested that the remaining 10 percent of schools should take care of the issue at the local level.

Bruce Caughey, Colorado Association of School Executives
Bruce Caughey, Colorado Association of School Executives

Both Murphy and Bruce Caughey of the Colorado Association of School Executives also objected to language in the bill that imposed detailed requirements for school districts to report their physical activity policies and efforts to the Department of Education.

That concern was taken care of when Massey proposed, and the committee approved, amendments to remove that paperwork.

(Massey is expected to introduce legislation later this month that would reduce a number of other, existing district reporting requirements.)

The bill also was amended to create more flexibility for districts (600 minutes a month for schools on five-day schedules rather than a specified amount per week). The measure contains a fairly broad definition of physical activity, including organized physical education, exercise programs, fitness breaks, recess, field trips that include physical activity and classroom activities that include physical activity.

Schools that have existing formal physical education program would not be allowed to substitute the new requirement for those P.E. classes. If passed by the full legislature, the bill would be in effect for the 2011-12 school year.

Amendments don’t sway votes on charter bill

The charter bill originated with the Colorado League of Charter Schools and is sponsored in the House by Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, a freshman and vice chair of House Ed.

As originally introduced, HB 11-1055 would have allowed charters to request use of vacant district buildings or land and appeal to the Department of Education’s capital construction unit if refused. CDE would evaluate whether the property in question was suitable for a school. (Charters supervised by the state Charter School Institute would have been able to do the same with state buildings and land.)

Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield
Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield

Beezley proposed, and the committee approved, amendments that would require charters to pay for CDE reviews and which took vacant land out of the bill entirely.

Massey proposed a successful amendment to extend to 60 from 30 days the time in which a district had to respond to a charter’s request for a building.

Murphy of CASB and Caughey of CASE also testified against this bill, with Murphy suggesting it might violate constitutional guarantees of local school control. Several committee Democrats also expressed opposition.

The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee, where it may languish for a few weeks, as do most appropriations bills. “I’m sure this bill will have considerable debate over the next couple of committees,” Massey joked.

For the record

Several 2010-11 budget-balancing bills, including a handful affecting education, were introduced Monday (see this story for background). One, House Bill 11-1227, would grant the $124,229 in spending authority the Start Smart nutrition program needs for this rest of this budget year. The Joint Budget Committee deadlocked 3-3 on that issue recently, setting off a minor partisan flap. Another balancing bill, Senate Bill 11-158, would eliminate the Read to Achieve Program.

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