It’s starting to look like the legislature will give the Colorado Department of Education some additional funding to develop new state tests, but it’s unlikely it will be the full $25.9 million the department originally requested.

Members of 2012 Joint Budget Committee
Members of the Joint Budget Committee were at the center of the discussion on testing costs. Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, is third from left.

Members of the House and Senate education committees sat down with the Joint Budget Committee Wednesday morning to talk about testing costs. The session was held under the new SMART Government Act and legislative rules that encourage other committees to give the JBC formal advice on departmental budgets.

“There are some significant decision items pending here,” said JBC member Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. “I would feel better if you would help us on the policy decisions,” he added a few minutes later.

Education policymakers have been wrestling with testing costs since November, when CDE formally filed a request for $25.9 million in 2012-13 to pay for development of new statewide tests to replace the CSAPs, to launch social studies tests and to help create interim and formative tests to be given to students throughout the school year.

But Gov. John Hickelooper didn’t include the $25.9 million in his overall budget request, leading to legislative questions about just what the executive branch wants. Administration officials – and some key legislators like Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver – have said Colorado should wait for multistate reading and math tests expected to be ready in 2014-15.

The consortia “really are building the Ferrari version of this assessment,” Johnston said Wednesday. “Our own version is probably not going to have all the bells and whistles.”

“I understand you had some interesting discussions among yourselves,” Steadman said, referring to recent separate meetings of the education committees at which members vented and expressed confusion about testing costs and some other CDE budget items.

Wednesday’s joint session was more orderly than the two recent meetings, and members seemed to have a better grasp of the issues.

Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, led the criticism of both testing costs and educator evaluation costs during a House Education session on Monday. “I went a little rabid on CDE a little earlier in the week,” Ramirez said Wednesday. Saying he was “eating a little crow,” Ramirez said, “I feel they [CDE] have given a lot of valid information” about cost issues.

As the discussion wound down, Steadman said, “We don’t have consensus and we have a lot of choices,” but he added, “This has been a very helpful discussion.”

Several members did seem to be in general agreement that Colorado should participate in the multistate tests but that some money should be set aside to start development on new social studies and science tests, which aren’t part of the systems being developed by the multistate consortia.

Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen and chair of the JBC, said the committee is hoping to find $7 million for that.

Some lawmakers sounded cautionary notes. Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton and the legislature’s foremost critic of standardized testing, said, “We are going down a very expensive road here.” Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, wondered if the state could save some money by taking a one-year test moratorium on all exams except reading and math.

🔗Count date bill advances

House Education did a little real business later in the morning, voting 13-0 to pass House Bill 12-1090, which would move the Oct. 1 student count date in years that it falls on a religious holiday.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, was prompted by a problem last year when Oct. 1 fell on a Saturday, pushing the count date back to Sept. 30. That was the Jewish observance of Rosh Hashanah.

“There are concerns when we’re doing count day on a major religious holiday,” Pace told the committee. The bill would move count day to the next regular school day after Oct. 1 if a religious holiday coincides with that date.

The state allows a window of five school days on either side of Oct. 1 to count children who are absent on count day. Some committee members asked if that provided a way to avoid the problem without changing the law, but by the end of the hearing everyone agreed the bill was needed.

🔗For the record

The House gave unanimous final approval Wednesday to House Bill 12-1013, which encourages school districts to provide help for middle school students who show risk factors for dropping out, and to House Bill 12-1018, which gives the Auraria Higher Education Center exemption from some state financial and administrative procedures.