The proposed Colorado parent trigger bill was killed Monday on an 8-5 vote in the House Education Committee, with two Republicans joining all six committee Democrats in opposition.

House Bill 11-1270 would have allowed a majority of parents at a failing school to force closure or conversion to a charter or innovation school.

Chair Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and freshman Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, were the two Republican no votes. Vice Chair Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, was prime sponsor. Noting that Beezley also is a freshman, one lobbyist predicted afterwards that the bill will show up again in future legislative sessions.

Ramirez provided a little bit of suspense during the roll call vote on the bill, first passing and then pausing for a long time – scratching his brow and looking anxious – before asking Massey, “Mr. Chair, may we take a recess?”

Massey explained that the vote had to continue, and Ramirez voted no, ensuring the bill’s defeat because the tally to pass it was 5-7 at that point, with five Republicans voting yes and six Democrats and Ramirez voting no. Massey delivered the final no vote.

Ranking Democratic member Rep. Judy Solano then moved to postpone the bill indefinitely, and the six Democrats plus Ramirez and Massey made up the winning side of that 8-5 margin.

Beezley pitched the bill as a way to give parents a “seat at the reform table.”

Rep. Don Beezley and Jane Urschel
Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards (right) critiqued the parent trigger bill by Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, (left) during a committee hearing March 14, 2011.

Representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards, Colorado Association of School Executives and Colorado Education Association testified against the bill, and the only group in support was the Colorado Association of Charter Schools.

Van Schoales, director of Education Reform Now, said his group was neutral on the bill, but he raised a number of questions in his testimony.

Under the terms of the bill, more than 50 percent of families at a low-performing school could have petitioned a school board to close the school or convert it to a charter or innovation school. A school board could have accepted the petition, proposed another alternative or, in limited cases, rejected the petition. Parents could have appealed to the State Board of Education, which would have had the final say. A combined parent-district committee would have had oversight of a school conversion.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of CASB, characterized the bill as an infringement on the legal and constitutional responsibilities of school boards.

Schools subject to such petitions would have been those that have been required by the state to adopt a priority improvement plan for the second year in a row or that are required to adopt a turnaround plan. Those categories are part of the state’s new district and school accountability system, implemented for the first time last August.

Such schools typically have high poverty and high minority populations. No representatives of community groups that typically advocate for such schools, such as Padres y Jovenes Unidos, appeared at the committee hearing.

On the floors

The bills proposing minimum levels of physical activity in elementary schools and setting rules for handling young athletes with concussions received final floor approvals Monday, along with several other education-related measures.

House action

Colorado Capitol
Senate Bill 11-040 passed 35-27. The measure requires youth sports coaches to take annual training in recognition of concussion symptoms and sets standards for removing athletes from play or practice and for letting them return. It’s aimed primarily at middle school, club and recreation district sports as similar procedures already are in effect for high school sports.

Rural lawmakers mounted an unsuccessful last-ditch attack on the bill, arguing that it would create staffing and liability problems for small-town teams. The bill doesn’t have enforcement provisions.

The House on Friday adopted an amendment that adds specially trained chiropractors to the list of medical professionals that can authorize an athlete to return to play. An attempt to add all chiropractors was defeated.

House Bill 11-1168 passed 34-28. It would double the amount of College Opportunity Fund stipends for low-income students at private colleges. This bill is sensitive primarily because it could potentially reduce the amount of state funding going to public colleges, since the measure specifies that overall COF funding won’t increase. (Some Democrats also object to state money going to religious colleges.)

The opportunity fund is really just a budgetary device that helps exempt college spending from the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and the amount fluctuates every year. Low-income students at three private colleges currently receive half the stipend; the full stipend is credited against tuition for all students at public colleges. Colorado Christian University wants the bill; the University of Denver and Regis University are formally neutral. The bill has little chance in the Senate because of the loss it would create for public colleges, estimated at $6 per student.

House Bill 11-1121 passed 54-9. The bill changes state law on employment of felons by school districts. The bill contains some retroactive provisions, although much reduced from the original draft, and adds some drug offenses to the list of disqualifying crimes.

Senate Bill 11-012 passed 62-1. This is the bill that would allow school districts to adopt their own policies on student self-administration of prescription drugs instead of having to use all the detailed procedures now required in state law.

Final consideration of House Bill 11-1248, which would reduce elected employee and retiree representation on the Public Employees’ Retirement Association Board and add members appointed by the governor, was laid over until Tuesday.

The two Senate bills were amended in the House, so they must return to the Senate for consideration of amendments.

Senate action

House Bill 11-1069 passed 20-12. It would require 600 minutes of “physical activity” per month in elementary schools. The bill contains a broad definition of physical activity and reportedly mirrors what most elementary schools already are doing but is being pushed as at least a symbolic effort to combat childhood obesity. Several Republicans and Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge voted no. The bill goes back to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

Senate Bill 11-069 passed 26-6. It assigns the charter schools standards commission to study educational management organizations in addition to the work it’s already doing. The original version of the bill proposed a detailed regulatory scheme for such organizations and high fees on organizations to pay for reviews. Sponsor Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, quickly watered the bill down because of opposition. All the no votes were Republicans. The bill goes back to the House for review of amendments.

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