DENVER (AP) – Colorado Republicans are using their new power in the state Legislature to float a raft of conservative proposals to change public education – but many of the proposals stand little chance of becoming law.
From private-school tax credits to new sex education policies, Republicans say they’re using their new Senate majority to address parent complaints. The GOP holds the Senate for the first time in a decade, and Republicans are advancing their education priorities after years of rejection.
Sen. Kevin Lundberg summed it up last week when a GOP-led Education Committee approved his idea to give tax credits to parents who don’t send their children to public school.
“I have spent most of my adult life in one way or the other to finding the best solutions for this very issue,” Lundberg said.
Democrats voted against Lundberg’s idea, one derisively calling it “vouchers light.” But the bill advanced.
Other GOP measures:
– A bill to take racial preferences out of a new funding formula for public colleges and universities. Republican sponsor Sen. Kent Lambert says it’s wrong to give colleges more money for higher numbers of black, Latino or American Indian students. “Is this the kind of branding we want for our Colorado universities?” he asked. The bill awaits a final Senate vote.
– A bill to revive a 1990s idea giving parents broad authority to block school curriculum or opt out of vaccines they oppose.
Among other things, the “Parent’s Bill of Rights” would send parents information about how to opt out of vaccines. It could also give parents more ability to block instruction they oppose, a conflict that spilled over in Jefferson County last year when hundreds of students walked out of class to protest proposed changes to the U.S. history curriculum.
“Parents need to make the decision when it comes to the moral, the educational, the medical – the upbringing of their children,” said Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton. The measure passed the Education Committee.
– A bill related to sex abuse awareness in public schools may be amended to add changes to Colorado’s sex education.
Colorado allows parents to opt their kids out of public sex ed, but some conservatives complain parents don’t get enough warning when sex ed is coming up and that parents should instead have to opt their kids in for sex education.
– A handful of Republican bills in both chambers would reduce required student testing. “There is a wave of dissent against” current testing requirements, said Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins.
The proposals give Republicans a chance to flex their muscle after years of Democratic-led efforts on education, from new teacher accountability standards to an extra effort to boost literacy.
Democrats seem confident that many of the proposals are aimed at narrow interest groups and that they have the votes to keep them off the governor’s desk.
“There are a lot of bill ideas Republicans have wanted to run a long time, and now that they have the majority they’re running them,” said Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver and former high school principal. “I just think that on most of these ideas, the general movement of public opinion has drifted away.”
Education lobbyists are circumspect about the partisan battles.
“When you have a division – one house under one party and the other under the other party – that makes for exciting debate,” said Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards. “And yes, it does mean that some bills will be proposed that they know will die in the second house, but at least they’ve been aired and discussed.”
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
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