Tom RamstackTom RamstackJanuary 8, 20186min485
WASHINGTON — Colorado lawmakers and conservation officials are pinning their hopes for additional federal funding of wildlife conservation on two bills recently introduced in Congress. One of them would redirect about $29 million a year to Colorado from fees paid by companies that extract energy and minerals from federal lands. Much of the money would […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 7, 20173min570

Look, up in the sky! That’s what they could be saying in Chaffee County and the San Luis Valley as the state begins to study the use of drones to respond to wildfires.

Rep. Jim Wilson, who sponsored House Bill 1070, thinks stepping up the use of unmanned aircraft could save the state money by alleviating its reliance on regular planes in dangerous flying conditions — and lives by improving response times and strategies.

The study won’t cost taxpayers a dime, but rather allow the state to accept gifts, grants and donations for the pilot program on non-piloted aircraft. National Geographic reported last year that drones are being used in Nebraska to drop fireballs for controlled burns,  the system of destroying overgrown vegetation that can fuel wildfires.

“More and more money is being invested in drone technology, this bill studies how that new technology can help Colorado fight wildfires,” Wilson said in a statement. “Drones have tremendous potential to survey ground and relay data without the cost of manned aircraft and the risk of putting pilots in the sky.

“I am grateful for the strong bipartisan support and very excited to see the outcome of this study.”

The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Don Coram, R-Montrose. The governor signed the bill this week to authorize the study by the Department of Public Safety’s Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology and Aerial Firefighting.

The center itself was created by the legislature three years ago to research, test and evaluate new and existing technologies that could help fight fires from above.

The results of the drone study will be presented to the Wildfire Matters Review Committee and the House and Senate judiciary committees by Sept. 1, 2018.

“This legislation will help Colorado maintain its leadership role in aerospace nationally and internationally, having the second largest concentration of aerospace industries in the country,” Wendell Pryor, director of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corp., said in a statement. “The legislation, with widespread industry support and its specific focus on public safety, positions the state as a worldwide leader in aerial firefighting in a proactive way to utilize the technology.”

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 15, 20177min454

The perennial teacher shortage that bedevils many Colorado school districts, especially in rural communities, prompted legislation this year to study the problem in depth in the hope it will yield a solution at some point. That bill is now on its way to the governor.

Bob Schaffer thinks he could have saved lawmakers the trouble with this simple advice: Cut regulations, instead. Particularly, the requirement for licensing teachers in the state’s public schools.

The conservative Republican and longtime education-reform advocate once was a state lawmaker himself. He also was a lot more — a three-term congressman from Colorado’s 4th Congressional District; a member of the State Board of Education, and a leading strategist of the state’s school-choice movement. He is now the principal at Fort Collins’s vaunted Liberty Common High School, a charter school that is regularly among the state’s top academic performers. And in his spare moments, he pens a column for hometown paper The Coloradoan.

In his latest column, published last week, Schaffer drills down on what he believes is a big reason there aren’t enough teachers to go around. He writes, “It’s high time to liberate educators” from the strictures of licensure, and he bemoans the demise of another bill in the 2017 session that barely saw light of day but, he maintains, could have done much more to tackle the teacher shortage:

…Earlier in the session, one lawmaker petitioned his colleagues to suspend rural teacher-licensure requirements in order to free up available talent — for example, people with English degrees, engineering degrees, agriculture degrees and other relevant academic credentials — to fill classroom teaching jobs. The lawmaker spiked his own proposal, saying he couldn’t persuade members of the House Education Committee to support it.

As it turned out, the bill got crosswise with the education establishment:

…these politicians had been lobbied by the State Board of Education, which voiced its opposition to the idea of allowing unlicensed teachers to help rescue rural schoolchildren. So did the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, which fiercely defends coercive licensure regulations and other artificial barriers to market entry.

Schaffer says that’s ironic because that same establishment itself is on record questioning the value of licensure:

In 2012, the Colorado Department of Education began questioning the value of teacher licensure. It reported, “The current system of licensure relies primarily on program completion and qualifications that are not meaningfully connected to student learning.”

Licensing officials admitted the current licensure system “is largely input-focused and compliance-based, relying on qualifications that do not accurately measure educator preparedness or effectiveness.” The Commissioner of Education bluntly added, “a teacher license guarantees nothing.” They’re right.

Despite licensure requirements that serve no pragmatic purpose, Colorado schoolteachers are coerced into forking over enormous sums and diverting considerable amounts of classroom time in order to qualify for, purchase and maintain credentials regarded as meaningless by the same government that issues them.

