These are all of the Education bills proposed in the 2021 session. Each bill has its own bill number, please use your browser search feature to find the bill you are interested in. Return to the Colorado home page to pick a different bill category.

None of the text is the opinion of Engage. Each bill's description, arguments for, and arguments against are our best effort at describing what each bill does, arguments for, and arguments against the bill. The long description is hidden by design, you can click on it to expand it if you want to read more detail about the bill.  If you believe we are missing something, please contact us with your suggestion. Some of these bills have the notation that they have been sent to the chamber's "kill" committee. This means that the leadership has decided to send the bill to the State committee even though it does not belong there based on its subject matter. This committee, in both chambers, is stacked with members from "safe" districts and the idea is to kill the bill without forcing any less safe members to take a hard vote. It is possible for a bill to survive the kill committee, but it is very rare.

Prime sponsors are given after each bill, with Senate sponsors in () and House sponsors in []. They are color-coded by party.

Some bills will have text highlighted in pink or highlighted in orange or highlighted in yellow. Pink highlights mean House amendments to the original bill; orange mean Senate amendments; yellow highlights mean conference committee amendments. The bill will say under the header if it has been amended.

Each bill has been given a "magnitude" category: Mega, Major, Medium, Minor, Minor+, and Technical. This is a combination of the change the bill would create and the "controversy" level of the bill. Some minor bills that are extending current programs would be major changes if they were introducing something new, but the entire goal here is to allow you to better curate your time. Something uncontroversial likely to pass nearly unanimously that continues a past program may not be worth your time (and please remember, you can still read all of the minor bills!). Technical bills are here to round out the list. They are non-substantive changes.

House

Click on the House bill title to jump to its section:

MEGA

HB21-1080 Nonpublic Education And COVID-19 Relief Act KILLED BY HOUSE COMMITTEE
HB21-1164 Total Program Mill Levy Tax Credit SIGNED INTO LAW AMENDED
HB21-1264 Funds Workforce Development Increase Worker Skills (state stimulus bill) PASSED VERY SIGNIFICANTLY AMENDED (category change)

MAJOR

HB21-1125 Suspend State Assessments In 2020-21 School Year KILLED BY BILL SPONSORS
HB21-1161 Suspend State Assessments In 2020-21 School Year SIGNED INTO LAW
HB21-1295 Rebuttable Presumption In Charter School Appeals KILLED BY HOUSE COMMITTEE AMENDED
HB21-1304 Early Childhood System PASSED AMENDED

MEDIUM

HB21-1006 Fifth-day School Enrichment Programs Funding PASSED AMENDED
HB21-1029 Use Of READ Act Per-pupil Intervention Money KILLED BY HOUSE COMMITTEE
HB21-1055 Compensation For School District Board Members SIGNED INTO LAW SIGNIFICANTLY AMENDED
HB21-1059 Online Student Protections SIGNED INTO LAW SIGNIFICANTLY AMENDED

MINOR+

HB21-1103 Media Literacy Implementation SIGNED INTO LAW AMENDED
HB21-1210 Modifications To Qualified State Tuition Programs KILLED BY HOUSE COMMITTEE
HB21-1234 Supplemental Education High-impact Tutoring Programs SIGNED INTO LAW AMENDED
HB21-1294 K-12 Education Accountability Systems Performance Audit PASSED AMENDED

MINOR

HB21-1010 Diverse K-12 Educator Workforce Report PASSED AMENDED
HB21-1087 Teaching And Learning Conditions Survey PASSED
HB21-1104 Professional Educator Licensure Renewal Period SIGNED INTO LAW AMENDED
HB21-1112 School District Scholarship Programs SIGNED INTO LAW AMENDED
HB21-1114 School District Provision Of Internet Service SIGNED INTO LAW AMENDED
HB21-1129 Extend Deadline For Training To Teach Reading SIGNED INTO LAW
HB21-1133 K-12 Seizure Training & Individual Action Plans SIGNED INTO LAW
HB21-1200 Revise Student Financial Literacy Standards PASSED
HB21-1221 Bullying Prevention And Education In Schools SIGNED INTO LAW AMENDED
HB21-1259 Extended Learning Opportunities SIGNED INTO LAW AMENDED
HB21-1273 Colorado Department Of Education Report Concerning School Psychologists PASSED
HB21-1325 Funding Public Schools Formula PASSED VERY SIGNIFICANTLY AMENDED (category change)

TECHNICAL

Senate

Click on the Senate bill title to jump to its section:

MEGA

SB21-037 Student Equity Education Funding Programs KILLED BY SENATE COMMITTEE AMENDED
SB21-182 School Discipline KILLED BY BILL SPONSORS
SB21-268 Public School Finance SIGNED INTO LAW VERY SIGNIFICANLY AMENDED (category change)

MAJOR

SB21-236 Increase Capacity Early Childhood Care & Education (state stimulus bill) SIGNED INTO LAW VERY SIGNIFICANTLY AMENDED

MEDIUM

SB21-106 Concerning Successful High School Transitions PASSED AMENDED
SB21-185 Supporting Educator Workforce In Colorado SIGNED INTO LAW AMENDED
SB21-202 Public School Air Quality Improvement Grants (state stimulus bill) SIGNED INTO LAW
SB21-274 Sustainable Model To Serve Facility Students PASSED

MINOR+

SB21-013 Reversing COVID-related Learning Loss PASSED AMENDED
SB21-058 Approval Of Alternative Principal Programs PASSED AMENDED
SB21-067 Strengthening Civics Education PASSED AMENDED
SB21-081 Measures To Prevent The Misuse Of Safe2Tell PASSED AMENDED
SB21-114 Minimum Setback New Schools From Existing Oil And Gas KILLED ON SENATE CALENDAR AMENDED
SB21-119 Increasing Access To High-Quality Credentials PASSED AMENDED
SB21-151 Literacy Curriculum Transparency PASSED AMENDED
SB21-167 Regulation Of Child Care Centers PASSED AMENDED
SB21-172 Educator Pay Raise Fund PASSED AMENDED

MINOR

SB21-157 Increase Cap Charter School Moral Obligation Bonds PASSED SENATE AND HOUSE COMMITTEE

TECHNICAL

SB21-198 Repeal Capital Construction Education Fund Report Requirement PASSED
SB21-254 Eliminate Obsolete Committee Child Care Licensing PASSED

HB21-1006 Fifth-day School Enrichment Programs Funding (Garcia (D), Hisey (R)) [Esgar (D), Will (R)]

PASSED

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: Negligible each year with no grants, otherwise depends on grants

Goal:

  • Create a grant program to fund non-profits who support fifth day academic enrichment and food for kids in four-day school week districts. Grants are awarded on three-year cycles and paid out of a fund the bill creates (but does not put any money into)

Description:

Grantees are to support kids from kindergarten preschool to 12th grade. Money must be used for: supplemental educational programming for academic development on the 5th day when kids aren’t in school or in after-school programs so long as the grantee also provides 5th day support, meals for the kids, acquiring education materials and technology, build relationships with schools to conduct outreach, staff and administrative support, or other appropriate uses as determined by the state school board.

Grants to start in 2021-2022 fiscal year. While they are for three years, the structure is to be one-year with an automatic renewal contingent on the grantee continuing to meet criteria for the program. State is to determine rules for running the program, including how to apply, amount of grants based on number of children served by the grantee, and how automatic renewal will work. Grants are to be awarded in the order they are received.

To be eligible, non-profits must have experience in providing before- and after-school programs with supplemental educational programming, have a relationship with a local school that is on a 4-day week, serve children from K-12, and serve a majority of kids who qualify for free or reduced school lunch.

Grantees must report to the state before February 15th each year. State must report to legislature by April 1.

Additional Information:

Grantee application must include proof they meet eligibility requirements and a description of what they are going to do with the money. Grantee annual reports must include: number of children served and nonidentifying information about their age and economic status of their family, description of the grantee’s relationship with its school, description of the academic programming, and uses of the grant money.

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We have the most four-day school week districts in the country, with more than 80,000 children having a “free” fifth day that may not seem so free to parents, particularly working parents
  • We don’t really know yet the long-term impacts of losing a day of school, but we do know that districts must stretch their four days by 1.5 hours each day to make up for the lost fifth day and we know that some parents struggle to find supervision for their children on that fifth day and some kids rely on school for meals
  • The state cannot force schools into five day weeks, so finding alternative safe and educational environments for the fifth day is the best we can do to support families that want or need it

In Further Detail: Colorado has the highest percentage of four-day school week districts in the country. 111 of out the state’s 178 districts operate on this schedule. That is more than 80,000 children. The problems with no fifth day are obvious. Districts must stretch the other four days of the week to get to the same overall hours, by an extra one and half hours of school each day. That cuts into after-school activities and may simply be too much school in one day, particularly for younger kids. Working parents have to figure out what to do with their kids on the fifth day, especially with kids who are too young to be left home alone. Many kids rely on school for a meal and others for the structure it provides. One study found evidence of increased youth crime rates in four-day districts versus five-day districts. All of that said, there are limits to what the state legislature can do. It cannot force any district to back to five-day weeks. It could dabble in other approaches, like incentives for doing so since most districts make this decision for financial reasons, but what does that tell all of the districts that fight to make five day weeks work right now? This is the best way, funding safe and enriching programs on that fifth day for people who need them, while letting those that like the extra “off” day, and can afford to have a kid out of organized activities during a workday, stick to the four-day schedule. Some parents genuinely like it, so this allows them to stick with it. This also does not reward districts for dropping down to four-day weeks with extra money to go back to five, which might cause some to drop down just so they can get more money to climb back up. As for the idea that K-12 education has nothing to do with providing working families somewhere for their children to go during work hours, that has nothing to do with reality in Colorado in 2021.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • The point of school is to educate our children, not to provide day care or free food. If we can do that in four-day weeks, then we don’t need to pay more state money to have a place for kids to go on the fifth day

In Further Detail: We provide free K-12 education because it is essential for future life, not as day care centers. We already provide some state funds to go along with local money to educate our kids. If that can be done in four days, fine. There is some evidence that increased school hours actually helps kids learn better, it is generally one of the cornerstones of successful charter schools.


Bottom Line:

  • This is a problem for sure but the solution is not scrambling to find non-profits to run 5th day programs, it is to use that some money as an incentive for schools to go back to 5 day programs so can attack all of the issues with a four-day week for all students

In Further Detail: If we believe it is bad to have a four-day week because of crammed hours, reduced school extracurricular time, strains on working parents, and potential for juvenile crime, then we need to try to get schools back on five-day weeks by using the money we would have spent on this program as incentives instead. This addresses the issue head-on: most districts say they only go to four-day weeks for monetary reasons (although some cite recruiting teachers too). This lets us fix the actual problem by providing the district more money, but only if it stays on a five-day plan.


Bottom Line:

  • In either structure, this bill’s grants or incentives to districts, we are bailing out communities that don’t want to invest in education to the same degree as others in this state. This is unfair to the communities willing to pay the extra property taxes that are the backbone of district funding

In Further Detail: There is no great mystery here. The state provides all districts per-pupil funding and of course there’s a lot that goes into the formula, but the backbone of school district funding comes from property taxes. There are communities in the state that don’t want to pay higher property taxes and reject property tax initiatives for school funding. If we turn around and give those communities more state money in any form, we are letting them have their cake and eat it too, at the expense of all of the communities that are willing to fully fund their schools.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1006

HB21-1010 Diverse K-12 Educator Workforce Report (Fields (D)) [Ricks (D), Gonzales-Gutierrez (D)]

PASSED

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: $20,115
Fiscal Impact: None beyond appropriation

Goal:

  • Create a working group to investigate barriers to the preparation, recruitment, and retention of a diverse educator workforce and to recommend strategies for overcoming these barriers.

Description:

Departments of higher education and education are to convene group. Report due to the legislature by October 2022. Requires the existing state report on outcomes of teacher preparation programs to include percentage of graduates who passed assessments on their first attempt and to disaggregate the data by gender, race, and ethnicity. Requires this report to be posted online.

Additional Information:

Workgroup must represent racial and ethnic diversity of state student population by ensuring at least 50% of the group is composed of people from underrepresented minority groups, and must include but is not limited to:

  • Representative of department of higher education
  • Representative of department of education
  • Deans of teacher preparation programs at state institutions of higher learning
  • Directors of alternative teacher programs
  • Representatives from community colleges, public school teachers, and charter school teachers
  • Principals or school leaders, including schools with a diverse workforce
  • Graduates of teacher preparation programs
  • Subject matter experts
  • Non-profits with expertise in this area

Workgroup can consider:

  • Data and recommendations from a 2014 report titled Keeping Up With the Kids: Increasing Minority Teacher Representation in Colorado
  • Effective strategies to build a strong local pipeline for diverse students who may be considering becoming educators
  • How educator preparation programs may inhibit or promote success for diverse candidates
  • Strategies for lifting people engaged in the profession but not licensed into licensure
  • If partnerships between districts and institutions that both serve minority populations will help
  • Effective strategies, including financial incentives, to retain existing diverse educators, including in hard-to-staff schools


Auto-Repeal: July 2024

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • Numerous research has shown that minority students in particular benefit from having an educator with a similar background and all students benefit from being exposed to a diverse group of educators
  • Male teachers can be enormous role models to younger boys who lack positive male role models
  • We know some the reasons why our educators don’t resemble our actual demographics (with far more white women and far fewer minority men) but not all of them, so a taskforce can take a deep dive and come up with recommendations

In Further Detail: Students benefit from being exposed to a diverse group of educators, and in particular, minority students can benefit greatly from having an educator with a similar background. Numerous research has confirmed this, to cite just one example, a study found that black students who had just one black teacher by 3rd grade were 13% more likely to end up enrolling in college than those with none and those with two black teachers were 32% more likely. There are many more examples of similar data. In addition, some of our boys grow up in households with no male role model. A male teacher, particularly at a young age, can make a big difference in these boy’s lives by demonstrating a positive male role model. This is the world we live in, so instead of closing our eyes and pretending the background of the teacher does not matter, we need to find ways to get a more diverse group of educators. In Colorado, 77% of all teachers are women and 67% of all teachers are white women. That does not match the diversity of our state at all. 47% of all public school students are non-white. We know some of the problems, including the licensing test where just 38% of black candidates and 54% of Hispanic candidates eventually pass the test, as opposed to 75% of white candidates. But we certainly do not know all of them, so a taskforce like the one created by this bill can take a deep dive into the issue and come up with recommendations.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • We are teaching our kids the wrong lessons if we teach them that their gender or race is one of the most important factors for earning a job in a profession: we should find the best teachers, regardless of gender or race

In Further Detail: Racial profiling is wrong, no matter the direction. Instead of viewing our teachers as male or female or black or white, we should view them as people and try to find the best people we can to teach our kids, regardless of gender or race. We should not try to hire the best black man or Hispanic woman we can find for the job, we should try to hire the best teacher. What lessons are we teaching our children if we teach them that their gender or their race is one of the most important factors for earning a job in any profession, much less one with so much interaction with our kids?


