Education bills top Donovan’s trifecta |

Education bills top Donovan’s trifecta

State Sen. Kerry Donovan's ASCENT bill makes expands college funding opportunities for high school students. Gov. John Hickenlooper was at Colorado Mountain College's Edwards campus Wednesday to sign it into law. That's Donovan directly behind the governor, with CMC president Dr. Carrie Hauser to her left in the blue jacket. On Donovan's right is Carrie Benway, president of the Eagle County school board.
Chelsea Tuttle|Vail Daily |

EAGLE COUNTY — Most days it’s good to be Kerry Donovan, and Wednesday it was great.

Sen. Donovan saw three of her bills signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper during a bill-signing tour through Colorado. With each signature, the governor said, “Ladies and gentlemen, that is now the law.”

The three rolled out like this:

• Her ASCENT bill expands a program that provides money for high school students earning college credit, either while they’re in high school or in their first year after graduation.

• Her Mobile Learning Labs bill provides a consistent funding source for rolling classrooms from places like Colorado Mountain College, which has already been providing the service.

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• Her federal lands coordination bill will give local governments the ability to create land plans that are comprehensive enough to include federal land, and help those plans fit federal language.

Donovan, a Vail native, just finished her first session representing Colorado’s 5th Senate District.

Ascent in education

The Eagle County School District has been offering a version the ASCENT program for years.

Here’s how it works.

High school seniors can walk across the stage and be part of their graduation ceremony, which they’ve earned.

The ASCENT program allows the school district to keep those kids in its warm embrace — and on their student rolls — for up to another year.

The school district then applies its per-pupil funding, about $6,500 this year, to the college of that student’s choice.

Right now, the local school district has deals with Colorado Mountain College and Colorado Mesa University, but it can create similar agreements with any in-state college, said Mike Gass, assistant superintendent of Eagle County Schools.

For now, the school district has 14 slots, which it splits up between a larger number of kids.

They can do that because colleges tend to pony up financial aid for incoming freshmen.

Colorado Mountain College, for example, offers a $1,000 scholarship to all in-district high school graduates.

That puts the tuition bill for a freshman’s first semester at around $355, based on 15 credit hours.

Matt Gianneschi, Colorado Mountain College’s chief financial officer, helped write the legislation in 2009 when he was working as Gov. Bill Ritter’s education advisor. He also had a hand in the new legislation that Donovan sponsored.

Donovan’s ASCENT bill signed Wednesday allows kids to know earlier whether the money is available, whether they have a slot in the program and makes the money available to kids younger than high school seniors.

“The more options we can give students to pursue education, the better future we can build,” Donovan said during Wednesday’s bill signing at CMC Edwards.

Hickenlooper said it will help students through college without piling up a mountain of debt.

“It’s one of many tools in the toolbox to move students toward higher education,” he said.

Tire bill

Donovan also had a hand in creating a study to determine if bald tires create traffic problems during snow storms on Interstate 70.

Hickenlooper said he’s pretty certain they do.

The actual bill died in the state Senate amid cries of government overreach.

However, they should understand that on I-70, we really are in this together, the governor said.

“In 2014 there were traffic tie-ups weekend after weekend,” Hickenlooper said. “Some of those were caused by people driving on bald tires.”

Hickenlooper cited a 2007 study by a Front Range agency that found mountain businesses lose $800,000 every hour that traffic is congested on I-70.

The study will apply science, data and facts to the discussion, Hickenlooper said.

Bill sponsor Bob Rankin called it the “most misunderstood bill of the year.”

“We really need to communicate to the public what this was about,” Rankin said. “You buy a $20 set of chains and throw them in the trunk, and if you need them you’ve got ’em.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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