Bill promoting parental involvement in education draws little flak in committee

By Elizabeth Stortroen

Senate Bill 90, designed to increase the involvement of parents in the public education of their children, passed out of the House Education Committee Monday on a 10-to-2 bipartisan vote and seems destined for the governor’s desk.

SB 90 would require a specific percentage of parental representation on new school accountability committees, which would be representative of each district’s demographics.

In addition to the school accountability committees, the bill would create an advisory council to research and report on the best practices and strategies for parent involvement and a program creating grants for schools to use in implementing parent education. It also would call for more parental involvement at the district and state level.

Despite opposition to an earlier version of SB 90 by members of Colorado’s charter school movement, no members of the public testified against the bill during the hearing.

At a Feb. 5 Senate Education Committee hearing, Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, said of the earlier version, SB 90 would mandate charter schools to institute accountability committees and require parents to sit on their boards.

Such a requirement would go against the “DNA of what charter schools are,” said Jim Griffin, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, in an interview with The Colorado Statesman.

“Charter school boards already do what accountability committees are set up to do,” he said. “They set goals for that school, discuss what the curriculum is going to look like, and so on.”

Griffin said the earlier version of the bill would have duplicated the charter school boards and strained the ability of rural communities to provide enough parents to serve on redundant panels.

“This is not to say we don’t have parents on our boards,” Griffin said. “Some of our boards are all parents, but some have none, and this is their choice. Parental involvement is already so ingrained in our system, it is in our framework, and this bill is overall a misfit for charter schools.”

The Colorado League of Charter Schools doesn’t oppose SB 90 in its current form, Griffin said, but it doesn’t endorse it, either.

Representatives Debbie Benefield, D-Arvada, and Mike Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, are the bill’s co-sponsors in the House.

“What we want to do with this bill is teach parents how to be partners in their child’s education and how to be an advocate,” said Benefield. “This (bill) has to do with quality parent involvement. It has to do with the
fact that a lot of parents truly, until there is an issue in their child’s education, have not got a clue on how to effectively advocate for their child’s education.”

Opposition to SB 90 didn’t disappear when the charter school community withdrew its objections.

Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, says she believes the bill takes the wrong approach to increasing parental involvement.

“I think this bill mandates more on our school districts that we don’t need to be mandating,” Murray said in an interview with The Colorado Statesman. “I don’t think that state government needs to be stepping in and telling parents how to raise their children.

“Who can deny that it is a good idea to give instruction to parents? But the question is, ‘Do we think it is the government’s role?’” she said.

Murray suggested it might be better for nonprofit organizations to offer voluntary individualized plans to get parents involved or to research successful programs in other school districts.

Murray said in committee that SB 90 would simply add one more additional responsibility for the Colorado Department of Education to take care of.

Barbara Medina, assistant commissioner of innovation and transformation for the Colorado Department of Education, said the Colorado Department of Education doesn’t have an official position on the bill and welcomes any opportunity to expand parental involvement in education.

“Any way we can form parents together and make sure our students have the opportunities they need, is a win-win for us,” Medina said.

Frank Waterous, senior policy analyst for the Bell Policy Center, a Denver-based progressive public policy think tank, weighed in in favor of SB 90 at the committee hearing.

“The bill is directed at parental involvement, but it is really about student achievement,” he said. “The research evidence is very clear that parental involvement is one of the most important elements in children’s academic success.”

Waterous noted that research conducted by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory found students whose have involved parents are more likely to earn higher test scores, higher grades, attend school regularly and graduate at higher rates than students who parents are not as involved.

“We see low-income and minority students seeing a real benefit in this area when we include parental involvement,” Waterous said. “The advisory group would not only be focused on parents, but specifically, it would help parents get more involved and help them become partners.”

Those voting in favor of the bill were: Representatives Benefield; Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge; Karen Middleton, D-Aurora; Merrifield; Nancy Todd, D-Aurora; Judy Solano, D-Brighton; Tom Massey, R-Poncho Springs, Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster; Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, and Kevin Priola, R-Henderson. Representatives Murray and Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, were opposed.

SB 90 passed its second reading before the House on Thursday.