Bottom Line:

  • We seem to already know what to do here, if part of the activity of the group involves reading another report on the same subject. Let’s get going on making needed changes, not take time for more study.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1010

HB21-1029 Use Of READ Act Per-pupil Intervention Money [Geitner (R)]

KILLED BY HOUSE COMMITTEE

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: $405,000 a year

Goal:

  • Allow school districts, charter boards, and boards of cooperative services to use state READ act money on non-approved education materials for two years. The materials must meet state criteria for materials in the program. After the two years is up, the state board must review to see if the materials achieved the desired result, and if they did, include them in the approved list. If not, the local educator is not allowed to use state money to purchase them

Description:

The READ act is a program designed to improve reading levels of K-3 students and specifically identify and help those students who need help reaching grade level. The funding is complicated, but its core is per-pupil funds that the schools can then use to purchase materials approved by the state board of education.

Schools must notify the state board if they are using unapproved materials and describe them prior to purchasing them.

Program repeals in July 2026.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: July 2026

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • The READ act is not working well and hasn’t since the beginning. Student’s reading levels have not improved and in fact have gotten slightly worse
  • We should not expect the state board to have all of the answers when it comes to educational materials that may help
  • The bill ensures that any unapproved materials are used on a trial basis and the ultimate decision rests with the state board

In Further Detail: The READ act has been in place since 2012 and it quite frankly is not working. The percentage of students who are below grade level has actually risen slightly since its introduction (part of this could be due to better identification of struggling students) and is now at 59%. The preliminary 2020 show even more drastic decline and all of the numbers consistently show gender and race disparities. Kids who fall behind early never really catch up, there are numerous studies that demonstrate this. And we also know that part of the problem, frankly again, is that some of the instruction is not right. So let’s not expect the state board to have all of the answers here. Local educators may have good ideas, we should see if they work. If they don’t, it’s not like this program is working great anyway, so there probably isn’t much lost here. The bill ensures the materials are used only on a trial basis and the ultimate end decision on them still rests with the state board.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • We just made enormous changes to the READ act and it is too early to judge their effectiveness
  • There are other ways to encourage local educators to find helpful materials without letting them just try it out and see what happens: things could get even worse
  • The board cannot stop the local educators from using materials that don’t work, it just can’t let that particular district use READ act money on them. And they might not really need to at that point, plus other districts aren’t barred from using them

In Further Detail: We just made massive changes to the READ act in 2019 (you can see them here on Engage). It is way to early to know if they are having the affect we want, in particular since the pandemic hit last year (which also means the 2020 data is really not that useful). It is certainly true that local educators may have good ideas for materials not approved by the state board. But there are different ways to get those ideas into the system than just trying them to see if they work, especially since the only person vouching that the materials meet program criteria is the local educators themselves. There could be an application process where the board approves such a trial before it happens. Because even if the READ act doesn’t work great right now, it definitely could be worse and there is no guarantee the trial won’t make it worse in that school. Plus, while the state board can bar the district from using READ act money to purchase those supplies in the future, it can’t stop them from using the supplies they already purchased, which would surely last for more than just two years. The board also cannot stop other districts from using READ act money on the exact same supplies it knows does not work until two years after the damage is done. This could be repeated in district after district across the state.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1029

HB21-1055 Compensation For School District Board Members (Pettersen (D), Winter (D)) [Woodrow (D)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Significant

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

  • Allow all members of public school boards to receive compensation and reimbursement for expenses (right now it is just officers) and allow the president and vice-president to receive additional compensation for their roles. Compensation is capped at $150 a day for a maximum of five days a week and can only occur on days where there are board meetings. Compensation is indexed to inflation

Description:

No board members may increase their compensation during their current term of office. All compensation matters must be determined by a vote of the majority of the board.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • You get what you pay for in many circumstances and if we want people to be truly dedicated to serving on school boards, to really put in the time and effort, we should allow them to be compensated. And that goes for the additional burden of the president and vice-president roles
  • Current system doesn’t force a majority vote based on a written resolution and allows board officers to increase their own compensation during their current term
  • This is voluntary

In Further Detail: What we want from our school board members, not just the officers, is dedication to the task at hand. The simple truth is that paying money for services incentivizes most people to work harder. It also can make it easier to draw in a wider pool of people from various socio-economic backgrounds. On the other hand the current system makes it easy for a board to raise its own salaries (at least for the officers) and is silent about how this must occur, just “in an amount determined by the board”. That should not be, the bill would ensure that any pay raises occur at the earliest in the next term of office. If a board attempted to drastically increase compensation at odds with community wishes, they could be voted out. Finally, this is voluntary. No school board has to do any of this.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • We want people involved in the school board and running for president or vice president for the right reasons and those do not include money
  • Board members can be reasonably assured of re-election so the limit on how early raises can take effect may not do much in practice

In Further Detail: What we don’t want is people on the school board for the money, or trying to be president or vice president for the pay raise. It is also true that elections at this level generally default to incumbents unless there are large controversies or malfeasance, so putting the time limit on pay raises may not do much in practice. Board members may be able to vote for increases fairly certain they will be around to enjoy them.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1055

HB21-1080 Nonpublic Education And COVID-19 Relief Act [Baisley (R)]

KILLED BY HOUSE COMMITTEE

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: Accelerating loses in net funds, $25 million next year, then $47 the year after, and in ten years $152 million

Goal:

  • Create a statewide school tax credit program where the parents of any K-12 age child in the state can get 50% of the average per-pupil money in the state as a tax credit for a child in private school attendance or a $1,000 income tax credit for home schooling the child. Both of those are for full-time enrollment, half-time enrollment cuts the numbers in half, so 25% and $500 respectively. Starting next year, only children who either are too young for school or were enrolled in public school would be eligible

Description:

For private school credits, the precise amount is the lesser of 50% of per-pupil revenue or the actual amount of tuition at the school. Tax credits can be rolled over for three years but are not refundable (in other words you can’t go past $0 owed in taxes and have the state pay you money to make up the difference). Taxpayers can transfer unused credit to other taxpayers, including businesses. Pass-through businesses (where taxes are passed through to the actual owners individual taxes) can allocate the credit among its owners.

Additional Information:

Private schools are responsible for issuing the tax credit certificate to families. They must provide the state with a report each year of all credits issued, which includes the name of the taxpayer and state tax id or social security number. If the credit is associated with a pass-through business, all of the associated names and identifying numbers are required.


Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • This provides parents with more choices for educating their children if they feel their assigned public school is inadequate
  • This benefits low-income families who cannot afford private education and opens the same opportunities to them as to wealthier families
  • Estimates of future behavior are tough, but it is important to point out that the state does not have to pay to school any child who is either home-schooled or in private school and neither does the local district so the total money saved is going to be higher than the flat impact on state finances. The net overall picture in the entire state will be money saved
  • The constitutional question around religious schools getting this funding is basically settled

In Further Detail: When we allow families to make the decisions that are best for them, we maximize the ability for all students to receive the educational experience that works best for that student. Sometimes what is best for a child is not to attend their local public school. The point of free K-12 education is to provide every child with K-12 education, not to dictate where they receive it. We all know that public schools can vary wildly in quality and also in terms of specific programs. This bill also levels the playing field for low-income families who unless they can obtain a scholarship have no ability to access private education the way wealthy families do. That also increases the diversity in those private institutions, which benefits all that attend. On the finances, this is not a voucher program—we are not taking state education money and giving it to families to attend private school. The tax credits are not the entire cost of educating the child in a public school setting, so by definition the state as a whole will gain money from this bill. Now because public school financing is split between state and local governments and because the state government bears the brunt of all of the lost revenue, this is not captured by the fiscal note. But local governments will come out ahead under this plan. For constitutionality, the state supreme court had to backtrack a bit from their ruling a decade ago on school vouchers after the US supreme court ruled in favor of a religious pre-school in Missouri that raised similar issues of church/state separation (the thing became moot because Douglas County dropped the idea entirely so the state court never issued a definitive ruling). And then the US Supreme Court essentially destroyed the entire premise of this church/state separation argument in 2020 in Espinoza v. Montana. So long as the state is not favoring any specific religion and the choice was made freely by families, programs like this bill are allowed.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • We should not be using state money to send kids to private school or to homeschool them: we give every child in the state a free K-12 education paid for by our tax dollars in public systems where we can hold everyone involved accountable
  • Every kid in the state who is school-age will be eligible for this program next year: every single kid who is already homeschooled or in private school can simply grab this handout and the bill ensures that all tax credits will be used by allowing them to be given to anyone else if the parents cannot or don’t want to use them—and the credits can also be sold
  • Despite the concern about wealthy versus poor parents, there is no attempt to means-test this program
  • This will cost us state money, regardless of what happens at the local level. That will have to come from somewhere in the state budget

In Further Detail: We provide a free K-12 education for all children in the state and that is paid for with our taxpayer dollars, in exchange for which we have the ability to write the rules of the road for these schools and hold them accountable for breaking them. If people do not want to take advantage of this free system, the law allows them to do so. But we don’t have to pay them to do it. It is telling that the last major effort by a school district to provide a similar program (in that case vouchers) led to the electoral defeat of the school board and a new regime that reversed the attempted policy. There is no means-testing to ensure that we aren’t propping up wealthy families who don’t need this, and most dammingly, there is no attempt to require that home-schooling or private schooling was done due to COVID, as the bill title suggests is the point of allowing anyone currently enrolled in private school or homeschooled to use the program. It is instead a one-time free pass for any child in the state. The tax credit structure here is also problematic: why do businesses need to be able to buy up these credits? And the bottom line is that this will cost the state money. Not considering the whole, but the actual state government. We don’t do cross-government budgeting, so the lost revenue, over $100 million a year in ten years, will have to come out of some other program. It may end up being K-12 education, which will affect the state school districts uniformly, rather than just the ones who have extra funds due to fewer pupils.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1080

HB21-1103 Media Literacy Implementation (Pettersen (D), Coram (R)) [Cutter (D), McLachlan (D)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Moderate

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

  • Requires the state of education to adopt revisions to its reading, writing, and civics standards that are substantially consistent with due consideration to the recommendations of the media literacy advisory council.
  • State must also develop an online resource bank of materials and resources to support these new standards and must incorporate resources the advisory committee has identified. State must also provide technical assistance to school districts that request it for implementing instruction of these new guidelines (subject to available resources).

Description:

Revisions must ensure students can be critical consumers and creators of media, including forms beyond print text, can utilize active inquiry and critical thinking when assessing media, are aware of how to use media to be an engaged citizen, and develop good digital citizenship and anti-cyberbullying practices.

State must allow public comment on materials or resources in the information bank, including comments recommending inclusion or removal of materials.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • This is the result of a bill that was passed two years ago that directed the state to implement a media literacy program for K-12 education based on an advisory committee that bill created. We now have the report of the committee, so all this bill is doing is finishing the work of creating the new state standards and educational resources.
  • We continue to receive nearly daily lessons in why this is so necessary: the amount of misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies seems to get continually worse

In Further Detail: In 2019 the legislature passed a bill setting up this media literacy standards program and directed the state to implement it after the committee made its recommendations. So this is merely fulfilling the conditions of a bill already passed by the legislature. And we keep getting reminded of why this is so badly needed. Misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies are everywhere in our modern media and culminated in an assault on our nation’s capitol building on January 6th. And it is not always malicious, sometimes people just don’t understand why a particular story is likely to be false (or that it has already been debunked) and share and spread it anyway. For our civic health we desperately need to be creating citizens who understand how to interact with information in today’s era and how to sift through the noise to find the truth.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • We don’t have to do anything here, it is not too late to simply move on from the 2019 bill and not implement this program
  • Our government should not be in the business of teaching our kids how to tell if a story is “true” or “false”, the potential for indoctrination into only liberal media sources is obvious

In Further Detail: We can still turn back and end this initiative by repealing last year’s bill. Our government should not be in the business of teaching our kids how to consume information online and how to tell if a story is “true” or “false”. This could be indoctrination, whereby the non-conservative forces in the media and our liberal government push their agenda onto our kids. They may be told to ignore conservative media, they may be told it is untrustworthy, and they may be told to credit more “mainstream” media outlets that many conservatives believe to be biased.


Bottom Line:

  • This is a worthy concept but may be impossible to execute

In Further Detail: This is a worthy concept but an impossible one. When a large chunk of the country believes that the only valid sources of information are conservative media and the rest of the media is hopeless biased while another larger chunk believes most conservative media are propaganda, there is no way we are going to be able to teach the children of these two chunks media literacy in a neutral environment. One or both of these chunks are going to end up furious. The fact that something like “was the 2020 election stolen” is so controversial despite having an obvious and true answer (no), does not bode well.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1103

HB21-1087 Teaching And Learning Conditions Survey (Danielson (D)) [Daugherty (D), Bradfield (R)]

PASSED

Appropriation: $53,500
Fiscal Impact: Negligible every two years

Goal:

  • Allow education support professionals who provide direct instruction, support licensed staff in an educational capacity, or support instruction and the learning environment take the state’s teaching and learning conditions survey.

Description:

This survey is administered every two years to assess teaching and learning conditions as predictors of student achievement, retention of teachers, and the relationship between teaching and learning conditions and school administration.

Educated support professionals is defined by the bill as: teaching assistants, teaching or classroom technicians, tutors, library or media assistants, bilingual assistants, educational interpreters, braillists, occupational therapy assistants, physical therapy assistants, health screeners, counselor assistants, health care technicians, student monitors, child find coordinators, child care providers or group leaders, and community liaisons.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We are leaving out just under 25,000 people right now in this survey, and you can see from the list in the description that they are critical to a full understanding of the environment at a school. The state is up to accurately reporting the results, including the results of just teachers, without handholding from the legislature

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • The survey is designed for teachers and adding in these other perspectives without a requirement that the survey be redesigned to ensure full and accurate reporting of teachers themselves as well as questions designed to gather the experience of these other professionals may cause a problem

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1087

HB21-1112 School District Scholarship Programs (Lee (D), Hisey (R)) [Snyder (D), Bradfield (R)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

  • Clarifies that school districts can create scholarship programs for their graduating high school students. Scholarships must be funded from additional property taxes approved by residents and/or from gifts, grants, and donations

Description:

The bill encourages any district that forms a scholarship program to prioritize students on free or reduced lunch and who would be first generation post-secondary students, [amend]to limit the tuition rate that scholarships can pay for based on average of local community colleges, and limit uses of scholarships to tuition, books and supplies, and transportation.

