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Education, energy reform bills signed

DENVER ” Gov. Bill Ritter signed a package of measures into law Wednesday that he said will improve education by using assessment tests to help students as well as grade their schools.

He also signed bills designed to fight crime and promote renewable energy use.

Backers of the education bills said the state’s standardized tests were geared too much toward evaluating schools and not enough toward showing students, and their parents and teachers, how they are doing.

Ritter said accountability for public schools is important, but so is the need for information that will allow teachers and students track their progress.

Ritter said three bills he signed will allow educators and administrators to focus more on students and less on red tape. They call for a review of data and how it is collected, the creation of a statewide advisory committee and reforming School Accountability Reports.

He also signed a measure that sets standards for online school courses after a critical state audit said the results were not being tracked. Another measure he signed will regulate how online educators are paid.

The Colorado Education Association, the teachers’ union that represents about 38,000 teachers statewide, has said the school accountability system should be changed to reduce the amount of time devoted to preparing for the tests and to allow them to use the data to improve education, not just rank schools.

But Ritter’s predecessor, GOP Gov. Bill Owens, had warned lawmakers last year not to weaken the accountability system put in place in his tenure.

Ritter said the reform package stayed true to its mission of providing parents with the information they need about schools while providing more information on student progress.

“We believe a great deal in accountability, but it has to act as a tool,” he told educators and lawmakers who gathered at the Capitol to watch the bill signings.

Ritter also signed several criminal justice and victim rights bills, saying they would help prevent recidivism and reduce prison costs.

“Our focus must always be on public safety, crime prevention and victim advocacy. We also must do everything we can to keep offenders from becoming repeat offenders. It saves money and it prevents another person from becoming a victim,” he said.

One bill establishes a criminal and juvenile justice commission that will review sentencing laws and review prevention programs.

Another closes a loophole in state law by ensuring if a licensed professional commits a sex crime, the issue is referred to prosecutors. The bill was passed after disclosures that some licensing boards were not notifying authorities of sex-crime allegations.

Ritter’s renewable energy program also got a boost with laws to provide a tax exemption for producing renewable energy, and bills to build transmission lines, bring biofuels to market and encourage recycling.

Most of the bills had bipartisan support, except for the recycling bill, which creates three new solid waste disposal fees.

House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, called it the most egregious fee hike of the year.

“Where is the pro-business Ritter that campaigned for governor?” May asked.


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