Date: 02/12/2009



Votes: View--> Action Taken:
Moved amendment L.003 (Attachment A), with an amen
Refer Senate Bill 09-130, as amended, to the Commi

01:36 PM -- Senate Bill 09-130

Senator Spence, sponsor of Senate Bill 09-130, presented the bill to the committee. The bill creates the Colorado Scholarships for Children with Autism Pilot Program in the Colorado Department of Education (CDE).

Senator Spence made comments about the state of education, education reform, and choice in education, and in doing so, she provided information on the history of school choice and education reform legislation in the state. She said the education system falls far behind in educating children with disabilities.

01:40 PM

Senator Spence continued her presentation, talking about the bill specifically. She explained that the bill is modeled on a scholarship program for children with autism in Ohio and described that program and its establishment. She said the Ohio program is five years old, and she talked about the number of children it serves and the scholarships it provides.

01:45 PM

Senator Spence continued, saying she would offer an amendment and commented on amendment that would be offered by Senator Romer as well.

Senator Spence said parents are the experts in knowing what is best for their children.

01:47 PM

Senator Spence began walking the committee through the provisions of the bill. She explained that the CDE would select at least one district in the state to participate in the pilot program. She said that a parent of an eligible child could request and receive a scholarship from a pilot school district, and she explained how the scholarship would work.

Senator Spence explained what a private school would need to do in order to participate in program, referring to language on page 6 of the bill. She clarified that a student receiving a scholarship would need to participate in the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP). She said participating school districts would be required to provide written notice to the parents of all eligible students in the district. Senator Spence explained that a parent who chooses to place their child in a private school under the program would waive the child's right to a free, appropriate public education under federal law, consistent with federal special education law.

01:51 PM

Senator Spence continued, explaining that her amendment would cap scholarships at $20,000, and describing the other language in the bill the amendment would effect. She clarified that no State Education Fund moneys would be used for the program and that no public money would go to a religious school. She said that school districts would count, as part of the pupil count, children attending private schools under the program. She provided information about how the scholarship money would reach parents.

01:54 PM

Senator Spence responded to committee questions. She responded to a question from Senator Romer about similar programs in other states, and a question about her reasons for choosing $20,000 as the maximum scholarship amount.

She responded to a question from Senator Groff about how Senate Bill 09-130 compares to the scholarship pilot program bill she sponsored in the 2003 legislative session. She explained that the bill before the committee does not use in local funds.

Senator Hudak asked about the requirement that districts pay excess costs as identified in the fiscal note. Senator Spence said her witnesses would respond to this question. Senator Hudak also asked if there is a cap on the number of eligible children. Senator Spence and Senator Hudak discussed the issue of the number of children who could participate in the program. Senator Hudak asked about the number of schools in the state that could educate students under the program. Conversation on schools that could serve students under the program ensued.

02:04 PM

Conversation between Senator Hudak and Senator Spence continued, with Senator Hudak commenting that there is money under the School Finance Act for school districts to educate high-needs students. She said districts can currently contract with private schools to educate these high-need students. Senator Spence talked about the need for the program and said it provides another option for parents with special-needs children. Senator Hudak and Senator Spence discussed these issues further.

02:11 PM

Senator Heath asked how the success of the pilot program would be measured. Senator Spence replied, saying the parent would be the judge of the success of the program, and noting that students participating in the program would take the CSAP. Conversation on this issue between Senator Heath and Senator Spence ensued.

President Groff spoke to Senator Hudak's concerns, saying the bill would allow more children to be afforded the type of education they are entitled to. Senator Hudak responded, saying that the School Finance Act provides money to serve many children with special needs.

02:15 PM

Senator Spence described the three tiers of special education funding in current law, and asked that a witness speak further to that issue.

02:16 PM

The following persons testified:

02:16 PM --
Wayne Eckerling, the parent of an autistic child and representing himself, testified in support of the bill. Dr. Eckerling described his background as an educator and administrator. He said there needs to be choice for parents of children with autism. He explained why high-needs students do not often move across district lines. Dr. Eckerling said current law does not provide funding for facilities. He said he would want his child served by a teacher with specific expertise in educating autistic children. Dr. Eckerling talked about the quality of the service his daughter received at a private school and in public school. He talked about the costs to society of unsuccessful education of special needs students. Dr. Eckerling said the bill will have negligible financial impact on school districts. He talked about accountability under the program.

02:24 PM

Dr. Eckerling responded to questions from the committee. Senator Romer asked what options are currently available for students aged 16 to 21. Dr. Eckerling responded, describing the available programs and what those programs provide, saying they do not provide what is needed.