Bill requires any district that implements a scholarship program to report to the state each year with the total number of scholarships awarded, number of recipients, and aggregate information on the recipient demographics, credentials pursued, and credentials earned. State must compile all of this and report to the legislature.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We have at least one district in the state interested in doing this with a local community college
  • The program is entirely optional and will not divert any existing funding so it will not harm our current education efforts—any property tax increases will only happen with voter approval
  • Something like this can be a great incentive for students and help students from our most underserved populations get the post-secondary education they need

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • Any tax increase improved by the voters should go to helping our already underfunded schools not to scholarship programs for the next level of education
  • The bill leaves school districts to run these scholarship programs however they want, so there is no guarantee they will actually be used for underserved students

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1112

HB21-1104 Professional Educator Licensure Renewal Period (Lundeen (R), Zenzinger (D)) [Larson (R), McLachlan (D)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: Minimal revenue loss due to longer renewal cycle

Goal:

  • Extends the time period educator licenses are valid from 5 years to 7 years. This takes effect immediately, so anyone who is already in a 5 year cycle switches to 7.

Description:

This covers licenses for teacher, special services, principal, and administrator licenses.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • This allows more time for educators to fulfill their licensing requirements properly in their areas of interest and based on their specific development needs

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • There also does not seem to be widespread problems with the current 5 year standard. It is not mentioned as a factor in retaining educators or as some burden teachers are not able to meet (it is 135 hours worth of development in total). Five years is also fairly standard across other states. The bill specifically states it is not looking to expand continuing education requirements, so the longer time frame isn’t giving us more development opportunity

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1104

HB21-1114 School District Provision Of Internet Service (Jaquez Lewis (D)) [McCormick (D), Bradfield (R)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

  • Clarifies that school districts providing internet access to enable students, teachers, and staff to access a school-owned and operated network to facilitate remote learning is prohibited by law

Description:

Generally public entities are not allowed by law to provide internet services to their residents without first meeting certain requirements and getting voter approval.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • School districts have already been doing this during the pandemic, so this is just clarifying that current activity is allowed by law

Arguments Against: n/a

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1114

HB21-1129 Extend Deadline For Training To Teach Reading (Bridges (D), Story (D)) [McLachlan (D), Bradfield (R)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

  • Gives schools another year to demonstrate that all K-3 teachers have completed evidence-based training in teaching reading. New deadline is beginning of the 2022-23 school year

Description:

This was part of the large changes to the READ act in 2019, designed to improve the number of kids reading at grade level.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • This is a no-brainer due to COVID. Teachers had enough on their plate during this past year

Arguments Against: n/a

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1129

HB21-1125 Suspend State Assessments In 2020-21 School Year (Zenzinger (D), Coram (R)) [Sirota (D), McLachlan (D)]

KILLED BY BILL SPONSORS

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: About $3 million from not administering the tests

Goal:

  • Cancel the K-12 state education assessments due to happen this spring. This requires getting a federal waiver.
  • Forbid the use of student growth or performance measures when evaluating teachers and principals in 2020-21
  • Exclude the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years from school plan considerations. Schools stay on whatever plan they are on. For determining performance over a five year span, must go from 2018-19 straight to 2021-22.

Description:

The assessments that are to be cancelled are science (grades 5, 8, and 11), math (grades 3-8), English language arts (grades 3-8), and social studies (grades 4-7).

School plans have to do with performance issues and underperforming schools, which are placed on review and turnaround plans.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: July 2022 for the test suspension and teacher/principal evaluation

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We don’t need to lose yet more classroom time to these tests, we’ve already lost too much to COVID, and we know the results are going to be bad and require extra efforts to mitigate
  • The results may be skewed by opt-outs en masse and by differences in test delivery in schools that are back in-person versus those that are still remote
  • We need to give our kids a break—this has been extremely stressful for them too

In Further Detail: First and most importantly, we’ve already lost classroom time. We don’t need to lose yet more time in order to test to figure out what was lost (and even more time as teachers teach to the test in the runup to it). We know, students all over the state are behind in many key areas and will need extra supports and help to catch up. We can provide those (and other bills in this legislative session are looking to do so). Second, these results may be extremely skewed. Not just because of the pandemic, but because of the massive number of opt-outs we are likely to see from parents all over the state. Some areas may do the tests in person and other schools would have to do them remotely, which also would probably skew the results. It might be a bad idea to try to base some sort of action plan on the results. Third, we need to give our kids a break. It’s easy to forget sometimes how hard this has been on them. The stresses and isolation of social distancing, the coldness and difficulty of remote learning, and the accumulated household stress that all kids feel and absorb. We know for a fact that these tests are stressful for kids in normal times. We don’t need to pile yet more stress on them. As for the federal government, we got a waiver last year and the government has indicated it is open to working with states. Other states plan to apply for a waiver.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • The new federal administration has already said these tests must happen in some form. They won’t hold schools accountable for the results and they can occur in different form but they must happen
  • We need to know exactly what COVID has wrought in our schools so we can attack the learning loss problem head-on. And the data might help provide extra juice to push to reopen schools when it is safe, which is going to be very soon for just about everyone
  • Parents retain the ability to opt their kids out of the test if they want

In Further Detail: The federal government has already said the tests must happen. Schools won’t be held accountable for the results and states can give shorter, remote, or delayed versions, but they must occur. And soon, not enough time for protracted wrangling with the federal government. And the reason for that is simple: we have to know what COVID has wrought in our schools. Not in general, not just that it’s “bad” but exactly where we are in what schools so we can attack the learning loss problem head-on. Not wait another year and lose more time for kids, but now. This will also be important to potentially put pressure on schools to end remote learning with solid data. It is nearly safe to do so, as teachers get vaccinated, in schools that are adequately prepared. Parents always have the option of opting out of these tests and will again this year. Any parent who feels their child is too stressed to participate can make that choice. But that should not prevent us from testing everyone else. We can certainly not hold the test results against any school or teacher, as the bill also requires, but we need to know. This is also a way for people opposed to the tests in general to try whittling away at them. Next year we may hear it is really still to soon to test again, and the year after we might hear that really we are doing fine without the tests and should just do away with them.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1125

HB21-1164 Total Program Mill Levy Tax Credit (Zenzinger (D), Fenberg (D)) [Esgar (D), Garnett (D)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Moderate

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: Eventual potential decrease in state education spending once negative factor is paid off

Goal:

  • Phase-out tax credits over 19 years that a bill last year created which are a substitute for excess state funding paid to school districts who have reduced their property taxes. This will cause the property taxes in these district to rise until they meet the minimum amount required by last year’s bill (27 mills or enough to fund the district). The phase-out is a maximum of one mill per year. Conversely it will lower the amount the state is required to pay our schools from the general fund to backfill shortages. There are four districts in the state that are not affected by this bill (see Description)

Description:

This is super complicated, but we’ll try to break it down. The core of this is what is called “mills”, which are the amount the local government taxes for schools via property tax rates. A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value. More mills=higher taxes and more money for schools. Since the advent of TABOR, where the government has to give back excess revenue and voter approval is required to increase taxes, many school districts have decreased their mills after voters have allowed them to keep excess revenue for schools (in fact 174 of the state’s 178 school districts allow this, which is also a part of TABOR), and others have decreased their mills to avoid keeping any excess revenue as required by TABOR. Essentially TABOR said that if you were bringing in too much property tax revenue, you had to lower your property tax rate. This was all compounded by the state determining that even if the school district had decided it could keep excess revenue, TABOR still required the rate to go down. The state is required to backfill any shortage in education revenue through the budget, so any districts that are short will be made whole by the state (this is a constitutional requirement). This got to the point where the state froze decreases in 2007. A bill passed last year overrode all of these individual levies and essentially said all of these property tax drops were mistakes by the districts that have voted to keep excess revenue for education. They should not have been forced and we are going to undo them. That means the four districts that have not done this are not affected by this bill (Cherry Creek, D-11 in Colorado Springs, Harrison, and Steamboat Springs). So you had to set your levy at either 27 or whatever the minimum is to fund your district. But the bill also said the state will pay you tax credits to cover the difference, so the bill last year made no change in actual funding. This bill will take those credits away, over the span of 19 years, which will have the effect of forcing those property taxes to rise to meet the mill requirement.

There are 47 districts in the state already at 27 mills or high enough mills to fund the district and they will be unaffected by this change. There are 17 districts where the change requires less than 1 mill and so will be complete next year. Of the remaining 110, all will see an increase of 1 mill next year. For a few that will be enough but most will continue into future years. The raise in property tax revenue will be $91.5 million next year and $145 million the year after that. It is believed that at full implementation the total amount of property tax increase would be in the neighborhood of $350-$450 million. The state would not be required to spend the mirror amount of savings in general fund money on education (though it could). Bill requires the state to continue spending any money saved until the "negative factor" (money the state owes schools for past failures to pay amount constitutionally required) is paid off.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We have gone from local districts paying for 2/3 of the costs of K-12 education and the state 1/3 to the complete inverse, except it has not been done evenly across the board: some districts still pay the majority of the costs while others pay as low as around 10% with bare-bones property tax rates—while the income taxes of all Coloradans are distributed in a reverse unequal manner to shore up the freeloading districts
  • This increasing burden just can’t be borne by our state budget—we continue to not be able to meet our obligations to our schools and we are leaving other critical areas unfunded
  • This will meet constitutional muster—these districts decided they wanted in the past to keep excess revenue but weren’t allowed to

In Further Detail: This is a complex problem that is decades in the making. Before TABOR, in 1991, all school districts in the state were either at 40 mills or what was required to fully fund the district. Local districts paid for about 67% of the costs of their districts and the state paid for the rest. TABOR made it impossible to take in that much revenue, so property taxes were slashed everywhere. Some districts are now near 0 (rates were frozen in 2007 by the state). The state now provides 61% of education funding, an amount that continues to grow over time and has become completely untenable (as the negative factor, the money the state owes school districts proves) in regards to the rest of the budget. In practice we also now have vastly different funding mechanisms all over the state, with some places spending more on their schools and some places not, and therefore relying much more heavily on the state to fill in the difference. In essence, large parts of this state are subsidizing the low-tax decisions of a few places since we have to use our state income tax revenues to shore up the freeloading districts. Legally, the bill is set-up to in essence say past forced decreases were an error based on misreading of TABOR. Most experts believe this will hold up. It is unfortunate we cannot force the remaining four districts to also comply, but TABOR remains the law of the land and these districts have not approved keeping excess revenue for schools. The bill will also force the state to keep spending the same amount of money until it pays down the negative factor completely.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • It not clear that this can survive the inevitable court challenge and even if it does, it violates the spirit of TABOR
  • Coloradans have made it clear: voters want to approve any tax increases. What this bill does is provide an end-around, raising property taxes without asking the voters for approval
  • We need to do a better job of using the funds we give our schools and attack the basic formula of how we distribute money before we start hiking property taxes

In Further Detail: Obviously this is going to be settled in court, there is no way that every taxing district in the state will take an increase with a lawsuit. And it is not at all clear that clever winking and nodding will be enough to get around the fact that this bill raises property taxes without asking the voters first. Even if the bill does escape on a technicality, it is a clear violation of the spirit of TABOR. Voters have made it clear, repeatedly, that they want to approve any tax increases. And before we reach for the tax increase button, let’s first do better with the money we have: less on administration on more on things to do with direct contact with kids. We also have an acknowledged issue with the formula used to distribute the funds amongst districts, at least among most districts in the state. Wealthier districts get higher funding levels due to cost of living and that factor is more heavily weighted than number of low-income students. Fix these basic errors first, and then we can see if we have more sustainable school funding or need further adjustments.


Bottom Line:

  • It leaves a rather large hole to let Cherry Creek, D-11 in Colorado Springs, Harrison, and Steamboat Springs off the hook here. Cherry Creek has the third highest state share of in the state (in total dollars, not percentage). Because they are at 18.756 mills instead of 27, we are losing about $57 million each year to fill-in their lower property taxes. And this in the 10th wealthiest school district in the state. Given all of that, it might be one of the biggest freeloaders we have. Surely we can think of some clever mechanisms to require these districts to get with the program or lose their state backup

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1164

HB21-1161 Suspend State Assessments In 2020-21 School Year (Zenzinger (D), Coram (R)) [Sirota (D), McLachlan (D)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Technical

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: About $3 million from not administering the tests

Goal:

  • Cancel some of the K-12 state education assessments due to happen this spring so that each student only takes a math or language arts test but not both. This requires getting a federal waiver for all but the social studies tests. Parents may request that their children still take the test
  • Forbid the use of student growth or performance measures when evaluating teachers and principals in 2020-21
  • Exclude the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years from school plan and accreditation considerations. Schools stay on whatever plan they are on. For determining performance over a five year span, must go from 2018-19 straight to 2021-22. Schools may request a reevaluation of their accreditation status or plan which may include state and local assessment data

Description:

The assessments that are to be cancelled are science (grades 5, 8, and 11), math (grades 3, 5, 7), English language arts (grades 4, 6, 8), and social studies (grades 4-7).