Unlicensed teachers? But, isn’t that crazy talk? How will we know if they are qualified? According to Schaffer, that’s a consideration that should be left to the schools themselves, not state law or the state education bureaucracy. And he maintains some of the best schools already do it that way:

There’s no rational reason rural principals should be denied the same freedom to hire competent unlicensed instructors, as most of the state’s top-performing public schools have been doing for over 20 years.

Indeed, charter public schoolteachers, for example, are exempt from licensure requirements. For decades, charter principals have been free to hire legitimate content experts, former college professors, and other experts whose invaluable professional experiences have prepared them for encore careers as teachers.

Unlicensed teachers are among the state’s best classroom instructors. Their students are among the most thoroughly prepared for college — consistently.

OK, but here’s the real question: Is Schaffer (who many years ago was this blogger’s boss in a former profession) just peddling a mantra — deregulation — of his political ilk? Or, does his prescription have practical value for luring more teachers into the trenches in the hardest-to-fill slots in rural Colorado?

We blogged about the spiked bill Schaffer references, and it’s worth pondering the words of its sponsor at the time it was derailed. Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida is a Republican but hardly an ideologue on education reform (or any other issue); he didn’t come across as someone picking a fight with the teachers union, just as a lawmaker frustrated by understaffed schools in his district — and proposing what he saw as a common-sense step.

Wilson, quoted by Chalkbeat’s Nicholas Garcia, seemed exasperated at the lack of support for his bill amid no real alternatives:

“My question is: Who is going to be concerned between unlicensed educators versus no educators? … There’s no easy simple solution to going out and finding (licensed teachers). They’re not there. I’ve never seen this kind of crisis — ever.”

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 4, 20172min426

The House approved a bipartisan plan Wednesday to extend and expand incentives for investment in new tech ventures in Colorado. Startups that would benefit include bioscience, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, energy, electronics, engineering and information technology businesses.

Under House Bill 1090, the current tax credit of up to $50,000 for investing in a tech startup through the end of this year would be extended through 2022. And the current $750,000 cap for total tax credits granted in any year under the program would be doubled to $1.5 million.

The measure is sponsored in the House by state Reps. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, and Jim Wilson, R-Salida.

Headache relief for Colorado small businesses …

A press statement by House Democrats says the tax credit already has created “nearly 700 good-paying jobs at Colorado high-tech startup companies since 2014.” The press release quotes Kraft-Tharp:

“Access to seed capital is one of the key challenges facing early-stage companies. … This bill reduces risks to investors and draws additional investment dollars to Colorado’s emerging high-tech economy.”

The proposal passed the House 43-20, with eight Republicans in tow. The GOP is generally less keen on government-directed economic incentives like tax credits, but the Republican-leaning Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry endorsed the bill early on.

HB 1090 now heads to the Republican-run Senate.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 3, 20172min325

English-language learners in elementary school should be able to prove their reading skills in one language — the one in which they are being taught — rather than have to test in two languages as is sometimes now the case. That’s the gist of House Bill 1160, bipartisan legislation that won unanimous approval this morning in the state House.

The proposal is the handiwork of two Democrats — Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon and Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora — and two Republicans: Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida and Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson.

Lawmakers lauded the vote in a press release from the House Democrats:

“This test is meant to demonstrate how well a student can read, and when it’s given to students in their language of instruction, it gives us better indicators of reading ability and gives teachers the information they need to help their students improve,” said Rep. Hamner. “This bill cuts testing time and increases instructional time for the very students who need it.”

“It was great to work with Rep. Hamner on this bill,” said Rep. Wilson. “It simplifies the process to answer two critical questions: one, can you read? And two, how well?”

As the press release also explains:

Currently, although the purpose is to evaluate reading ability and not language proficiency, some students are required to take their annual reading assessment in both Spanish and English. Double testing these students unnecessarily overburdens a specific subgroup of students, risks misidentifying English learners as having significant reading deficiencies, and is not aligned with other state assessment policies.

The measure now heads to the state Senate, where it presumably will get favorable treatment, as well.




Ramsey ScottRamsey ScottJanuary 26, 20169min339
Leaders from advocacy groups Club 20, Action 22 and Progressive 15 told The Colorado Statesman they thought the trip helped focus the legislative conversation on the needs of the counties they represent — the 59 counties that often feel slighted by the five urban and suburban counties that dot the I-25 “metro corridor,” from Pueblo […]

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