#Coleg Notebook: Opting out; test reform; pot turns TABOR into news

Opting out 

Senators again debated parental rights this morning. This version was less partisan but just as heated as the debate ignited by the conservative Parent’s Bill of Rights introduced earlier this session. That debate centered on vaccination opt outs. This one centered on standardized test opt outs — that is, the ability to opt out without facing threats from school or punishment for their children, cases of which have been reported in The Colorado Independent

“No child should be held back, prevented from going to events or punished in any way for opting out,” said sponsor Chris Holbert, R-Parker, who added that his family chose to opt-out without problems in Douglas County.

Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, who co-sponsored the bill with Holbert, admitted that the measure only points to a larger issue lawmakers largely agree on but have yet to solve: over-testing in public schools.

“It would be nice if we had an assessment bill before we had the opt-out bill, but we don’t,” lamented Todd, adding that her measure is not intended to encourage students to opt-out of tests.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, strongly opposed the bill and tried to convince his caucus that making it easier for parents to opt their children out of standardized tests would undo the education reform work Democrats did while in the majority.

Johnston said more than $300 million in federal education funding would be at risk if test participation rates drop below 95 percent. He also pointed out that the vast majority of those funds go to schools with poor and at-risk students.

“Who do you think will be encouraged not to test by this bill?” Johnston asked. “Poor students, students of color and students with disability … You will have invalidated the entire system for equity-based accountability among schools, among districts and yes, among teachers.”

In spite of Johnston’s concerns, lawmakers gave the opt-out bill, SB 223, initial approval today.

More on testing 

An unlikely duo from Colorado Springs — Republican school-choice crusader Sen. Owen Hill and Democratic public educator Sen. Michael Merrifield — have teamed up to lower the amount of tests students would take to the minimum federally required number and to put a three-year freeze on the role standardized tests play in teacher evaluations. SB 257 comes up for public testimony on Thursday.

Merrifield said he’s glad to have bipartisan support for the bill, but it doesn’t give him any certainty about whether the legislation will pass. He pointed out that other testing reform efforts with similarly robust support have already toppled this session.

“It is very complicated,” said Merrifield. “There isn’t even caucus agreement on the best way to go — some think we shouldn’t even be addressing this, some are pushing for even more testing.”

Bear, oh my!

Following an increase in bear-human interactions, the House passed a bill today directing the division of parks and wildlife to study the issue and how to solve it. Some say it’s more of a human problem than a bear problem. 

While any debate about bears runs a very high risk of cuteness, Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, really pushed it over the edge by opting for the grammatically sound, yet whimsical, usage of the plural “bear” vs. “bears.”

“Bear are the only species managed by statute and not by parks and wildlife,” Brown pointed out on the floor this morning. “It’s been 23 years since the statue’s been looked at and a lot has changed in that time… bear population in the early 2000’s was considered to be about 10,000 bear and now there’s over 20,000 bear in the state of Colorado. This is a good bill, we sure need to study what’s going on.”

The silent voice in the construction defects shouting match 

The whole reason that some Democrats have jumped on board with construction defect reform is because builders say it’s become prohibitively expensive to insure their projects, thus making affordable housing unaffordable to build. The debate has been fiery, lengthy, and largely waged between builders and the lawyers who represent homeowners.

Now Complete Colorado is out with an interesting new take on what has become an old debate. Reporter Peter Blake noticed that insurers and their lobbyists have stayed strangely silent throughout the construction defect debate. Why?

Because even if the bill passes, insurers don’t plan to drop their prices much. As industry lobbyist Robert Ferm put it: “If a bill like this were to pass, it would produce an expectation overnight of a new and magic insurance market in Colorado. We didn’t want to give that impression.”

Read the full story here.

Pot has turned TABOR into national news/object of ridicule 

Though Coloradans have twice voted to regulate and tax recreational marijuana, the intricacies of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) have budget makers drafting a third ballot question to ask voters if they really, really, really want the state to retain the $58 million in tax revenue and spend it on pot-industry regulation, school construction and youth drug-use prevention.

This pot revenue conundrum has uniquely united Democrats and Republicans behind a pro-tax policy. It has also caught nationwide attention. The New York Times opined on the issue today, saying:

“The bill now being cobbled together could lead to a short-term fix allowing the marijuana money to be retained and usefully spent. A more lasting repair will come when voters undo the damage that anti-tax zealotry did to their Constitution.”

Lawmakers, Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, at center, on the Senate floor today to debate a parent’s right to opt their children out of standardized tests.