School plans have to do with performance issues and underperforming schools, which are placed on review and turnaround plans. State must create rules for schools that still want their accreditation or plan reassessed, including timeframe for making and considering requests, and standards for granting the request.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: July 2022 for the test suspension and teacher/principal evaluation

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We don’t need to lose yet more classroom time to these tests, we’ve already lost too much to COVID, and we know the results are going to be bad and require extra efforts to mitigate
  • The results may be skewed by opt-outs en masse and by differences in test delivery in schools that are back in-person versus those that are still remote
  • We need to give our kids a break—this has been extremely stressful for them too

In Further Detail: First and most importantly, we’ve already lost classroom time. We don’t need to lose yet more time in order to test to figure out what was lost (and even more time as teachers teach to the test in the runup to it). We know, students all over the state are behind in many key areas and will need extra supports and help to catch up. We can provide those (and other bills in this legislative session are looking to do so). Second, these results may be extremely skewed. Not just because of the pandemic, but because of the massive number of opt-outs we are likely to see from parents all over the state. Some areas may do the tests in person and other schools would have to do them remotely, which also would probably skew the results. It might be a bad idea to try to base some sort of action plan on the results. But if parents want their children to still take the test, they can. And if school still want to be reevaluated based on their pandemic performance, they can. Third, we need to give our kids a break. It’s easy to forget sometimes how hard this has been on them. The stresses and isolation of social distancing, the coldness and difficulty of remote learning, and the accumulated household stress that all kids feel and absorb. We know for a fact that these tests are stressful for kids in normal times. We don’t need to pile yet more stress on them. As for the federal government, we got a waiver last year and the government has indicated it is open to working with states. Other states plan to apply for a waiver. This plan is a compromise solution that does allow for some testing, just removes the battery of tests our students usually face.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • The new federal administration has already said these tests must happen in some form. They won’t hold schools accountable for the results and they can occur in different form but they must happen
  • We need to know exactly what COVID has wrought in our schools so we can attack the learning loss problem head-on. And the data might help provide extra juice to push to reopen schools when it is safe, which is going to be very soon for just about everyone
  • Parents retain the ability to opt their kids out of the test if they want

In Further Detail: The federal government has already said the tests must happen. Schools won’t be held accountable for the results and states can give shorter, remote, or delayed versions, but they must occur. And soon, not enough time for protracted wrangling with the federal government. And the reason for that is simple: we have to know what COVID has wrought in our schools. Not in general, not just that it’s “bad” but exactly where we are in what schools so we can attack the learning loss problem head-on. Not wait another year and lose more time for kids, but now. This will also be important to potentially put pressure on schools to end remote learning with solid data. It is nearly safe to do so, as teachers get vaccinated, in schools that are adequately prepared. Parents always have the option of opting out of these tests and will again this year. Any parent who feels their child is too stressed to participate can make that choice. But that should not prevent us from testing everyone else. We can certainly not hold the test results against any school or teacher, as the bill also requires, but we need to know. This is also a way for people opposed to the tests in general to try whittling away at them. Next year we may hear it is really still to soon to test again, and the year after we might hear that really we are doing fine without the tests and should just do away with them.

Bottom Line:

  • If the tests are bad this year because the results will be skewed, they will take up more learning time, and because they will put more stress on our kids we need to try to cancel all of them. If the federal government disagrees, then we can move to plan B

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1161

HB21-1210 Modifications To Qualified State Tuition Programs (Rankin (R)) [Larson (R)]

KILLED BY HOUSE COMMITTEE

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: Lose about $450,000 a year at full implementation

Goal:

  • The federal tax bill from three years ago allowed distributions from 529 accounts (setup to save money for college tuition tax-free) for elementary or secondary school expenses tax free. This bill extends these to the state level in Colorado

Description: Nothing to add

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • Quality education is important through a child’s life and expanding 529s to lower levels of education makes sense. This isn’t free money and it can’t be spent on anything but education. All it does is give parents who want to spend money on their children’s education a tax-free way to save for it and prevent tax headaches for those who are now using their 529s for lower levels of education because of the federal law

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • 529s are for a very specific purpose: saving money to send kids to college. They are not for sheltering money to send kids to private schools when free public ones are an option, particularly when doing so could mean the entire funding for many programs in the state budget that are given less than $3 million a year

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1210

HB21-1200 Revise Student Financial Literacy Standards (Bridges (D), Lundeen (R)) [Kipp (D), Rich (R)]

PASSED

Appropriation: $4,888
Fiscal Impact: None beyond appropriation

Goal:

  • Require the state’s financial literacy standards to include understanding of: costs associated with obtaining a post-secondary degree, how to assess different post-secondary options from a financial perspective, different ways to pay, types of student loans including how to get them, manage their payment structures and debt, potential career earnings from post-secondary education, common methods for saving for retirement, credit and managing credit card debt, and homeownership and mortgages

Description:

Student loans education includes a requirement for how the free application for federal student aid works (FAFSA), what it is used for, and how to access help in completing the form, as well as the same information for the state free application (CASFA) and how the two interact.

The bill adds these items (minus credit which was already there) to the expectation the state has for the curriculum for school districts that teach financial literacy (it is already strongly encouraged) as well as the definition of financial literacy. The bill also requires adding information about these items (again minus credit which was already there) to the state’s existing financial literacy resource bank, which all schools can access. The bank must also have electronic links to the FAFSA and CASFA forms and instructions on how to complete the forms.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • Financial literacy is just about the only thing we can absolutely guarantee any high school student will use after graduation—but our current financial literacy standards fall short on the basics that cripple so many: post-secondary degree attainment, credit card debt, buying a house, and saving for retirement
  • Relying on parents to teach this information is not good enough, particularly in households where the parents themselves don’t have good financial literacy backgrounds or don’t have strong influences over their children

In Further Detail: If there is one thing that we can just about guarantee any student will need to learn in high school that will be used after graduation, it is financial literacy. We expect students to be able to read, write, and do fundamental math before they even get to high school. From that point we are honing these skills. But we are not necessarily teaching kids critical skills and information about post-secondary degrees, credit card debt, buying a home, and saving for retirement. In households where there is not strong parental influence over these matters, that can quickly turn into crippling problems for those fresh out of high school. Statewide right now Coloradans carry $28.6 billion in student loan debt. US consumer households owe $893 billion in credit card debt. Nearly ½ of all families have no retirement savings. This bill ensures that the state has the resources on these subjects for schools to use and strongly encourages schools to take advantage of them and teach these along with other parts of financial literacy. No one is forced to, just strongly encouraged.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • Maybe we should force the schools to teach this. If it is one of the few things we can almost guarantee a student will need to know, then why are we making this optional for schools? It should be a mandated part of the high school curriculum instead of strongly encouraged.

Bottom Line:

  • Schools are not here to teach students how to navigate their finances. We need to stick to the basics of reading, writing, math, and social studies and not divert into areas that are best handled by parents.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1200

HB21-1234 Supplemental Education High-impact Tutoring Programs (Moreno (D), Rankin (R)) [Tipper (D), Bradfield (R)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Moderate

Appropriation: $4,981,720
Fiscal Impact: None beyond appropriation

Goal:

  • Create the Colorado High-Impact Tutoring Program to provide grants to schools to implement high-impact tutoring programs, prioritizing low-income or underserved students. Schools must use grant money to implement programs that: provide tutoring in groups of 4 or fewer students; same tutor for the same students through the year; tutoring provided minimum of 3 times a week; tutoring implemented throughout school day (so not before or after school) and as a supplement, not a replacement, for core instruction; trained tutors only; high-quality curriculum; and data-driven with interim assessments to monitor progress. $4.9 million appropriated to program
  • Bill leaves it up to the state to determine exact allowable uses for grant money, but suggests hiring or contracting with tutors; providing stipends to paraprofessionals, retired teachers, and community organizations; developing curriculum and supplies; costs for renting space; and administrative expenses

Description:

Schools must submit a plan along with their grant application which details how they will meet the requirements in the bill, or if that is not possible, why it is modifying or omitting sections and how it will still result in high-impact tutoring. Plan must also identify how students will be chosen to participate, how many students are expected to be served, cost of the program, how student success will be measured, if the school is creating its own program or partnering with an existing program, what academic subjects will be emphasized, who the tutors will be and how the school will get them, how the tutoring will be delivered and how remote learning will be accommodated, if tutors will follow a specific curriculum, and how tutoring will be incorporated into the school day.

State to determine amount of grant awards and their duration, with the goal of reaching as many students as possible with an emphasis on low-income and underserved students and students in rural areas.

Schools can apply jointly for grants, are encouraged to offer tutors and other professionals information about potential pathways into teaching for the district, including ways to work toward certification while providing tutoring services, and must ensure all tutors comply with all state and federal laws relating to health, safety, and antidiscrimination.

Grantees must report to the state each year: the number of students in the program, including deidentified demographic information; any adjustments made to the program during the year and why; how access was maintained for students to non-core academic instruction; how the grants were used; results of the program; impact on student outcomes; and if the program will continue next year and if not, why not. State must report summary of all of this to the legislature.

Program is repealed July 2026.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: July 2026

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We know we have suffered immense learning loss due to COVID-19, which could have devastatingly long-term impacts on our kids if they never catch up. We also know those kids who were already on the margins, low-income and underserved populations, are likeliest to fall behind the most
  • Research shows that one of the strongest interventions to address learning deficits is high-impact tutoring, which can average more than 4 months of additional learning in elementary literacy and 10 months in high school math
  • It therefore makes sense to throw state resources into high-impact tutoring statewide to do what we can

In Further Detail: While it may take a few years to know the true extent of the damage, there is no doubt that we have suffered immense learning loss among our kids due to COVID-19. If these kids never catch up, this could have devastating impacts on their long-term futures. We also know that kids already in more marginal situations, like low-income and underserved populations, are likeliest to fall behind the most. Preliminary research indicates that while the average learning loss may be 7 months, students who are Black, Latino, or low-income may fall behind as much as 10 months, which will exacerbate already existing gaps between those groups and everyone else. So what to do? Multiple studies have shown that high-impact tutoring, as laid out by the bill, makes significant positive impact on students’ learning achievement. Two examples: more than four months of additional learning gained in elementary literacy and almost ten months in high school math. Honestly, even if there was no pandemic it would make sense to implement a program like this to try to address our already existing achievement gaps. But COVID makes it absolutely crucial, and important for us to bring it statewide, while of course focusing on those groups likely to have lost the most. As a bonus, we might get some more teachers out of this too, which is desperately needed in parts of the state.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • We can construct all the wonderful grant programs we’d like, but the real gauge of our seriousness is money—because this will cost money. So what will be devoted to this critical program, $1 million? Probably won’t go very far across the state with nearly every district likely to line up for the program. $5 million? $20 million? Right now the answer is 0 Roughly $5 million shows a lower level of seriousness
  • The program cannot accept gifts, grants, or donations, which would seem to be cutting off a really likely positive source of additional funding, even if it cannot be guaranteed from year-to-year. We also might go farther by asking for matching funds and giving some sort of guaranteed piece of the pie to districts that can obtain them, while reserving a certain amount for our highest priority schools that are unlikely to have matching funds
  • The bill does not contain any instructions about grant renewal, in a situation of scarcity do we want to be able to not renew grants if a school is demonstrating no progress using the program? Obviously if we could fund every school that wouldn’t be an issue, but since we probably can’t, shouldn’t failures move aside or at least be forced to make changes to their program to continue?

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1234

HB21-1221 Bullying Prevention And Education In Schools (Coram (R)) [Cutter (D), Young (D)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Moderate

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

  • The state is required to update its model policy on school bullying prevention and education every three years. The bill requires the state to use a stakeholder process when doing this and requires inclusion of parents of students who have been bullied. It also requires the model to clearly distinguish between a conflict and bullying and harassment and bullying and clarify the role of cyberbullying during online instruction
  • Requires schools to incorporate the state model into their own bullying policies and requires them to list bullying incidents separately in their annual report on conduct and discipline violations at the school
  • Also adds bullying as grounds for suspension or expulsion from school

Description:

Currently schools are just encouraged to incorporate a list of things in their bullying policies but nothing is actually required except for appropriate disciplinary actions for students who bully other students and students who retaliate against a student reporting bullying.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • Bullying in schools is a problem we will never completely solve, but we can do better by making better use of our statewide model policies. First, they should be created with input from a lot of places but especially parents with kids who have been bullied. Second, we should be requiring that the model policies be incorporated in school districts across the state. Why have a model if you aren’t going to make sure that it’s being used in that way? Schools are free to make their own adjustments, but we need to all be on the same playing field. Third, we need to make bullying a bigger part of our automated reporting systems and fourth, bullying in and of itself should be grounds for suspension or expulsion. Note that schools can still suspend or expel students for bullying, the bill just no longer explicity puts this into the law Schools can of course still use their own discretion

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • This is too much one-size fits all, the model is there to give ideas, not enforce policies. Small schools have very different environments than larger ones, rural different than urban. We need to let our local educators continue to make these policy decisions themselves

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1221

HB21-1259 Extended Learning Opportunities (Fields (D), Sonnenberg (R)) [Bacon (D)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Moderate

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

Require the state, to the extent possible, to offer a streamlined single application to schools for all of the state’s various extended learning opportunities that address learning loss from COVID. This includes aligned application processes and deadlines and streamlined data collection and common reporting requirements.

Description:

Require the state, to the extent possible, to offer a streamlined single application to schools for all of the state’s various extended learning opportunities that address learning loss from COVID. This includes aligned application processes and deadlines and streamlined data collection and common reporting requirements.

The single application must, at a minimum, ask for: the school’s plan to utilize the funding, including type of learning opportunity, number of students served, cost of implementation, and if any third party provider is being used. School must also provide a description of its internal progress monitoring and reporting system, time frame for implementation, and description of staff and family engagement efforts.

The streamlined data collection must, at a minimum, include: description of the extended learning and implementation, if a third party provider was used, data on the students served including non-identifying demographic data, and data on student outcomes.

State must ensure that individual eligibility requirements for various programs are still met and must reserve a proportionate share of funding for all programs for rural schools.

Extended learning opportunities are defined as a program or method of academic support beyond standard school and include supplemental programming targeted at identified COVID-related learning gaps such as summer school, extended school days or weeks, high-impact tutoring, creative enrichment, social-economic supports, and additional mental health supports. They do not include education vouchers, scholarships, or savings accounts. or self-direction by students or parents

Program repeals in July 2026.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: July 2026

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We have quite a few of these programs already and rather than force schools to duplicate effort in trying to apply for multiple programs with similar aims, it makes much more sense to have one application for all programs, with the school indicating which programs it is applying for. This also lessens duplication at the state agency level. Same principle applies to data reporting

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • This may prove trickier than it sounds, given that different programs do in fact have different eligibility requirements and funding allowances, so you might end up with a confusing common application form where only some parts need to be filled out for certain programs and not for others, which may cause just as much work on the back end at both the school and state level

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1259

HB21-1133 K-12 Seizure Training & Individual Action Plans (Pettersen (D), Priola (R)) [Mullica (D), Jodeh (D)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

  • Require K-12 public schools to provide annual seizure training to school personnel who have direct contact with or supervise students with a seizure disorder. Schools are encouraged to create individualized seizure plans, created by school nurse in conjunction with parents and the student’s doctor

Description:

Plans are encouraged to be submitted at the start of the school year or after a new diagnosis or significant health status change. Parents are encouraged to notify schools immediately if the plan needs to be updated.

