Colorado students would have to know CPR and how to operate automated external defibrillators in order to graduate from high school under a new bill introduced Wednesday.

Elsewhere around the Capitol, there was an uptick in chatter about the financial future of the Building Excellent Schools Today school construction program, and the House Education Committee put aside a couple of tricky bills but passed three easy ones.

CPR mandate could face pushback

Senate Bill 12-098 would require all schools with high school students to offer student training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of an automated external defibrillators.

Students would have to successfully complete the training to graduate from high school. The State Board of Education would be required to issue regulations for the program, including monitoring and compliance. The state also would establish a grant-supported fund to help districts with costs of such training.

The idea is expected to face opposition from several segments of the education lobby, primarily because it would impose a mandate without state funding and because it can been seen as imposing on local control of graduation requirements.

Photo of signThe bill is being pushed by the American Heart Association, which is advocating such legislation in other states. (See this Huffington Post story for background.)

Prime sponsors of the bill are Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, and Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs and chair of the House Education Committee. The heart association also is pushing legislation this year to ban use of trans fats in school foods.

Various school health and fitness bills have been defeated or watered down in recent sessions as school districts have successfully made the case that they shouldn’t have new requirements imposed on them without funding.

JBC keeping options open on BEST

The future of funding for the BEST construction program is in play this legislative session, but members of the Joint Budget Committee Wednesday decided to hold their fire on a proposed bill that would have capped the program’s revenues.

BEST is a competitive program under which school districts and charters apply for state funding to renovate or build schools. In most cases local matching money is required, and for larger projects state and local money is pooled to pay off multiyear lease-purchase agreements.

The program receives 50 percent of annual revenues from state school trust lands or the amount necessary to make the annual payments on those lease-purchase agreements.

The JBC Wednesday discussed introducing a bill that would limit annual BEST revenues to $40 million or the amount necessary to make the annual payments, if that’s less. (The effect of such a cap would pretty much eliminate the BEST cash grants program, which is used for smaller projects.)

Legislators have a variety of worries about BEST, including a fear that the program’s obligations may grow larger than revenues from state lands can cover, forcing the legislature to make up the difference from tax revenues. Other lawmakers are concerned that syphoning land revenues for BEST means not enough money is going into the state lands permanent fund.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said committee members may be able to handle their concerns in BEST legislation still to be introduced by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass. “We may end up orchestrating some amendments to that bill.”

JBC Chair Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, said action needs to be taken on BEST funding. “This problem – it’s sitting on our doorstep. … The clock is ticking.”

(On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Capital Construction Assistance Board, which makes BEST grants, also met Wednesday afternoon. Chair Mary Wickersham mentioned the issue briefly, telling her colleagues, “It’s really premature to get overly anxious.”)

The JBC did vote to introduce another bill that affects state land revenues. In recent years the legislature has been in the habit of “sweeping” land revenues that BEST doesn’t get into the annual school finance bill.

The committee voted unanimously to introduce a bill that would cap the 2011-12 sweep at $36 million, and members may later seek to cap the sweep in 2012-13.

Modest start for House Ed

After delaying action on the two most interesting bills before it, the House Education Committee Wednesday passed two somewhat symbolic bills and one technical measure.

Massey announced at the start that House Bill 12-1072 wouldn’t be considered until next week. The bill would require the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to devise a system for awarding college credits to adult students for life experiences such as work, military service, community involvement and independent study.

The committee did spend a little time on House Bill 12-1043, a concurrent enrollment bill, but Massey also put it on ice for more work and negotiation.

The measure would require school districts, charter schools and BOCES to give certain high school seniors the option of graduating early, continuing to take high school courses or taking up to 15 credit hours per semester at a college of the student’s choice. Eligible seniors would be those who need less than a full load of high school classes to graduate.

School districts have concerns about potential costs of the program because districts would be at least partially responsible for students’ college tuition. Some committee members also raised questions about how the effort would fit with existing concurrent enrollment programs, which allow students to take high school and college classes at the same time.

Here’s a rundown on the bills the committee did approve Wednesday and send to the floor:

House Bill 12-1061 – The proposal would require the Department of Higher Education, working with the Department of Labor, to produce an annual report giving three-year projections of both state workforce needs and expected production of degrees and credentials at state colleges and universities. That report also would have to identify workforce needs that won’t be met by degree production and identify institutions that could meet those needs by creation of new programs or expansion of existing ones.

The sole sponsor is Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Englewood, who has been touting it as a jobs bill and who organized a long parade of business and other witnesses to support the measure.

In response to a committee question, Department of Higher Education lobbyist Chad Marturano said the agency, using a private grant, is preparing a similar project but has no problems with the bill.

House Bill 12-1013 – This measure directs school districts and Charter School Institute schools “to consider” adopting procedures to identify and provide intervention services to middle-school students who show risk factors for dropping out of school.

The bill is a classic example of a program that legislators would like to require but are unable to mandate for financial reasons. So, suggesting that districts do something becomes the fallback position. The bill, developed by a legislative study committee, has bipartisan sponsorship in both houses.

Even one of the prime sponsors, Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, said, “This piece of legislation will just simply make a statement … about how important it is to intervene” with struggling students.

House Bill 12-1081 – This bill brings the Auraria Higher Education Center under the financial and administrative flexibility laws that have been passed in recent years for the rest of the state higher education system.

One more new bill

Also introduced Wednesday was Senate Bill 12-100, which would ban employers from requiring, as a condition of employment, employees to become or remain union or to pay dues to a union, charity or other third party. The bill would apply to school districts and higher education institutions.

The measure has a long list of Republican cosponsors in both houses, has a certain election-year feel to it and has dim prospects in the Democratic controlled Senate. Republicans are perennially critical of teachers’ union dues check-offs that support political campaign funds and go mostly to Democrats.

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