The Colorado House of Representatives approved a measure Feb. 26 encouraging school districts to adopt character-education programs, but only after a debate over how much guidance to give districts in developing the curriculum.

House Bill 1292 by Rep. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, would encourage districts to install programs that “cultivate honesty, respect, responsibility, courtesy, obedience to the law,” and numerous other qualities.

Several members said they were discouraged there was a perceived need for such a bill.

“Has the education system deteriorated to the point where we don’t even do this anymore?” asked Rep. Brad Young, R-Lamar. “It should be through the curriculum that currently exists. To me, this says something very bad about our school system now.”

Williams said only about half of the districts in Colorado have character education programs. “This is an opportunity to get on board to say we not only have standards for academics, but we have standards for character as well,” she said.

Much of the debate was over an amendment intended to guide districts in developing character-education programs by setting up criteria they could consider, including information about religion in American history and contemporary society.

“I find the language to be completely inappropriate,” said Rep. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial. “It attempts to direct curriculum, which we don’t do.”

The bill passed on a 44-20 vote and now heads to the Senate for consideration.