Seizure training must be completed by 8 weeks after notification of the student’s condition or within 60 days of the start of the school year, whichever is appropriate (each new year will require new training as the student changes grades). It should include administration of seizure medications and manual vagus nerve stimulation and consistent with recognized sources on epilepsy and seizure disorders and developed in consultation with a state organization that represents nurses.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • Seizures are a potentially deadly medical condition and we already recognize this through the ability for students to keep medication at the school. Nurses are of course trained to administer the medication but seizures often require immediate care so we also must make sure any school personnel who are in close contact with the student can intervene immediately if called upon. Since different conditions can call for different reactions, it also makes sense to have individualized plans (if possible)

Arguments Against: n/a

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1133

HB21-1264 Funds Workforce Development Increase Worker Skills (Kolker (D), Hisey (R)) [Sullivan (D), Young (D)]

*State stimulus bill, 3% of total stimulus funds spend in this bill*

PASSED

AMENDED: Very Significant (category change)

Appropriation: $25 million
Fiscal Impact: None beyond appropriation

Goal:

Spend $25 million on providing short-term training to obtain an industry-recognized credential for people who are unemployed or underemployed. Money to be distributed in grants to organizations who are then responsible for working with qualified individuals.

Description:

Creates a cash fund to hold (mostly) federal stimulus money which can be used by the assembly to provide assistance to unemployed workers, including job training; provide assistance to households; for programs, assistance, and other services for people disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 (including programs to mitigate impact on education); provide aid to impacted industries, small businesses, and non-profits through related educational and job training services; and for adminstrative costs. Appropriates $200 million of federal stimulus money and $25 million of state money into the fund, then spends $70 million in the bill (see below).

Creates the Stimulus Investments in Reskilling, Upskilling, and Next-Skilling Workers Program to use money to aid individuals and organizations in getting and providing access to short-term training to obtain an industry-recognized credential. Appropriates $25 million to the program. Money can be spent on: career counseling, career and academic exploration and planning, tuition, employer-provided training, needs-based services, transportation, equipment, retention services, program implementation and administration, and any other purpose determined by state that is related to training. The already existing state workforce development council is to oversee this program.

Individuals can get support for up to 13 months, state is to determine criteria for eligibility but the stated goal of the program is to help unemployed and underemployed people. Money is actually distributed out of the program to organizations. Organizations can get funding through grants, which can go to local governments, institutions of higher education, and community-based non-profits. The organizations are then responsible for working with individuals who qualify for the program and administering funds to them. State is to consider relative need of geographic areas when prioritizing grants.

Money must be spent by July 2024. $3 million must be spent on the grant program, and $1.25 million on adminstrative costs, including outreach. State can use a portion to cover its administrative expenses but is forbidden from hiring any additional permanent full-time positions to do so. State must report to the legislature each year on the program, including number of participants served, number of training programs completed, and any other information deemed useful.

Also creates the Workforce Innovation Act, which consists of a grant program and a workforce innovation development program. $35 million in federal stimulus money appropriated to the act, $17.5 million to each part. State can spend up to 12% of the money to adminster the program, which repeals in July 2027.

The grant program is adminstered by the state's already existing workforce development boards. Money is allocated to these boards based on share of state unemployment claims and total jobs lost and total jobs lost in most impacted industries due to the pandemic. The development boards can award grants to any employer, apprenticeship sponsor, community-based organization, workforce center, or recongized sector partnership. Grants to be awarded for building in-demand skills, connecting workers and learners to jobs, and driving employer engagement it talent development in any of the following areas:

  • Supporting work-based learning, skill development, training completion, and job placement through reskilling, upskilling and next-skilling workers impacted by the pandemic which can include entrepreneurship, digital literacy and inclusion activities, work force readiness, on-the-job training, credentials, or apprenticeships; building partnerships to either improve outcomes or decrease costs for access to quality education and training; provide supports and services to people with barriers to accessing training, education, and job placement; increasing access to career counseling and navigation programs; developing new work-based learning programs in partnership with employers; or increasing access to English as a second language and other career readiness programs that enable equitable access and integration
  • Supporting employers to engage in talent development through: increasing adoption of skills-based practices, including incentivizing new skills-based hires; developing or expanding incumbent worker training and work-based learning programs in partnership with work force centers, training providers, community-based organizations, local education providers, or institutions of higher education; or building new internal pathways for employees
  • Increasing participation by underserved communities through focused outreach strategies specific to these communities; increasing partnership with organizations in these communities, or improving language access, including American sign language, to ensure outreach and participation

Applicants are encouraged to work together and submit joint applications, in which case they need to clearly identify who all of the applicants are and what their role will be. Applicants must describe the need for the project and how the grant will meet that need based on data and evidence, proposed impact of the project, partnerships fostered by the project including all existing support from community organizations, sustainability of the project after grant money is gone, governance of the project including appropriate monitoring and reporting of fund spending, how the project supports innovative and locally-driven solutions, and how the project will improve outcomes for underserved communities and populations.

The other half of the federal spending is overseen by the existing workforce development council. Before spending it, the council must conduct a stakeholder process involving work force development boards and community leaders to design statewide initiatives to: support employers and trade associations that operate in multiple counties to develop training programs, manage statewide alignment for skills-based hiring and talent development, capacity building and technical assistance to support design and implementation of programs and for community based organizations to increase their knowledge of work force programs, testing pilots of programs in multiple locations, performing monitoring and compliance to insure fiscal integrity, and conducting outreach to Coloradans, especially those in underserved communities.

All projects in the workforce innovation act must be evaluated for their impact on skill or competency attainment, industry-recognized credential attainment, graduation or credential attainment rates, job placement, and job quality.

Appropriates $10 million in federal stimulus money to career and technical colleges for expand equipment, facility, and instructional capacity in key career and technical education job demand areas as identified by the existing Colorado talent report. The state board of community colleges and occupational education is to oversee the program. The bill directs the board to develop a methodology to distribute the money based on capacity needs of schools, length of wait lists, and programs offered by the schools that match the demand areas identified by the report. Board is to use existing practices to decide how to distribute the money. In essence the board has until July 2027 to spend the money, when the program expires.

Additional Information:

Although the terms aren’t used in the actual program requirements, they are part of the bill and may be used for prioritization of individual programs, so it is good to know how they are defined. Next-skilling is developing skills for 21st century employment and includes human skills, digital skills, business skills, and a growth and lifelong learning mindset. Reskilling is support for unemployed or underemployed individuals who want or need to change industries. It can include technical training and entrepreneurial training. Upskilling is increasing skill levels within the same industry, so as to retain employment and advance within a field.

Grantees in the innovation grant program must report to their respective board which must put the data in the existing connecting Colorado database. Anyone who participates in a statewide innovation project must also report to the connecting Colorado database.


Auto-Repeal: July 2024

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • This uses already existing infrastructure for workforce development that is used to doing the exact thing this program envisions: training people in high-demand and high-value fields in part using government grants
  • The pandemic hit our most vulnerable residents the hardest and these are the folks least likely to be able to pivot to a different industry or different job that requires different training
  • Paying to help train these folks will not only help them get employment but also provide more stable employment so when the next economic crisis hits, they are better positioned to weather it

In Further Detail: We have existing infrastructure for workforce development that is designed to produce the exact thing we want: training in high-demand and high-value fields that will provide good jobs for the 21st century economy. These were created in the most part to help guide teenagers into the workforce (you may have seen them in other bills, they are career pathways) and are a collaboration of state government, local community-based organizations, and institutions of higher education. This existing program is used to handling grants and dispersing them to individuals as necessary (some of the grant money would just stay with the institution, like tuition for instance). So this bill is a simple matter of using this already existing infrastructure and pointing it at one of our largest COVID-related problems: unemployment. The pandemic hit our most vulnerable residents the hardest, as most economic calamities do, with low-income, senior, and disabled populations as well as communities of color suffering the largest job losses. These are also the communities that are least equipped to make a pivot toward a different industry or job that requires different skills. So this program will help these folks gain the skills they need to get more stable and higher-paying employment, which will not only help the state economy recover but will help create a more secure economic base so when the next economic crisis hits, these folks will be in a more stable employment situation. We have $800 million of state stimulus money to spend thanks to better than expected tax revenues last year. This is a very appropriate way to spend some of it.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • Unless we replace all of them with robots we will always have low-stability, low-skill jobs that are more vulnerable to economic downturns. Someone has to bus tables, clean businesses, stock shelves, etc.
  • Job retraining actually doesn’t work very well to combat unemployment, because the problem with high unemployment is not that we don’t have enough trained workers, it’s that we don’t have enough jobs. Creating more trained workers doesn’t help
  • So we’d be better off taking $25 million and either giving it directly to people who need help or directly to businesses to hire people

In Further Detail: There are two ugly truths here that must be faced. The first is, unless we are planning to replace all of our low-stability workers with robots, we will always be paying people to bus tables, serve as cashiers, stock shelves, and clean our businesses. These jobs will always be more vulnerable to economic downturns. The second ugly truth is that job retraining doesn’t work very well to combat unemployment. When there are more qualified workers than jobs, getting more qualified workers does not create more jobs. The thing that cures unemployment is a better overall economy. So if we want to fight unemployment, we are in fact far better off taking $25 million and either just giving to people (targeting those who need it most) to boost economic spending or giving it to businesses as a bonus for hiring people, again to boost economic spending. So while this program is well-meaning and will help some people get better skills, we should not fool ourselves that this will meaningfully affect our state unemployment rate now or in the future.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1264

HB21-1273 Colorado Department Of Education Report Concerning School Psychologists (Kolker (D)) [Cutter (D)]

PASSED

Appropriation: $35,000
Fiscal Impact: None beyond appropriation

Goal:

Produce a report every year that shows the pupil/psychologist ratio in schools at the state level and by individual district.

Description:

Requires the state to annually report on the number of licensed psychologists employed by schools as full-time employees. The report containing this information must have the number of pupils and psychologists in total for the state and then by district. State must make report publicly available on its website within 30 days of its completion every year.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • A 2019 (so pre-pandemic) report found that at least 2/3 of the state’s children attended public schools that fell short of the nationally recommended student-to-staff ratios for school-based psychologists, social workers, nurses, and counselors. El Paso County, one of the worst offenders in the report, would need to hire 448 more psychologists to meet this threshold. Another report noted that the recommend student/psychologist ratio is 1:700 but the state is at 1:1,112. There is no dispute that this is not an easy task, we’d need to add 40% more psychologists throughout the state, but part one of getting our arms around the problem is not relying on outside analysis of the problem. The data is easily at our fingertips and we should have it every year to see progress and to see what districts need help. We have one of the highest child suicide rates in the country and addressing that and other metal health concerns, including drug use, can start with a licensed psychologist.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • This isn’t a knowledge issue, it’s a money issue. Until we spend more money on this problem, all the knowledge in the world isn’t going to get us anywhere.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1273

HB21-1295 Rebuttable Presumption In Charter School Appeals (Story (D)) [Bacon (D)]

KILLED BY HOUSE COMMITTEE

AMENDED: Significant

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

To require the state board of education to rule in favor of school districts that deny charter school applications on appeal so long as the decision was based upon the board’s long-term plan for the district, or impacts on student enrollment or finances. Charters can bring evidence that the district did not in fact act for these reasons.

Description:

For appeals to the state board of education over charter school applications that are denied by local school districts, the bill requires the state board to rule in favor of the school district so long as the decision was based upon: likelihood of conflict with local board’s long-term plans for district, student enrollment in schools in the district, or district financial considerations if the charter is likely to limit enrollment based upon nationality, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation or limit access to students with disability or low-income students, English language learners, neglected or delinquent students, homeless students, students in foster care, or low academic achievers. The appeal must not be based on those considerations and the appellant can bring evidence that the district in fact did not act for these reasons (burden of proof is on the charter school). Applies only to applications for new charters. For renewals of charters or recovaction of charters, old rules apply.

Current law requires the appellant to demonstrate the denial was in error and contrary to the best interests of the pupils, school district, or community. Burden of proof is currently on the charters.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • Our school districts need more control over their own fates, many are facing difficult decisions and may be forced to close or merge schools including in large districts like Denver
  • And it’s not just declining enrollment, new schools mean more competition for staff and we are already facing teacher shortages all over the state
  • Our public education system is built on local school boards which provides the local community control over their schools, not on charters. To the degree charters can help in the edges that’s great but that cannot come at the expense of our core duty to our districts
  • Charters can still appeal and still overcome the assumption the bill makes with proof the district didn’t use those factors in making its decision

In Further Detail: We have to give districts more power to control their futures. Many, including large ones like Denver, are facing difficult decisions as enrollment has dwindled and may be forced to close schools. We have teacher shortages all over the state. Opening new schools in that context makes it harder for existing schools to keep or recruit staff. So when a new charter school wants to open in an area, it is absolutely essential that the impact on enrollment and finances and the district’s long-term plans are given first priority. We have a public school education system in this country, not a charter school system. To the extent that charters can work in the edges and help, that’s great, but it cannot come at the expense of our core duty to our school districts. Charters still have the ability to overturn the presumption the bill creates to demonstrate the denial isn’t based on these factors.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • This sets up an impossible standard: any charter school will have an impact on enrollment and finances of a district, so any application could be denied, including those for existing schools that need renewal
  • 8 of the state’s top 10 performing high schools are charters, so we need more of them if anything, not less
  • The current system works well: in the past 20 years 64 local district decisions have been upheld and 62 sent back for reconsideration, with 15 overturned on second appeal
  • State board of education opposes this bill

In Further Detail: This sets up an impossible standard for charter schools to win on appeal and will likely allow school districts to run roughshod over charters in the future, including over existing charter schools who need renewal. Any charter school will have an impact on the enrollment and finances of a school district, so in essence any denial of a new charter school will be justified. Eight of the state’s top 10 performing high schools are charters, so we should be encouraging more of them if anything. They are public schools receiving the same public funding as other schools and controlled by a public board. Now they aren’t in the controls of the local school board, which of course doesn’t sit well with those boards. The backdrop to this bill is the state’s overturning of Denver Public Schools decision to delay the opening of a charter high school for a year last year. The current system seems to work pretty well, in the last 20 years 64 local district decisions have been upheld and 62 were sent back for reconsideration (code for: change your mind, this is what happened in Denver) with another 15 overturned on second appeal. The state board of education itself opposes this bill, we should too.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1295

HB21-1304 Early Childhood System (Fenberg (D), Buckner (D)) [Sirota (D), Garnett (D)]

PASSED

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: $951,528
Fiscal Impact: $1.1 million this year, $670,000 next

Goal:

Create a new department in the state government, the Department of Early Childhood, which is to manage all state efforts at early childhood care and education. To help the transition, a working group and an advisory group are created to generate a plan to submit to the legislature on how the department is to be constructed and what programs are to move from their existing homes to the new department (and which are to simply be folded into each other and which are to stay put). Those two groups are also tasked with creating a plan for universal and voluntary preschool, which is to build off existing funding and newly approved funding by the voters last fall.

