Rep. Judy Solano’s promised testing measure was introduced Tuesday, setting the stage for what’s expected to a lively debate this session over the extent and funding of the statewide achievement tests that will replace the CSAPs.

Pencil on test paperTesting costs also came up during a 90-minute meeting at which Department of Education executives finished answering Joint Budget Committee questions about 2012-13 school spending.

A look at House Bill 12-1091

Solano, a former teacher and Brighton Democrat who’s serving her last session, has repeatedly introduced bills to reduce state testing but never been successful. Some observers think she may have a better shot this year because of dissatisfaction with standardized testing, concerns about the cost of creating a new testing system and uncertainties about future federal testing requirements.

Also in this story

The bill would specify that the state tests could only match what’s required by the federal government – math and language arts tests in grades 3-8 and the same tests once in high school. The federal government also requires science tests be given once in the elementary school years, once in middle school and once in high school.

That means, if the bill passes, state writing tests would be eliminated in all grades and that tests would be given only once in high school, not in both 9th and 10th grades, as is current Colorado practice.

The bill specifies that any savings from test reduction would be used for increasing enrollment in the Colorado Preschool Program for at-risk children, which currently has a long waiting list. Strengthening early childhood education also is a priority for Solano. (The bill doesn’t yet have a fiscal note estimating the possible savings.)

In 2010 the House gave a wide favorable majority to a similar Solano bill (see story), but the proposal died on the last day of the session because the two houses couldn’t agree on amendments. Sen. Bob Bacon’s Senate Education Committee gutted Solano’s bill that year. This year Bacon, a Fort Collins Democrat, is prime Senate sponsor of HB 12-1091.

Solano didn’t introduce such a bill last year. She’d hoped to have the support of the governor’s office, but that never materialized, partly because of heavy lobbying by some State Board of Education members.

JBC finally finishes with CDE

Testing also came up during an afternoon meeting of Joint Budget Committee members and CDE top brass.

The session was a continuation of a Dec. 16 hearing that dragged on so long (see story) that the JBC couldn’t cover all the issues on the agenda. Tuesday’s session moved along more efficiently, perhaps partly because there were fewer legislators in the room.

Testing is on the mind of JBC members because CDE has requested $25.9 million to pay the costs of developing new state tests to launch in 2014. CSAP tests ended last year, and students are scheduled to take transitional tests this year and in 2013.

But Gov. John Hickenlooper doesn’t want to spend the money, preferring instead to wait for the launch of multistate tests in 2015, which might save the state at least some money.

That’s left the cost-conscious JBC wondering which plan to support.

Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen
Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen
JBC Chair Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, asked if the recently announced $17.9 million Race to the Top grant might help cover some new test costs and was disappointed when told the feds forbid such use of the funds.

The committee’s also a little uncertain about funding for implementation of the educator effectiveness law. The department is seeking about $440,000 for continuing costs, and Hickenlooper wants another $7.7 million. (The department and the SBE support the governor’s request.)

Much of the R2T grant also will be used for educator effectiveness implementation, but CDE executive Jill Hawley stressed that the federal money shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for the $7.7 million.

But the liveliest discussion of the afternoon was prompted by the old and contentious question of school district consolidation.

Prompted by a CDE report on declining enrollment, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said, “’I’m still struck by the declining enrollment situation on the eastern plains,” specifically mentioning the 32-student Agate district. “How small does a school district have to get before we talk about consolidation?”

Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, responded, “It’s a question I ask all the time,” but he added that transportation costs make consolidation impractical for some remote districts. (His sprawling legislative district includes several tiny school districts.)

Steadman noted that consolidation doesn’t require closing small-town schools but could save administrative costs.

“Pushing this discussion forward is harder than I ever thought,” Becker said. “We’re dealing with football teams and all that. … It is a dangerous conversation to have in these school districts.”

Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, said, “We need to look at this because at a certain point you don’t have enough people for a football team.”

Gerou joked, “I’d like to make a motion to send Sen. Steadman out to solve this problem,” and the conversation moved on to other topics.

(A 2010 CDE study of declining enrollment has good background on the issue.)

Listen to archived audio of the JBC hearing.

Other new bills

Two other education-related bills were introduced Tuesday.

House Bill 12-1090 would require that the Oct. 1 enrollment count day be moved if it falls on a religious holiday. (There were some complaints last October because the count day fell during the Jewish high holy days.)

House Bill 12-1092 would allow people who otherwise can legally carry guns to carry them on school and college campuses. (This is a mirror of Senate Bill 12-025. Identical bills sometimes are introduced in each house to ensure the idea at least gets hearings in both houses. The idea isn’t expected to get far in the Democratic-controlled Senate but might get a friendlier reception in the GOP House.)

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