As the sun rose over the Capitol on April 22, we had 12 days remaining to finish up the session. The backlog of bills facing the Colorado Legislature was daunting.
In my seven years in the Legislature (2013-present) the total number of bills has been 613, 621, 682, 685, 681-plus, 720-plus and “only” 587 this session. I mention this because 296 (just over 50 percent) of the bills still required legislative action on Monday – smallest number of bills, biggest backlog!
What are the chances of thoughtful deliberation when 50 percent of all the bills introduced this session have to be addressed in the last 12 days (10 percent) of the session? I would say slim and none and slim is headed out of town.
So, where were all those bills as of April 22? A little bit of everywhere – 265 were “done,” 127 were sitting in the House, 78 were sitting in the Senate, 41 Senate bills waiting in the House and 50 House bills waiting in the Senate.
Debates sometimes lasted late into the night (3:30 a.m. one night). Democratic leadership had created a logjam. The challenge for them has been like a game of “pickup sticks.” How do you gently maneuver a noncontentious bill out of the pile without causing an avalanche of debate over contested bills?
Tight logjam + tight schedule = short tempers and long nights.
One of the “sticks” pulled from the pile was SB 19-246 (Concerning the Financing of Public Schools). In last week’s edition I shared the battle taking place over the $99 million of “discovered” unappropriated funds. The Senate battled over the funds and sent the House a bill that increases per-pupil funding by $182.76, allocates $20 million to rural schools, reduces the “Negative Factor” by $100 million, adds $22 million to special education and puts $40 million into the State Education Fund reserve for next year.
When you include funding for full-day kindergarten, school safety and other programs, this School Finance Bill is indeed what Sen. Sonnenberg called “the best School Finance Bill I have seen in 13 years.” Rep. McLachlan and I got it through House Education Committee 13-0.
Another unanimous vote out of the House Education Committee was on SB 19-199 “Reorganization of the Read Act.” Rep. McCluskie (D-Summit County) and I are the House sponsors. The original intent of the Read Act was to have every student reading at grade level by the third grade. The program has fallen far short of its goal.
In 2018, the results of the CMAS (Colorado Measures of Academic Success) indicated that 59.6 percent of all third-graders were not proficient in reading – six out of 10. The CMAS results have prompted me to launch my “Where’s the outrage?” campaign here at the Capitol.
Reading scores are not the only challenges we face as revealed in CMAS scores. Fourth-grade social studies scores indicated 77.6 percent did not meet expectations; fifth-grade Science – 64.5 percent did not meet expectations; and, if you were not gifted and talented, 64.2 percent of third-graders did not meet expectations in math.
Why do we keep adding educational programs in our schools when we have so much work to do in reading, science and math? Again I say, “Where is the outrage?”
How important is the ability to read? Third-graders who cannot read are four times more likely to drop out of high school – double that rate for blacks and Hispanics. What happens when students who cannot read grow up? Seven of every 10 prison inmates cannot read above a fourth-grade level – this infamous “School to Prison Pipeline” issue we keep hearing about is less about cops in school and more about kids learning to read.
High school dropouts are not eligible for 90 percent of the jobs in our society, and high school dropouts make up nearly 50 percent of all heads-of-households on welfare. We do not have a living wage problem – we have a “Read to Succeed” problem. If people cannot read, they cannot succeed.
Just in: My bill to fully fund kindergarten (HB 19-1262) passed the Senate Friday morning unanimously on a 35-0 vote. My six-year quest for funding kindergarten is nearing an end.
Little time remains to schedule a visit to the Golden Dome during the legislative session. I highly recommend it – such a great experience! Remember, it is never too late to get involved – just call 303-866-2747 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Republican Jim Wilson of Salida represents Colorado House District 60.