Description:

Creates the Department of Early Childhood, which has an executive director appointed by the governor with senate approval like other state departments. The department is to become the focal point for providing high-quality, voluntary, affordable early childhood opportunities for all children in the state, coordinating the availability of early childhood programs and services to meet the needs of all families, establishing state and community partnerships that provide mixed-care through school and community based programs, ensure parent and community input are prioritized in design and implementation of programs, maximize state resources and ensure least possible administrative burden, prioritize equitable delivery of resources and supports, unify all state programs relating to early childhood in the department to ensure a streamlined and efficient experience for providers and parents (more on this below), and improve outcomes for children and families through strategies that provide a more diverse and large enough early childhood care workforce, implementation of evidence-based and practice-based best practices, evaluation for continuous improvement of programs, alignment with state and federal standards, and education and training on recognition of child and family trauma and how to best address it. The executive director of the department is added to the existing early childhood leadership commission.

For what existing programs need to be moved to this department (and more we’ll get into), the bill creates a transition working group. This group is made up of representatives of the department of human services, department of public health and environment, department of education, and any other relevant department identified while creating the transition plan the group is to work on. It also contains the co-chairs of the existing early childhood leadership commission and representatives from the governor’s office. This working group is tasked with developing a transition plan to move toward the new government structure with the new early childhood department and for developing recommendations for a new statewide, universal, voluntary preschool program (which is to build off of what the voters approved last fall with the additional taxes on nicotine products), see below for more detail. The bill also creates a transition advisory group to advise the working group. The co-chairs of the early childhood commission are responsible for the appointments to the advisory group (see Additional Information for more detail). And finally, the state is to contract with a third-party private entity to help with creating both of these plans. Initial contract cannot exceed $25,000. Any subsequent contracts must be done using the state procurement code. In creating both plans, the working group must examine current efforts in the state and who exactly is using them (broken down demographically and by income) and who have historically encountered barriers to these programs.

The transition plan for the new department address the governance and structure of the department, including if there should be a state board of early childhood education (like there is for K-12), mission and vision statements for the department, fiscal structure, aligning and combining funding sources, timelines for completing key transition markers, any technology requirements, strategies to support elimination of duplicative oversight and regulation, alignment efforts with the K-12 system especially around literacy, alignment efforts with the child welfare system with an eye toward federal law, program and service alignment, coordination and collaboration with existing state agencies that oversee programs that are not moved, robust stakeholder involvement in developing policies, education and training around trauma, and data system strategies. Plan must be submitted by the governor’s office to the legislature with its budget request by November 2021 and to the early childhood education commission. The commission has 14 days to suggest changes and approve the plan and any changes must be submitted to legislature promptly.

The universal preschool plan must align existing funding with anticipated funding from the voter approved measure last year to operate as a single program that offers a streamlined experience for kids and families and providers and must meet requirements of the voter approved measure. The single program must meet the following requirements: programs must be developmentally and culturally appropriate whole-child experiences that specifically meet the needs of dual language learners and communities that have historically faced barriers to access, money must go to school-based and community-based programs including Head Start, these providers must meet standards for fiscal accountability and comply with non-discrimination laws, money must be blended to extent possible to support full day of child care and early learning services, program must align with all federal and state laws, design must allow easy access for families to make choices, program must have quality standards for providers that align with other state early childhood programs, must integrate with existing local infrastructure, and it must be subject to evaluation on its effectiveness. Plan must be submitted to the early childhood commission by 2022. Again commission has 14 days to suggest changes and approve the plan. By January 15, 2022, the approved plan must be submitted to the legislature.

To create both plans, both groups are tasked with outreach to the greatest extent possible with interested and affected people across the state. This must include parents and legal guardians, formal and informal early childhood providers and experts, early childhood educators, schools, school districts, school district special education directors, early childhood councils, infant and early childhood health and mental health professionals, county human services professionals, Native American tribes, children’s advocacy groups, members of migrant seasonal populations and communities, community organizations, and representatives from the business community.

A variety of opportunities for input must be provided including public meetings, working sessions, written comments, and design opportunities with parents and providers. All input must be made public.

Additional Information:

The universal pre-K plan must take special care to ensure alignment with laws around disabilities and how children with disabilities will be protected and how special education will be delivered, including staff qualification requirements.

For the advisory group, the commission co-chairs are to ensure that to the maximum extent possible, the group includes: parents who are enrolled in a variety of public and private early childhood programs, members of the early childhood workforce including school and community based programs, and representatives of geographically and programmatically diverse community and school based public and private providers. This group is to form the majority of the advisory group if possible. The rest is to be composed of: representatives of county human service departments, special education directors, the early childhood councils, members of the business community, representatives of private non-profit entities, representatives of early childhood and education advocacy organizations, and people with expertise in early childhood and business practices. To extent possible co-chairs must ensure that people from under-resourced and under-represented communities compose at least 1/3 of the group. Group members get a per diem and reimbursement for expenses.

The third-party contractor must have expertise in early childhood systems, program administration, and information technology. It must not have a financial interest in any aspect of the early childhood system and no members of the early childhood commission may have a financial interest in the third-party.


Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We need to be ready for 2023, because thanks to the voters last year, we have new funding and requirements for preschool in the state that begin in 2023 so it is our job to make plans
  • First we need to create a new state department because this is very different than K-12 education and given the massive statewide effort required, streamlined operations should help us focus better
  • That new department and the new program will need a lot of careful thought and work to be ready in 2023 so the bill creates groups to help figure all of this out in 2021 so we can create the structures and programs needed in 2022
  • The voters have spoken and for good reason. This is a critical time in development and frankly a necessity for many working families but our current system is a mess of federal and state programs combined with parent tuition to serve a hodgepodge of everything from family care homes to full-blown educational preschools

In Further Detail: Last year the voters approved a tax increase on nicotine with most of the revenue going to fund early childhood education, making a minimum of 10 hours per week available of preschool to every kid in the state in 2023, and access to additional hours for low-income families and those who have historically faced barriers to school readiness. That is all already happening, it is our job to plan for that future so in 2023 we hit the ground running and implement the voters’ will. The first thing to recognize is that preschool is simply vastly different from K-12 education and so running this program requires a new department. This should also allow us to better streamline and focus our efforts in this area. But this is going to all require very careful planning with a lot of input from folks all over the state, both to create this new department and to create universal preschool. So the bill appropriately puts the relevant state agencies in charge of a robust outreach program to figure all of this out in the next year. That allows us to construct the department and program next year to be ready for 2023. We don’t need to belabor the need for this too much, the voters have already spoken. But it is worth pointing out the massive hole we have in our childcare system, where we currently blend a kaleidoscope of federal and state programs with generally high tuition rates for parents to serve a hodgepodge of everything from family care homes to full-blown educational preschools. All of this during absolutely critical early years where the brain is developing at a rapid pace. And many working families absolutely require access to child care during the day.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • We may be setting up an unstainable house of cards here. The core foundation of this is the newly approved taxes on a substance we are trying to get people to stop using. To the extent that we are successful, which is good because nicotine is terrible for health outcomes, we will strip money away from this program. That could lead to a crisis where we have to either raise taxes in some other manner, make massive cuts in other areas of the budget, or go back on our promise here and drastically reduce the scope of this program. The bill also puts a lot of power into the hands of the early childhood commission, especially the co-chairs, who are the real power brokers in this bill in terms of these two groups designed to create the plans

Bottom Line:

  • The voter approved initiative last year was a mistake and we should not be furthering it with more tax dollars. The bottom line is this is a parent’s responsibility, to care for their infant and toddler. That may involve stepping out of the workforce for a bit or enlisting the help of relatives. But it is not the job of taxpayers to pay for this care. When the time comes to start educating the child, then the state steps in

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1304

HB21-1294 K-12 Education Accountability Systems Performance Audit (Rodriguez (D)) [Bird (D), Gonzales-Gutierrez (D)]

PASSED

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: $352,000
Fiscal Impact: About $450,000 over the next two years

Goal:

Do a thorough audit of the state’s K-12 accountability and accreditation systems using a third-party contractor to address how effective these systems are at their purpose, if there are any institutional or cultural biases the systems are perpetuating, if schools are actually using the data from them, and if interventions based on these systems are effective.

Description:

Requires the state auditor to contract with either a public or private company through a competitive bidding process to do an audit of our K-12 accountability and accreditation systems. Contractor must be selected by October 2021 and state must make every effort to ensure contractor is independent, impartial, and has the necessary expertise to do the audit correctly. The audit must address:

  • Effectiveness of accreditation system in objectively evaluating public school performance at all levels and in rewarding success and providing support for improvement
  • Whether data generated by the system is used in practice by school districts to measure teacher and leadership effectiveness
  • Whether components of the statewide system including state testing, academic growth models, and post-secondary readiness maintain institutional or cultural biases based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, age, or economic status
  • Whether interventions into schools based on the statewide system are effective in supporting and improving outcomes for schools that serve predominantly low-income students, students of color, or students with disabilities. This must include examining interventions based primarily on increasing test scores rather than non-testing related courses and activities
  • Whether low-income students and students with disabilities are given access to learning opportunities that will allow them to attain similar levels on school standards as their higher-income peers
  • To what extent schools shift their resources or modify their instructional practices to help students who are close to achieving grade-level scores
  • If size of student populations has a disproportionate impact on accuracy and comparability of results in the statewide standardized system
  • If the outcomes measured by the statewide system accurately correlate to a school’s effectiveness in helping students develop the skills and capacities that are relevant to employers including innovation, academic rigor, career and technical education, and workforce readiness and essential skills
  • How participation rates affect the results of the system
  • Whether the state’s growth model for measuring success is meeting other state requirements
  • If information on assessments and accountability is accessible to educators and families and communicated in a language families can understand with clear guidance on actions to support learning
  • If the system identifies schools and school districts that are struggling to serve groups of students, including groups based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, age, and economic status and if interventions are successful in increasing academic achievement for these groups

State must ensure audit is completed by November 15, 2022 and submitted to the legislature as well as released publicly. Auditor is to be given complete access to all non-financial school records housed in the department of education, regardless of existing privacy laws. Auditor must keep private information confidential and comply with all state and federal laws.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: July 2023

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • There have been numerous changes to both of these systems since they were created (2008 for accountability and 2009 for accreditation) and massive changes from the federal government in 2015 with the Every Student Succeeds Act. We therefore need a thorough x-ray of these systems to ensure that they are first and foremost meeting the goals set in the laws that established them and of course adhering to federal standards. But we also need to know if they are working as well as they could, in particular with schools that struggle under the current system. Are we doing the right kinds of testing and accountability? We rely on these systems for quite a bit in our education system and it is worth paying for a real audit to get this right.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • This is a test designed for the system to fail. Many of the specific areas the audit is to probe are long-standing inequities in our education system that have nothing to do with the statewide testing system and are instead deep societal and structural problems that no statewide system could solve. Indeed that may be part of the goal here: to loosen the accountability structures we have in place, long a goal of some in the education industry who do not want testing at all, and go back to a system of trust us to get this right with few quantitative metrics.

Bottom Line:

  • The problem with this is we are chasing the unobtainable. No standardized system is ever going to capture the true efficacy of a school or its teachers, or the true academic success of a student. There are just too many variables to consider. So the more we require rigid standards, the harder it is going to be to accurately evaluate everything. We need to get away from all of the testing and back to just teaching.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1294

HB21-1325 Funding Public Schools Formula (Zenzinger (D), Rankin (R)) [McCluskie (D), Herod (D)]

PASSED

AMENDED: Very Significant (category change)

Appropriation: $100,153
Fiscal Impact: Beyond appropriation, negligible next year

Goal:

Permanently changes the state’s school funding formula by giving reduced price lunch kids the same weight as free lunch kids (previously reduced price lunch kids did not matter in the formula at all) and adds English language learner pupils as well (at 8% of per pupil funding, so you get an 8% bump). Creates a fund to match districts that, through voter approval, override their property tax limit of 27 mills for schools, with the declared intent that the money be used to increase teacher salary (although the legislature cannot force this). Creates a special legislative interim committee on school finance (will meet in-between annual sessions of the legislature) to study the school finance formula during the next two years with the main goal of examining different methods to measure at-risk students (currently we use free and, if the bill passes, reduced price lunch as a proxy) and overhauling the cost-of-living element of the formula.

Description:

Permanently changes the state’s school funding formula by giving reduced price lunch kids the same weight as free lunch kids (previously reduced price lunch kids did not matter in the formula at all) and adds English language learner pupils as well (at 8% of per pupil funding, so you get an 8% bump). Those two changes will provide an additional $118 million in funding for schools across the state, which is mostly offset by the state not having to pay as much money to backstop schools due to a different bill in this session dealing with property mill levy overrides (which in essence will raise property taxes in some districts around the state).

Creates a fund to match districts that, through voter approval, override their property tax limit of 27 mills for schools, with the declared intent that the money be used to increase teacher salary (although the legislature cannot force this). The matching fund is determined by a formula that takes into account “effort” of the district (amount over the limit they are going) and their local property tax base. If the fund does not have enough money to pay all eligible districts, then payments are reduced proportionately. How much this would cost depends on how many districts go this far over but the bill sponsors are envisioning $10-20 million a year.

Creates a special legislative interim committee on school finance (will meet in-between annual sessions of the legislature) to study the school finance formula during the next two years. The committee is consists of equal representation by both parties, with two members each appointed by leader of chamber (so 8 total). Committee is allowed to introduce 5 total bills during its existence.

