Rankin: My two bills worth
Spring has arrived at last, and the legislative session has come to an end, not without a huge sigh of relief from many who work at the Capitol. Education bills are always a big part of the session’s activity and this year was no exception.
Two bills worked their way through both chambers with support from both sides of the aisle. In my opinion, they were the most important bills passed since I’ve been representing Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District on the State Board of Education.
The Colorado Reading to Ensure Academic Development Act was important for several reasons. First, it’s based on evidence and science and includes the foundational skills of teaching reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency and comprehension.
It also requires oversight authority by the Department of Education to ensure that the READ Act dollars are spent correctly. All K-3 teachers will be trained in evidence-based practices by 2022, and a third-party evaluator will thoroughly assess the program results for effectiveness. Through an advertising campaign, the community along with libraries and parents will be kept informed of the reading program and its local impact.
Districts experiencing student success will be highlighted at district and state levels. With only 40% of our third graders reading at grade level this bill brought a sense of urgency to the problem. Adding accountability allowed the bill to gain bipartisan support in both houses.
My second bill of importance was House Bill 19-1030, also known as Unlawful Electronic Sexual Communication. The bill was brought forward because of a case of “sexting” between a teacher and a 15-year-old student in Craig, Colorado. HB19-1030 closed a loophole in the law that now protects students between the ages of 15-17 from this form of communication with a “person of trust.”
A jury acquitted the defendant in December 2018. With the legislative session beginning in January, there was a flurry of communication when Craig school Superintendent Dave Ulrich called me and expressed concern about the safety of his students and the concern of the community. I was able to get then-Rep. Bob Rankin as a bill sponsor. As Rep. Rankin moved to the Senate, he continued as a bill sponsor, and Rep. Matt Soper led the charge in the House.
Thanks to everyone who was involved in this case, including its sponsors: Sens. Rankin and Rachel Zenzinger, Reps. Soper and Dylan Roberts, and a special thank you to the Craig Daily Press who covered the case, keeping the community informed as it made its way through the legislative process. From start to finish this was accomplished in sixth months. On May 9, Gov. Polis signed HB19-1030 into law.
This is a very brief highlight of two important bills that I focused on during the 2019 session. I will continue to follow the READ Act as it’s implemented throughout the 3rd Congressional District. The good news is that some of our teachers have learned and are already applying the Foundational Skills of Teaching Reading. The really good news is that their students are succeeding, and reading scores in their classrooms are improving.
Joyce Rankin is on the State Board of Education representing the 3rd Congressional District. She writes the monthly column Across the Street to share with constituents in the 29 counties she represents. The Department of Education, where the State Board of Education meets, is located across the street from the Capitol.