Updated 10:15 a.m. – The state Senate voted 31-4 this morning for final passage of Senate Bill 12-172, which would require the State Board of Education to take full membership in one of two national groups developing common tests in language arts and math.

Text of Tuesday story follows.

Sen. Mike Johnston trimmed down his already-short Senate Bill 12-172 Tuesday, and the Senate gave it preliminary approval on a voice vote Tuesday.

Pencil on test paperThe bill would require the State Board of Education to become a governing member of a multistate testing group.

One amendment successfully proposed by the Denver Democrat would allow the board to withdraw after Jan. 1, 2014, from whichever group it joins if the board doesn’t like the tests the group develops.

English and math tests based on the Common Core Standards are being created by two national consortia, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Colorado now is participating in both but it isn’t a governing member of either. States that join a group’s governing board have a greater say in test development – but they also commit to use that group’s tests, based on the rules of the groups. Most Colorado education leaders favor joining the second group, known as PARCC.

The state board – at least its Republican majority – has been skeptical of Johnston’s bill. At a face-to-face meeting with Johnston and cosponsor Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, last Friday, some members made it clear they’d be more comfortable, among other things, with an opt-out clause in the proposal.

But after Johnston and Spence left last week’s meeting, the board voted 4-3 to oppose the bill, even if amendments were added (see story).

Johnston’s original bill also contained language encouraging the board to work with other states, if possible, on development of tests such as science and social studies. At Johnston’s request, the Senate removed that language from the bill. He said the language wasn’t necessary because the Department of Education already is involved in such discussions.

Testing has been a nagging issue throughout the 2012 session.

The board last fall requested $26 million to develop a full battery of new state tests to replace the CSAPs, which are obsolete because of new state content standards. The Hickenlooper administration proposed no funding.

The Joint Budget Committee fussed over the issue for months, with members complaining about mixed signals from the board, the governor’s office and the House and Senate education committees.

The legislature finally decided to provide only some $6 million for development of new social studies and science tests, plus Spanish language and special education tests.

Johnston is now optimistic about the bill’s chances in the Republican-controlled House. He told Education News Colorado that he’s signed on Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, as a prime sponsor. Massey, chair of the House Education Committee, has been a central figure on most major education bills this session. Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County, also will be a House sponsor.

Colorado currently is using the transitional TCAP tests but needs new permanent tests to both fully assess students on new state content standards and to implement the educator evaluation law.

Although Johnston described his bill as “Colorado’s long-term assessment plan,” only one thing is certain out of this year’s testing debate. Colorado students will be taking a third year of TCAPs in the spring of 2014, instead of just the two years originally planned.

House GOP wants to intervene in Lobato

A resolution introduced Tuesday in the House would require the legislature to hire its own lawyers and enter the Lobato v. State lawsuit as an amicus curiae (friend of the court).

The measure, House Joint Resolution 12-1023, argues that the Denver District Court’s decision against the state threatens the legislature’s constitutional powers to set the state budget.

The defendants in the case include Gov. John Hickenlooper, the State Board of Education and education Commissioner Robert Hammond but not the legislature. Attorney General John Suthers has appealed the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, with his appeal brief due in June.

A victory for the plaintiffs could have massive implications for the state budget. Although the trial court’s ruling was issued in December, the case has received scant mention during the legislative session. (See EdNews’ Lobato archive for background.)

The resolution is sponsored by House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and 16 other House Republicans. There are no Democrats or senators on the measure (read the resolution).

Key change made in literacy bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday morning made a significant amendment to House Bill 12-1238, the proposed early literacy measure. In order to fund interventions for K-3 students with significant reading deficiencies, the bill proposed to use $16 million in interest revenue from the state school lands permanent fund.

Committee chair Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, successfully proposed an amendment that would cap annual literacy revenue at that $16 million, allowing revenues above that to flow into the permanent fund, the body of which can’t be spent. The permanent fund has been flat at about $600 million for some years, a subject of concern for some education groups that would like to see it grow and be able to provide revenue for future education spending.

The committee passed the amended bill on an 8-1 vote.

Union dues bill passes House

The House Tuesday gave 33-32 party-line approval to House Bill 12-1333, a measure that would allow school district employees who are members of unions to have payroll deductions for dues stopped at any time.

Union contracts now typically allow members to withdraw only during a single short period once in the school year.

Teachers’ unions oppose the measure, which isn’t expected to survive in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

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