Believe it or not, plenty of Colorado K-12 students owe fines for overdue library books, damaged or missing textbooks, and the like. If you are a parent, you already know this.
Especially for some households of modest means, forking it over can amount to more than just an incidental expense. And even if paying the fines isn’t that big a deal for other families, the question arises: Is failure to pay them a big enough deal to warrant withholding a student’s transcripts?
Before you answer, know this: Gov. John Hickenlooper thinks the answer is no, and he made that clear by signing House Bill 1301 into law today. (OK, now you can go ahead and answer the question.)
What’s HB 1301? The state House Democrats thought you’d ask. From a press release the House Dems’ press office issued today:
HB17-1301 prevents a school or school district from withholding records required for enrollment in another school or institution of higher education, such as a transcript or diploma, for failure to pay any fine or fee assessed by the school. This includes fines related to returning or replacing textbooks, library resources or other school property.
So, is it a get-out-of-jail-free card? Perhaps, a blank check to run up the tab on overdue books or missing texts because, by statute, there now will be no meaningful consequences? The press release addresses that, too, quoting House sponsor Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City:
“We must give every student access to a free public education … That includes access to their grades and transcripts if they need to change schools or reenroll. Grades, transcripts and academic records belong to the student and no student should be prevented from receiving or continuing their education because of inability to pay.”
And it noted this:
Testimony during the bill’s hearing before the House Education Committee pointed out that the policy of withholding transcripts can lead to low-income students dropping out of school. Martin Schneider with the Community Prep School in Colorado Springs said that half of the students at the school each year are new students and 35 percent of those students have unpaid fines from previous schools—most fines are less than $30.00. Many students and their families don’t have an ability to pay those fines which acted as a barrier up until now for students seeking to continue their education.
It probably didn’t hurt the bill’s chances that it was bipartisan. No less a no-nonsense conservative than Senate Republican Majority Leader Chris Holbert, of Parker, was the Senate co-sponsor along with Aurora Democrat Rhonda Fields.