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Owen Hill

A bill that would have created a system of automatic waivers from certain state rules for Colorado’s rural public school districts died Wednesday in the state Senate’s Committee on State, Veterans, & Military Affairs.

The bill -- written by state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs -- meant to streamline the waiver process for those rural districts, those with fewer than 6,500 students, on curriculum requirements and the number of hours students must spend in a classroom, among other rules.

Rural districts can already ask the Colorado State Board of Education for a waiver, Hill said, but the process is cumbersome, time consuming and costly.

The bill would have allowed those rural districts to ‘self determine what life looks like” in their own community and sculpt their district accordingly.

Hill said he brought the bill forward because it would resolve common complaints from rural districts that he’s heard in his time on the Senate Education Committee. If the process were created, rural districts could adopt the waivers by passing a resolution at a regular board meeting.

“For six years we’ve heard people come and say ‘Make it easier, make it easier, make it easier,’” Hill said.

One woman testified to the committee that the current process for rural districts is a “Herculean task” and asked that they approve the bill.

Others, however, said they were concerned the bill could lead rural districts astray and open the door to unintended consequences.

Nate Golich, director of government Affairs for the Colorado Education Association, asked the committee to vote against the bill because an automated process would reduce accountability and transparency within the districts.

And Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, the committee’s chair, questioned whether the bill would be inconsistent with state law.

“Why are we having the rules in the first place?” Foote said.

Committee members voted the bill down along party lines with Democratic Senators Lois Court of Denver, Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Foote against Republican Senators Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling and Vicki Marble of Fort Collins in support.

Hill said he was disappointed those opposed to the bill provided no reason for their nay votes.

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