Updated 9:30 a.m. May 7 – The Senate today gave final 27-8 approval to a late bill intended to give the University of Colorado more flexibility in admitting out-of-state students and using the additional revenue to provide merit scholarships to bright Colorado students.

CU-Boulder campus view
PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
Campus of University of Colorado at Boulder

House Bill 13-1320, introduced only on April 23, is the last education bill in line as the 2013 legislative session heads toward Wednesday adjournment. It’s had a bit of a bumpy ride in committee, but on Monday passed on a voice vote after about 20 minutes of debate. After Tuesday’s final vote the House will have to consider Senate amendments.

Although the bill applies in theory to all Colorado colleges, in practice it’s tailored for CU-Boulder, which is bumping against its allowed percentage of non-resident students. CU officials want to admit more non-residents both so it can gain the substantially higher tuition they pay and also so it can use some of that revenue to provide merit scholarships for top Colorado students. (The state hasn’t provided any merit aid since 2009, although colleges can do so on their own, as CU does already.)

Issues decided Monday

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A controversial portion of the bill allows a college to count a Colorado merit scholar as equivalent to two regular Colorado students, making it possible to maintain the required 55 percent resident undergraduate enrollment while creating more space for out-of-staters.

“What they have done here is a little creative, I would say,” said Democratic sponsor Sen. Rollie Heath, whose district includes the Boulder campus. “You could say ingenious, but we have to resort to this sort of thing at this stage of the game.” Heath and other bill sponsors argue that top Colorado high school graduates are being lured out of state by generous scholarships offered by other universities.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, said, “It’s not pretty, it’s not clean” but that he supports the bill anyway.

Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, argued against the bill Monday evening, noting questions raised last week by the Department of Higher education. Claiming the bill could lead to fewer Colorado students at CU, Renfroe asked, “Is that what you want?

The House version of the bill also included $3 million in state funds to be divvied up among colleges for merit scholarships. The Senate stripped the money fom the bill, and the House isn’t expected to object. (Learn more about the bill’s intricacies, who would qualify for scholarships and more in his legislative staff analysis.)

Green schools bill finally passes

School under construction
School under construction

Senate Bill 13-279, another late April bill that encountered some turbulence, is on its way to the governor. The measure sets energy conservation requirements for new school buildings and substantial renovations. Amendments to soften the bill and make its requirements more flexible somewhat eased the initial concerns of school districts. The Senate accepted House amendments and re-passed the bill 19-16.

Passage of the bill is a long-awaited victory for Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, a Jeffco teacher who floated several unsuccessful versions while serving in the House.

Here are the details on the other education bills that passed Monday:

School medical emergencies

House Bill 13-1171 allows (but doesn’t require) schools to stock epinephrine injectors to treat students suffering allergic reactions. Students with diagnosed allergies now can bring their own injectors to school. Advocates of the bill argued that schools should stock injectors for undiagnosed students who have reactions. The bill was delayed because of negotiations over training of school employees, liability issues and the role of school nurses. Passed Senate 27-8; the House Tuesday adopted Senate amendments and re-passed the bill 57-8.

Parent involvement

Senate Bill 13-193 makes several changes in parent involvement laws. The measure requires school accountability committees to better promote parent involvement and to be more involved in school turnaround and priority improvement plans, requires each district to designate one staff member as a parent contact person, expands the role of the State Advisory Council for Parent Involvement in Education and allocates $150,000 for the Department of Education to hire a parent engagement specialist. Passed 37-28; the Senate has to review amendments.

Teacher evaluations

Teacher evaluationHouse Bill 13-1257 tweaks the state’s 2010 educator evaluation law and gives the Department of Education greater oversight of district principal and teacher evaluation plans. (Current law allows districts to use the state model system or develop their own systems if they meet state standards.) The bill allows the department to review district plans – or do so at the request of “any interested party” – and order compliance with state standards or use of the state system. The Senate passed the bill 21-14, and the House later approved Senate amendments and re-passed it 35-27.

The bill was introduced in a very different form, at the behest of AFT-Colorado, which represents teachers in the Douglas County Schools. The union and the conservative Dougco board are locked in a variety of disputes. The original bill essentially would have given teachers’ unions veto power over district evaluation plans. That idea had little or no support, and the measure was dramatically retooled.

Technical education

House Bill 13-1165 directs a variety of state agencies, including the community colleges board and the departments of education and higher education, to create “a career pathway for students seeking employment in the manufacturing sector.” The program has to be up and running for the 2014-15 academic year. Passed 21-14. (Get more information on the bill here.)

The bill directs state officials to hold a “summit” with industry representatives to determine state manufacturing workforce needs and to design programs to fill them. The measure has a $474,600 price tag in the first year. This is one of two workforce/education bills that survived this session. The other, House Bill 13-1005, directs the community college system to create pilot programs that combine adult basic education with career training. The highest profile workforce bill, a measure allowing community colleges in a limited number of technical fields, died in the face of opposition from state universities.

Truancy

House Bill 13-1021 makes several changes in state truancy law with the intent of keeping more students in school and reducing the jailing of truant students. The bill encourages districts to develop procedures for identifying students who are chronically absent, to work more closely with local with juvenile services agencies and to adopt policies for dealing with habitually truant students. The bill says districts should “minimize the need for court action” and take students to court “only as a last resort.” The bill also limits detention of a student to no more than five days at any one time. The House agreed to Senate amendments and re-passed the bill 38-27. (Read the bill text for more details.)

Also approved Monday was House Bill 13-1007, which reinstates a legislative early childhood study commission. The body won’t receive funding – it will be getting in-kind support from the Colorado Children’s Campaign — but the panel will have the ability to propose bills without those counting against the limit of five that applies to individual members. Re-passed 21-14 by the Senate and 37-26 in the House.