Senator Hudak asked if there are private schools available in Denver that could serve his child's needs. He responded, talking about the kinds of services his child needs. Discussion between Dr. Eckerling and Senator Hudak on the issue ensued. Senator Hudak commented that these are services school districts should be providing, and asked Dr. Eckerling whether he worked toward that in his district. Dr. Eckerling responded, talking about the difficult choices made by school districts. He said he does not believe the program will cause an exodus from public schools.

02:29 PM

Committee questions and comments for Dr. Eckerling continued, with comments and a question from Senator Romer about how to create capacity. Dr. Eckerling responded, talking about programs in Florida that address this issue, and saying that money is needed up front to build capacity, as is time.

02:32 PM --
Linda Drees, parent of a child with autism and involved with trying to start a charter school in Northern Colorado, testified in support of the bill. Ms. Drees said the bill will provide a choice for parents to get excellent education for their children. Ms. Drees talked about her experience in trying to start the charter school, saying it was denied due to financial issues. She provided a number of statistics about the number of children who are diagnosed with autism and the societal costs. Every year, she said, parents play the lottery hoping their child will get a teacher who is equipped to deal with high-needs children with autism. She talked about variability in programs and lack of accountability. She told the committee about a specific issue in a school where the teacher was unable to handle a high-needs student.

Ms. Drees talked about private schools in Colorado that deal with these children, and talked about charter schools in other states. She said parents of children with autism do not have choices for excellent education and appropriate services. She said the costs to districts of litigation could be better spent on the program.

02:40 PM

Ms. Drees responded to committee questions. Senator Romer spoke to his amendment (L.003 Attachment A), which would create a charter school to serve autistic children and asked Ms. Drees to comment on the ability of parents to establish a charter school. Senator Hudak spoke to this question as well, and asked Ms. Drees why an institute charter school for autistic children had not been established. Ms. Drees responded, and the committee discussed this issue.

02:42 PM --
Shannon Haggerty, representing the Alta Vista Center for Autism, testified in support of the bill. She described her school, its programs, and the children it serves. Ms. Haggerty said earlier intervention is very important. She provided an example of a child who had received such intervention. She said her school is the only school in the state specifically for autistic children. She described the cost for the program and responded to a question from Senator Bacon about how families afford the program. She said that, in addition to out-of-pocket money from students, there is school district money, and community centered board funding for students. She spoke to the difficulty in serving these children, and the training and certification of the staff at the school.

Ms. Haggerty provided examples of children the school serves from around the state, and responded to a question from Senator Bacon about how many children the school serves. Ms. Drees talked about the school's outreach efforts with school districts. She talked about the importance of independent life skills and described the school's pre-vocational skills program.

Ms. Drees explained that students at her school take the CSAP, and said that parental satisfaction is an important component of accountability.

02:51 PM --
Caleb and Lenina Close testified in support of the bill. Ms. Close talked about her son, Caleb, and his diagnosis. She said Caleb attends Cherry Creek Academy and explained that she put him on the waiting list for the school the day he was born. Ms. Close said she is responsible, as a parent, for making choices about what is best for her child.

Caleb talked about his experiences in school. He responded to questions from the committee.

02:57 PM

Senator Spence asked Senator Romer to describe his amendment prior to the testimony of the opponents. Senator Romer described amendment L.003, saying it changes the bill from one that would offer scholarships to one that would create an institute charter school to serve children with autism. He said it would put a $30,000 cap on the excess dollars that would follow students to the charter school. In addition, he said, the amendment gives the State Charter School Institute the authority to charter the school and it allows the institute the authority to place the charter in a district, whether the district has exclusive chartering authority or not.

03:02 PM

Senator Romer responded to committee questions about the amendment. Senator King asked for clarification of the $30,000 cap and what it would include.

Senator Spence asked Randy DeHoff, Executive Director of the State Charter School Institute, to speak to the amendment. Mr. DeHoff came to the table. He described the application for such a charter school that was denied for funding reasons, and said that $30,000 is an appropriate amount. He said the institute would be happy to entertain an application.

Mr. DeHoff responded to committee questions, including one from Senator Hudak about whether any institute charter schools receive excess costs funding. He responded, and noted that excess costs funding does not address facilities needs. Senator Hudak asked Senator Romer to clarify the use of the word "stipend" in the amendment. Senator Romer also responded to a question from Senator Bacon about whether the funding would come from school finance moneys. Senator King also responded to the question, providing information about the funding of institute charter schools.

