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Little Eddie Digs Out After the 2015 Legislative Session

The 2015 legislative session ended last week, and I have no doubt you are all eagerly awaiting a report on the progress made—or lack thereof. Luckily for you, I have been diligently digging through the aftermath of the 2015’s education battles just as I help dad shovel snow after a big storm. With a whopping 119 education bills introduced, this is no easy task. The work is ongoing. But we can certainly pause to provide a quick overview of the session’s highlights.

Fortunately, a discussion of actual legislative movement this year is relatively straightforward because very little noteworthy stuff passed at all. In fact, it’s fair to say that the single most important thing that happened this year was a compromise on the testing issue, which we discussed last week after observing a protracted and almost humorous (if it weren’t so serious) game of legislative testing chicken. As I predicted then, the compromise was amended before final passage. The bill currently awaits Governor Hicklenlooper’s signature. But we’ll cover the testing compromise in more depth later this week. For now, let’s talk other highlights. With lists! Because everyone loves lists!

What made it:

  • Charter networks are now official in Colorado thanks to the efforts of Representative Susan Lontine and Senator Owen Hill. According to the Colorado League of Charter Schools, there are 65 charters operating under network arrangements in Colorado. These arrangements help some charters share the burden of certain services and operate with greater efficiency through cooperation. HB 1184 codified that practice in statute while maintaining authorizers’ authority and accountability for individual schools.
  • Two bills on the touchy issue of district and charter liability for acts of school violence also made it through after being amended. SB 213, called the Claire Davis bill in honor of an Arapahoe High School student killed by a gunmen in December 2013, would open districts and charters up to lawsuits for failing to adequately deal with safety concerns. The bill was amended before passage to include narrower language and a two-year hold-harmless clause. SB 214 created a committee to study school safety and mental health issues, and was amended to also include a review of SB 213’s implementation.
  • After a brief showdown over the creation of a panel to study the school finance formula, very tame version of the School Finance Act squeaked through.  SB 267 includes an increase to cover inflation as required under Amendment 23 to the Colorado Constitution, as well as an additional $5 million in funds for at-risk students. The bill also includes an extra $25 million to buy down the “negative factor.” This latter provision has many districts riled up because the original proposal from the governor was to apply $200 million to the negative factor. A separate bill, HB 1321, routes another $10 million to rural schools with fewer than 1,000 students.

What didn’t make it:

  • After surviving the first Senate floor debate on private school choice in quite some time and passing the Republican-led Senate, Senator Kevin Lundberg’s SB 45 died an ugly death in the heavily Democratic House Education Committee. The bill that offered parents or scholarship providers a tax credit for enrolling kids in private school.
  • HB 1196, an education savings account (ESA) bill also known as C-FLEX died on a party-line vote in the House Education Committee. We mourned its passing a couple of months ago. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Paul Lundeen.
  • Senator Owen Hill’s attempt to whittle away at the oft-raised issue of exclusive chartering authority in consistently underperforming districts died in the House State State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee (known colloquially as the “kill” committee) after passing through the Senate under some fairly intense debate. SB 216 sought to allow the Colorado Charter School Institute to authorize new charters in these districts.
  • SB 173, Senator Chris Holbert’s effort to place privacy and transparency requirements on third-party vendors dealing with student data in education, died after the House and Senate failed to come to an agreement over House amendments loosening some of the bill’s restrictions.

Obviously, these lists don’t cover everything that happened during the 2015 session. Wheeling, dealing, political intrigue, and standoffs are tougher to condense into neat lists, after all. Which leads me to the most important takeaway from this year’s sausage-making process: While we may not have seen much movement in terms of actual legislation, the political and policy-related issues brought to the surface by contentious proceedings in the statehouse will surely ripple into next year.

It’s going to fun.