03:09 PM

The committee talked about the pool of moneys for high-need students in school finance.

The committee discussed the amendment and how its fiscal impact would be assessed.

03:15 PM

Senator Scheffel asked Senator Spence whether she feels the amendment eliminates the best source of education for autistic children, which is private schools. Senator Spence explained why she sees the amendment as a positive outcome. Senator Romer talked about possibilities around nonprofit private institutions applying for the charter.

03:19 PM --
Lucinda Hundley, representing the Statewide Consortium of Special Education Directors, testified in opposition to the bill and the amendment. She explained the consortium's opposition. The first issue she described is the consortium's concern about parents waiving significant rights under the bill. She spoke about the specific rights that would be waived, including due process. She expressed concerns about pitting disabilities against each other. She talked about the benefits to autistic children of being educated in the mainstream.

Her next concern, she said, is that parents already have the right to place their child in a private school either unilaterally or in concert with the school district. She said current law allows excess cost funding to charter schools. She talked about concerns around funding. She spoke about "tier B" funding under current law, and the small number of children being served under that tier due to lack of funding. Ms. Hundley spoke to the high-cost pool, saying there are proposed cuts to that pool of money that federal money will not replace. She talked about the demands on the high-cost pool, saying there are more requests for money from the pool than there is money available. She said the foundation of the bill pits one disability against another.

03:31 PM

Ms. Hundley responded to questions and comments from the committee. Senator Romer commented that these students are already in the system and the money is simply being moved. He commented that the proposal is exactly what charter schools are meant to do. He said arguments about funding cannot stop an idea that works. Senator Romer said the status quo is not working. Ms. Hundley responded, saying there is a lesson to be learned from the experience of the Rocky Mountain School for the Deaf. She responded to a question from Senator Bacon about the allocation of money under current law.

03:36 PM

Committee questions for the witness continued. Senator King asked Ms. Hundley to comment on how excess costs are allocated.

03:38 PM --
Kathy Kennedy-Tuchfeld, representing herself, testified in opposition to the bill. Ms. Kennedy-Tuchfeld said she is the parent of a high-needs child. She talked about her son and said she believes the bill negatively effects other children. She talked about the importance of community in schools and the importance of special needs children attending school with other children. Ms. Kennedy-Tuchfeld said it is important to put the child, not the disability, first. She talked about the choices her family made so that her child's needs could be met. Ms. Kennedy-Tuchfeld talked about the difference her child, and other children with disabilities, have made in other children's lives.

03:46 PM --
Jane Urschel, representing the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB), stated that in Colorado, school districts pick up 60 percent of the special education costs. She discussed the amendment that Senator Romer proposed.

03:48 PM --
Karen Wick, representing the Colorado Education Association (CEA), stated that the CEA is opposed to the bill as drafted.

03:50 PM --
Bruce Caughey, representing the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE), testified in opposition to the bill. He said money is an issue and the high-cost pool is already overstressed.

03:51 PM --
Vicki Newell, representing the Colorado PTA, testified in opposition to the bill as drafted. She talked about the problems faced by parents of special education children, and said the issue of special education funding needs to be addressed.

03:53 PM

The committee discussed the bill and the amendment.

03:55 PM

Senator Spence said she will support Senator Romer's amendment. She said there will need to be work done on the fiscal issues. The committee discussed the possibility of laying the bill over.

03:58 PM

Senator Heath expressed his concern that the bill singles out autism over other disabilities. Senator Spence responded to Senator Heath's comments and asked for support for amendment L.003. Senator King also responded to Senator Heath's concerns, saying not all schools meet the needs of all students. He said it is important to find ways to educate kids in different ways, and said the bill is an entrepreneurial vehicle to find ways to help kids.

04:04 PM

Senator Scheffel said the testimony showed that the current system is not working, and that a pilot program is a good route to follow. Senator Heath responded, saying the pilot program is going to use all the money. Senator Hudak talked about the lack of expert teachers to teach children with special needs, and said the best use of limited funds might be to provide more training and get more expert teachers for special needs students. Senator Bacon said he would support sending the bill to Appropriations.

04:08 PM

Senator Romer commented on the importance of doing a pilot program.
TIME: 04:09:38 PM
MOTION:Moved amendment L.003 (Attachment A), with an amendment allowing up to three pilot schools. The motion passed on a 7-1 vote.
King K.


TIME: 04:10:21 PM
MOTION:Refer Senate Bill 09-130, as amended, to the Committee on Appropriations. The motion passed on a 6-2 vote.
King K.

04:11 PM

The committee took a brief recess.