Issues the committee must study include:

  • If the current method for identifying at-risk pupils is appropriate (current method is free or reduced price lunch) or if there is a more accurate method and if poverty remains the best method, how to best account for it in the formula
  • Whether the cost-of-living part of the formula needs to be redesigned to limit funding to only significantly high-cost districts through a fixed amount of per pupil funding (right now it is a significant part of the per-pupil formula)
  • Appropriate method to address small, remote, and rural districts
  • Consideration of funding equity for schools that have overridden their property tax limits, through designing a plan to assist low-property wealth schools in obtaining approval for additional mill levies by providing matching state funds (more below)
  • Alternative educator supports for K-2 kids
  • Benefits and challenges of incorporating special education services into the formula

The plan for state matching funds must take into consideration: how to address out-of-district students and multi-district online programs that increase a school’s head count but do not contribute to property tax collection, how mix of residential and non-residential taxes affects assessment and collected taxes, what the threshold for eligibility should be, how to include charter schools, and any other relevant considerations.

The committee is also to contract with a third party vendor to complete a study to analyze various methods of measuring student economic disadvantage and the necessary data and systems alignment that would be needed to incorporate those measures into the state’s per-pupil formula. Must contract with a vendor by September (after a bid process). Must consider: direct certification, direct certification with inclusion of Medicaid, current approach of free and reduced lunch eligibility with hybrid approaches, economic disadvantage measures at census block level, and other approaches taken by other states.

For each potential method, must consider: availability of data, barriers to accessing data, distributional effects for district’s share of the state’s count of low-income students, and the approaches potential to meet important principles and policy objectives. These are: most accurate count possible, maintaining an indicator of economic disadvantage for individual students, differentiating among different levels of economic disadvantage, decreasing administrative burden on schools to collect data and on families to prove eligibility, long-term ability to identify student achievement trends, coordination across agencies for public program eligibility, ensuring student privacy and confidentiality of records, and ensuring inclusivity of all students, including those experiencing homelessness or lack documentation. Study must also consider costs of each potential solution to implement. Study due by next January. Committee repeals in July 2023.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: July 2023 for special committee

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • Reduced price lunch kids and English language learners add costs to districts that aren’t currently accounted for in our per-pupil formula. Given the money the state will save thanks to a different bill in this session that in essence allows districts to get more property tax money (voter approved already), we can add these elements into the formula without taking money away from other schools (though they will gain less)
  • Free and reduced price lunch eligibility is a bad proxy for at-risk need due to poverty: it is binary, it was not designed to capture the complexity of poverty, and it has been (at least temporarily thanks to the pandemic) eroded by federal changes that make all students eligible
  • The cost-of-living adjustment is funneling too much money to already wealthy districts in the state and needs a rethink
  • We need a way to help incentivize poorer districts to raise their property taxes to support their schools and matching state money may be the carrot that is needed [but it is a complex issue that requires careful study before implementing]

In Further Detail:  For the changes to the school finance formula, the essence of the issue here is that our finance model for schools hasn’t been working for schools in the state located in low-income areas because the only thing that mattered was free lunches, not reduced price. Obviously it is a big deal to a school if they have students on reduced price meals, but that has not been part of our state’s formula. The same is true of having students who are English language learners. Now this is generally a zero-sum game, so a gain for these schools is a loss for others and that is why this long-needed change hasn’t happened yet. Now, though, with a different bill in this session allowing districts who have passed TABOR revenue overrides for their property taxes for schools to actually keep that extra money (way too complicated to get into here, look at HB1164 for more detail), we can make this change without creating losses for any districts (some will just gain less than others). That said, we have long-term problems with this formula that need examining. The first and most pressing one is the very same free and reduced price lunch eligibility. The first problem is that this is entirely binary: you are either eligible or you aren’t, which doesn’t at all capture the varying levels of poverty and need districts need to address. The second problem is that we are using something that wasn’t designed for this purpose and is actually getting worse as an at-risk indicator. The school lunch program is designed to feed kids, not capture student need and last year the federal government opened up the program to all kids (due to the pandemic) which makes it nearly impossible to use as a proxy. That may be temporary, as are the problems the state had with collecting income eligibility data during the pandemic, but they are indicative of the bigger picture here. Other states have moved toward more complicated sets of data to determine at-risk students and we need to as well. The other big part of the formula that is causing problems is the cost-of-living adjustment. In a vacuum, it makes sense: places with higher costs-of-living have to pay more for just about everything but in particular salaries. But the end result is wealthy districts get more many than poor districts, which exacerbates the gap in funding they already start with thanks to their property tax collection. That brings us to the final part of the bill, which is the matching override fund. We need to encourage these low property tax value areas to raise their property taxes to support their schools and the carrot of matching state funds could help do the trick. This is a complex issue that needs a well-designed program behind it to ensure we aren’t just rewarding communities who have held-off on taxing themselves.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • [There’s no reason to have this weird additional money setup in this bill and then look to change the formula in another bill—just change the formula in this bill permanently. We have the basis to do it now without creating a situation where districts will lose money, thanks to a different bill in this session that will save the state money spent on education (districts will get more property taxes)

Bottom Line:

  • There is a fundamental difference between free and reduced price lunches that we would be missing if this becomes law. The current school formula has served us well and should be continued, at least until the in-depth study that a different bill in this session proposes is done
  • We should not be rewarding districts that have not stepped up to the plate to this point at the expense of those that have already overridden their property tax limits. It’s fine to point out that this is a separate fund from the full K-12 budget, but we all know that in reality the budget writers will lump them together so that money diverted to this fund will likely come at the expense of something else K-12 education related
  • We quite literally just had a special committee to explore this exact same topic and it broke on the rock of change: that is that established powerful districts in the state don’t want to give up money to poorer districts. We are likely to see the same dynamic repeat itself here. We know the basic outlines of all this already: it’s time to push legislation to make the changes needed and stop trying to build a consensus that likely won’t come

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1325

HB21-1059 Online Student Protections (Lundeen (R)) [Geitner (R), Bradfield (R)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Significant

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

  • Prohibit schools from suspending or expelling a student based on the presence of an item observed in an online student’s physical environment or based on the student’s behavior while the student participates in online instruction unless the student is repeatedly interfering with the ability of the teacher to teach. Any such suspensions or expulsions since March 23, 2020, are revoked and expunged from the student’s record
  • Prohibit schools from requiring use of a camera to provide live digital images during online instruction if the student's technology does not allow it or attempting to impose requirements on the student’s physical environment (except for relating to student focus)
  • Prohibit schools from banning or attempting to ban parents from being in the same room or area as the student during online instruction unless the parent engages in behavior that disrupts the class even after being asked to stop by the instructor and from recording the student without the parent’s prior written consent

Description:

Schools cannot suggest that parents should not be in the same room or area as the student. Items in the room relating to student focus that schools can prohibit involve audio or video distractions. For the crime of interfering with educational institutions, bill clarifies that a student’s private residence does not count during online instruction (or any other time).

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • Online schooling is difficult and we need to be more understanding of the extreme hardship on students, particularly younger students. That means not jumping to suspend or expel them unless they are interfering with the learning of other students, not making a bunch of demands about their physical space, and not trying to kick parents out of the room
  • Recording students in school generally requires a waiver from parents, so online learning should be no different

In Further Detail: Online learning is really hard, especially for younger kids. Having to sit in front of the screen, dealing with the technology and the isolation, and having drastically reduced mediums to work with make it much harder for kids to behave in the way we expect. So schools need to cut them some slack and only pull out suspensions and expulsions when it is interfering with the ability for the teacher to teach other kids. Schools also need to not worry about physical spaces, again unless there is interference with learning due to distraction, and especially not about parents being around. Not every child has a computer with a camera in it. They should still be able to participate. No child should be recorded without the permission of a parent. In all, if we are to have remote schooling in combination with remote work, we need to be more flexible and understanding.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • This is overly broad in many ways—what about disruptive parents or inappropriate items visible in backgrounds?

In Further Detail: Online education is of course difficult and we need to cut some slack but we can do that without going overboard, and this bill goes too far. Background items can include a number of highly inappropriate items: nudity, profanity, gross violence, bullying materials, and offensive language to name a few. If a child, for instance, something in the background that said Jews are the source of all of our problems, the school should be able to do something about it. Under this bill, it would not as it is not an audio or visual distraction. Parents are a different bucket of potential problems, but in general we don’t let parent in classrooms because it can easily interfere with the teacher’s ability to teach. Parents who are jumping in, asking questions, distracting the student, or arguing with a teacher would be disruptive. But the school couldn’t do anything about it under this bill.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on HB21-1059

SB21-013 Reversing COVID-related Learning Loss (Fields (D)) [Bacon (D), Froelich (D)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

  • Make available a resource bank of products and strategies for schools to use to address learning loss due to COVID-19 related disruptions based on study the department of education does of best practices

Description:

This resource bank must be available by the start of the fall semester of the 2021-22 school year. To create it, the department is to identify educational products, strategies, and services that have demonstrated effectiveness identifying and reversing student learning loss, including those specifically designed to address students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities. The bank must include examples, explanations and instructions on implementation, and models of professional development related to use and implementation. It must also include public and private non-profits that may partner with schools to provide personnel or other resources to assist in implementation. The state is also to provide as much technical assistance as possible.

Schools may provide descriptions of positive strategies, services, and programs they have implemented along with proof of success, for the state to include in the bank.

Bill also strongly encourages schools to spend as much as they can of the federal stimulus money they are about to directly receive from the federal government on learning loss. Requires each district to submit a report to the state detailing what it spent its stimulus dollars on.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We all know that there has been varying degrees of learning loss due to COVID-19 classroom disruptions, although no one knows the complete toll yet it is estimated that some students may have even lost ground and fallen further behind
  • There is also ample evidence that these negative effects have hit students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities even harder
  • We have to do everything we can to make up these losses and the state is best positioned to do the research and provide centralized resources for all schools in the state to figure out how

In Further Detail: This could be a catastrophe if we do not act. Some students in the state will have lost over a year of classroom learning and will be well-behind grade level expectations. Some studies have estimated a cumulative loss on the order of five to nine months by the end of our current school year. That sort of deficit can easily snowball, in particular with students who were already potentially facing gaps with their peers. As in many things, disasters hit these groups harder, so students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities are more likely to be even further behind. Within that same estimate of learning loss, white kids are estimated at four to eight months while kids of color could be six to twelve months behind. Another study found that 9th graders living in the poorest 20% of US neighborhoods will about half a grade’s worth of performance (so if you used to get straight Bs you’d get a mix of Bs and Cs instead), with only 50% of those students recovering by the end of high school. The wealthiest 20%, on the other hand, will lose nothing at all. The first step here is admitting that we don’t know the answers without help and study—so we need to get busy studying and then get busy helping schools all over the state implement best practices. This is going to be a moving target that may require years of dedicated effort but getting our arms around the issue is always the best place to start.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • The simple fact is that we don’t know yet how severe the learning loss will be, many studies are highly speculative at this point, and we need to find out what the loss is, and in what areas, before we start working on mitigation strategies

In Further Detail: A lot of these studies are very speculative. As they’d have to be, at this point we are still in the middle of this and with school not operating normally, we don’t have the ability to truly assess who has fallen behind and by how much and in what areas. We need to get that knowledge first, which should come from standardized testing later this Spring. Then we can work on more detailed strategy for addressing it.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-013

SB21-037 Student Equity Education Funding Programs (Lundeen (R))

KILLED BY SENATE COMMITTEE

AMENDED: Significant

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None for revised bill

Goal:

  • Allow parents with children eligible to attend any public elementary school in kindergarten or 1st grade that closes for more than 30 school days at any time to use the per-pupil the school would have received for their child on home-schooling or private school options instead of attending the public school for two years. Money comes from a state fund, which is appropriated $20 million annually by the bill, which is distributed $4,000 for each student in the program, supplemented by the state's share of per-pupil revenue if applicable to bring the total up to the per-pupil amount for the student
  • The governing board of any school that is eligible by dint of closure must set up a fund with which to disperse these payments, which are to be made in equal monthly increments. The board must audit a representative sample of parents on this program to ensure they are using the funds as allowed. If it finds they are not, it can commence legal action to recover the money

Description:

Students have to either have been in the school the year before the closure occurred or be in the school district. They can have attended private school or be homeschooled already.

Parents must apply to this program through their schools by June 15th prior to the new school year. Application must include an affirmation under penalty of perjury that they are eligible, a description of the educational services the parent purchased or provided for the student in the past year (if any), and a description of the educational services the parent will purchase or provide with the money.

Schools must approve applications if they determine the child is eligible. Parents can use the money for educational materials, homeschooling, or enrollment in private school. The parent must submit electronic receipts quarterly.

Additional Information:

Schools must notify parents by June 1 of any eligible year (so since this year is eligible it will apply) of this program, including posting information on their website on how to apply. This must include the name and contact number for the contact person at the school for questions, eligibility requirements set forth by this bill, how parents can apply, the amount of money they are eligible for, and how they can spend it (including reporting requirements).

A student using this program must still take annual standardized tests as required by state law, their performance will not count toward their designated school’s statistics, but they are still considered a pupil for the purposes of school funding.


Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • Some parents chose to spend money to try to prevent learning loss when our schools closed, we owe it those that want to continue to do this in fear that it may happen again
  • If a child does not attend a school, that school does not get any money, so the school isn’t losing anything by losing per-pupil revenue for a child that isn’t there
  • The system is designed to promote accountability for spending and has a process to detect and punish cheaters

In Further Detail: When our schools close for long periods of time, the burden falls on parents to try to fill in the gaps, and many try to do so with educational services and products the parents themselves have to pay for. This naturally sets up a have and have-not situation where wealthy parents can more easily keep their children on track. Remote learning produces many of the same problems, although not obviously to the same scale. Some parents may have taken their children out of school entirely so as to keep them learning. All of these parents may want to continue this process to ensure that their kids aren’t hit by these enormous disruptions in the future. It therefore makes sense to ensure these kids can continue to get the education their parents want by using the money the state would have spent on them in public school, and giving it to them instead. The school wouldn’t get the money if the child was not enrolled anyway, so we aren’t necessarily depriving the schools. There is an accountability system to ensure no one is cheating and a mechanism to deal with those that do. The program is also only for two years per kid, so it truly is just a response to the lack of in-person learning in a short-term period

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • This identifies a real problem and then veers off into a totally different solution: instead of helping parents recoup costs or bridge closure gaps it sends them away from public schools entirely
  • Despite the concern about wealthy versus poor parents, there is no attempt to means-test this program and no requirement that the child ever actually attended public school in the first place: the bill is simply a vehicle to shift money from public schools to homeschooling and private schools
  • Every kid in the state who is school-age will be eligible for this program next year: every single kid who is already homeschooled or in private school can simply grab this handout

In Further Detail: There is a real problem here that the bill identifies. Closures affected families hard, with children losing learning, parents forced to fill-in the best they could, and in some cases, money spent to try to alleviate the harm. But the solution it proposes is simply to pay parents taxpayer dollars intended for public schools so they can homeschool their kids or even send them to private school instead. There is no means-testing to ensure that we aren’t propping up wealthy families who don’t need this, and most dammingly, there is no requirement that the child ever attended the school in the first place. They could have been homeschooled or in private school from the beginning, and still the state would have to subsidize their future schooling outside the public school system. Rather than an attempt to help public school students deal with the unfortunate learning loss and associated harms to the entire family, the bill is an attempt to siphon off kids out of public school altogether, at taxpayer expense. We provide a free K-12 education for all children in the state and that is paid for with our taxpayer dollars, in exchange for which we have the ability to write the rules of the road for these schools and hold them accountable for breaking them. If people do not want to take advantage of this free system, the law allows them to do so. But we don’t have to pay them to do it. And we don’t in any other circumstance: the state doesn’t pay per-pupil funding to parents who homeschool or send their kids to private school. This bill would give a one-time free pass for every parent of a school-age child to change that basic fact. Even as amended, with the limited two year time frame, the basic problem with the bill still remains.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-037

SB21-067 Strengthening Civics Education (Coram (R), Hansen (D)) [McLachlan (D), Carver (R)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Moderate

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: Not yet released

Goal:

  • Increase state requirements on teaching civics, including the structure of our government and how it came to be that way through history
  • Create a state seal of civics teaching excellence to be awarded to deserving schools. Anyone earning the seal will be publicly acknowledged and celebrated at the legislature
  • Create a diploma endorsement in civics for high school graduates who meet certain criteria

Description:

The precise new instruction requirements are: teaching the three branches of government, how laws are created at the federal, state, and local level, and how citizens shape and influence government policy and actions; and formation and development of the government of the US and of Colorado using foundation documents and the significance of these documents in modern society (See Additional Information for more detail). Standards must be reviewed as soon as possible to address these additions and the state board must take into consideration the recommendations of the history, culture, social contributions, and civil government in education commission.

Schools must apply for the seal of excellence. The state must work with the history, culture, social contributions, and civil government in education commission to come up with criteria for the award, but this must at minimum include:

  • Incorporating civics across a broad range of grades and subjects
  • Following the standards laid out in the bill
  • Instruction in news media literacy
  • High-quality, project-based assessments in civics at least twice in grades 4-8 and once in grades 9-12. The assessment must demonstrate that the student has learned what state standards require and show understanding of the learning areas required by the bill
  • Provide opportunities for students to engage in real-world learning activities, which can include mock elections
  • Require students to engage in service learning opportunities to address issues in their communities
  • Partner with local governments or service clubs or other civic organizations to provide opportunities for students to participate in internships, apprenticeships, or other civic engagements outside the classroom
  • Partner with History Colorado to engage in service learning opportunities or other programs that can accessed remotely
  • Provide evidence of student learning and achievement in civics

Schools can partner with local service organizations and solicit donations. Any district that has 90% or more of its schools earn the seal gets a seal of excellence for the entire district.

The requirements to get a civics endorsement for a high-school diploma are:

  • Overall GPA of at least 3.5 in all social studies course requirements
  • Passing the advanced placement test in US government and politics with at least a score of 4 (if offered by the school)
  • One or more service learning projects in the community post-6th grade
  • Participates in at least one of the following: simulations of the democratic process in or outside the classroom; at least one full term on the state’s youth advisory council; at least one year in the state’s student leader’s institute
  • Complete a capstone project in civics that is project-based and experiential, and addresses one or more issues in the student’s community

Additional Information:

The precise founding documents that must be taught are: the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Colorado Constitution, the US and Colorado Bill of Rights, amendments to both Constitutions, and other foundational documents including landmark court cases.

Schools must provide annual information to students about the requirements needed to get the civic endorsement to a diploma starting in 6th grade.


Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We have a crisis of citizenship in this country, including recognition of our democratic form of government and how precisely it works
  • No form of democracy can survive a disinterested and unengaged citizenry
  • Our focus on reading, writing, and math has left social studies and civics in the dust in our schools. We need to refocus

In Further Detail: Our current political environment speaks to the extreme crisis we are facing. Citizens do not understand the basics of how our Constitution works, what the powers of various branches of government are, or even hold bedrock beliefs in the importance of democracy. Study after study finds adults who don’t know the branches of government, can’t name their representatives, and lack basic understanding or interest in current events. We now have sizeable numbers of people who believe in conspiracy theories with completely false notions of how the federal government operates and how the president is (and is not) chosen. Part of this is a failure of engagement, which works best when it starts early. Voting, engaging in the issues of the day, appreciating free speech and civil discourse, all of these things are habits that can be built over time. No democracy can survive if its voting citizens don’t care enough—eventually forces of authoritarianism will take root. A prime place to build these habits is school, but unfortunately our increased focus on reading, writing, and math standards has left civics with fewer resources and time. This bill will reset some of that balanceand acknowledge those schools and students who excel in this area.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • We just had the biggest turnout election in modern times—a lot of the problems in our civics and our discourse stem from media consumption habits not lack of interest
  • We do not have infinite time or resources in school and we’re rightly acknowledged that a foundation in reading, writing, and math are critical to success later in life. It’s not that we aren’t teaching civics—we just have to prioritize

In Further Detail: Our problem as a country does not seem to stem so much from lack of interest. Or really lack of schooling. Everyone learns about the three branches in school. Rather the issue seems to be media consumption habits that allow vast amounts of disinformation, propaganda, and outright lies to be how people view and understand the world. We just had the losing candidate for President, who got 7 million fewer votes than his opponent, get more votes than anyone has ever previously gotten in the history of our country. So fixing our civics problem seems to be more about fixing our media problem. When it comes to schools themselves, if we had unlimited time and resources of course teaching civics is important and can be done in a variety of methods. But we have to prioritize and while we give the basic foundation in civics, we have to drill much deeper in reading, writing, and math.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-067

SB21-081 Measures To Prevent The Misuse Of Safe2Tell (Kolker (D)) [Michaelson Jenet (D)]

PASSED

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

  • Allow the attorney general to give information gained through the Safe2Tell program to law enforcement if it is deemed necessary to prevent imminent harm or injury to people
  • Allow search warrants for Safe2Tell materials identifying a reporting person if a court determines there is probable cause that someone knowingly reported false information [amend]Attorney general must be notified and allowed to file their own brief before any decision is made.

Description:

Safe2Tell is an anonymous tip line that allows students, parents, and community members to anonymously report unsafe and/or risky behavior. It is designed to prevent bullying, abuse, violence, suicide, planned school attacks, and other concerning behavior.

The warrant request must come sealed from law enforcement or prosecutors in the form of a sworn affidavit. The court must review the materials privately (called in-camera review in the legal profession). Any warrant issued must also be sealed and all information must be kept confidential. Court may only lift the seals and confidentiality [amend if charges are filed or] upon request from prosecutors showing of good cause to do so. This consideration must also be done in-camera (privately). District attorney must consider if restorative justice programs are more appropriate than criminal charges for false claims.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • In some cases the anonymity of Safe2Tell works against it functioning at its best, the bill gets at two potential problems: false reports and imminent danger while still providing sufficient safeguards
  • When a verb has been created for creating a false report on someone (Safe2Telling, like Swating), it shows there is a problem

In Further Detail: Safe2Tell is a great program, but its anonymity can be used as a weapon to bully others, the precise behavior it is designed to prevent. We had at least 500 false tips in the 2018-19 school year. We now have a verb for malicious false reporting to damage another: Safe2Telling (like Swating when you send a SWAT team to someone’s house through a false report). And while the program is careful to point out that false tips will be investigated, it is also designed to make it nearly impossible to get its materials unless a court case is already in motion. That also gets at the other part of this bill, which is that in dangerous situations it can be hard for law enforcement to get the information they need to protect everyone, again due to the anonymity protections of the program. The tip provided to the program may not sufficient for law enforcement to fully investigate and in an emergency, every second counts. The bill would allow law enforcement, if necessary, to get that fuller picture. In both cases there are still sufficient safeguards. The Attorney General must ok release in one instance, and a judge in the other.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • False reporting keeps ticking down year after year, we might not need to break the anonymity provisions in this manner
  • Tips are already forwarded to law enforcement if appropriate by program design, so this is about breaking some of the anonymity rules in order for law enforcement to expand investigations to include the person who made the report—that is a step too far and should not be necessary in emergency situations

In Further Detail: As people get used to Safe2Tell we see the false tip reporting ticking down each year, so we may not need to break the anonymity provisions in this manner. For law enforcement, they already have access to the information in the tip, so they can investigate an emergency. Information about the person who made the report should not be necessary. The ability to break anonymity in this manner may create a chilling effect on people using Safe2Tell, particularly if people are prosecuted for false reports.

SB21-114 Minimum Setback New Schools From Existing Oil And Gas (Kirkmeyer (R))

KILLED ON SENATE CALENDAR

AMENDED: Moderate

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

  • Require new school construction to be set-back from existing oil and gas facilities to the amount that new oil and gas facilities must be set-back from schools. If there is a local ordinance, that determines the distance only if it is further back than the state requirement. If not, it is the distance required by the state

Description:

The state requirement is 2,000 feet but some counties have smaller setbacks. The definition of existing facilities excludes shut-in wells but does includes plugged or abandoned wells and shut-in wells.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • This is about basic fairness and public health: we are saying you cannot build a new oil and gas facility within a certain distance of a school, but right now a school can build a new building within that no-go zone which is absolutely not what we want them to do—we have these setbacks for health reasons. A school could get within less than 50 feet of an existing facility right now
  • The rules here in terms of shut-in wells and plugged and abandoned wells are identical to those of the oil and gas commission for setbacks that apply to new oil and gas facilities

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • We should enforce the state setback rule in all cases, Weld County has a 500 foot setback for instance, which creates uneven rules across jurisdictions and could infringe on safety, unlike the rules for new oil and gas facilities which must adhere to the state setback rule regardless of local rules (unless the local rules are stronger)
  • Plugged or abandoned wells are extremely dangerous and should be included in these setbacks, the reason they aren’t part of the oil and gas commission rules is because those rules deal with new facilities and a plugged or abandoned well is not a new facility—a shut-in well can become a new facility so that is why it is included. Since we are now talking about opposite circumstances, existing oil and gas and new school, we need to include all existing oil and gas facilities

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-114

SB21-058 Approval Of Alternative Principal Programs (Story (D), Coram (R)) [Woodrow (D), Larson (R)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: $16,692
Fiscal Impact: None beyond appropriation

Goal:

  • Allow schools to create general alternative principal programs in addition to the already allowed personalized alternative principal programs. These are on-the-job training programs that allow people who do not have a principal license to obtain one, while under supervision, while performing the job.

Description:

Current law allows for schools to create alternative principal programs, but these must be individualized. There is no ability for a school district or other similar educational bodies to create an alternative principal program. That is, a set program that anyone qualified may pursue and graduate from. This bill creates the ability for schools to create such a program, with the approval of the state board of education. See Additional Information for more detail on how alternative principal programs work in detail. Charter schools cannot use this program.

To be approved a program must at a minimum:

  • Provide information, experience, and training so that the person in the program gets the skills comparable to someone with an initial principal license
  • Provide information and training on the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, individualized education plans, the Child Find program, and effective special education classroom practices
  • Prove professional competency in areas required by state board for principals
  • Include supervision by mentor principals, performance evaluations, and a planned program of instruction to achieve required goals

Additional Information:

State educational board must establish a schedule for those operating or looking to operate an alternative program to periodically seek reapproval.

Alternative principal programs, including those individualized programs already allowed by law, are three year programs that cannot be renewed, that is you have three years to make it through. Upon completion the state may issue a principal’s license but it is not required to do so. Someone in one of these programs must be under the supervision of someone with a professional principal license. To qualify for the program, individuals must have at least a Bachelor’s degree in higher education and the school must demonstrate a need for the principal or assistant principal position that is to be filled. Upon approval the candidate then fills that job for three years while completing the alternative program.


Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • This helps the existing program be more accessible for all schools that need it across the state
  • We know what knowledge and skills are required at the end of these types of programs, we don’t need all of them to be individualized as they are now

In Further Detail: This program exists because we have a shortage in the state of people who either have a principal’s license or who meet the immediate qualifications for it to fill all of the principal and assistant principal jobs in the state. But right now it is too fussy—the need to create individualized programs for any person interested creates large roadblocks. And it is not necessary, we know what knowledge people need to have at the end of the process so we can design set programs that schools can access when they need to. This bill should help us unlock the full potential of this program and ensure that all schools in the state that need it can easily access it.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • On-the-job training of this sort brings people with a variety of different gaps in their skills and knowledge and therefore a personalized program is going to work better
  • We can support schools struggling with creating personalized programs in other ways

In Further Detail: This is on-the-job training. We are taking the leadership position in a school and saying we’ll give to someone who we’ll teach how to do the job while they are in it. Sometimes the need is so great that we have no other choice, but in all such cases the individual skills the person brings to the position is incredibly important. Because we are dealing with a wide variety of past experiences and therefore a variety of different gaps in skills and knowledge. So if we don’t have a personalized program, we are going to be inefficient in ensuring we get qualified principals out the other end. That may mean worse results. If we need to give smaller schools more support to navigate personalized programs, we can do that without opening up the door in this manner.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-058

SB21-151 Literacy Curriculum Transparency (Buckner (D), Rankin (R)) [Young (D), Rich (R)]

PASSED

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: $91,944
Fiscal Impact: Negligible each year

Goal:

  • Require schools to post on their website their core and supplemental reading curriculum or a detailed description of it, by grade, used in each school. Also the core and supplemental reading instructional and intervention reading instruction, services, and supports in each school. Finally the number of students in K-3rd grade on READ plans and number of K-3 students who had READ plans but have achieved competency, as well as the school’s budget and narrative explanation for its used of READ Act intervention money.

Description:

The READ act is designed to help students achieve grade level in reading in grades K-3.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • This is about sunshine. We recognize that we are not getting the results we want out of the READ act. The percentage of students who are below grade level has actually risen slightly since its introduction (part of this could be due to better identification of struggling students) and is now at 60%. Kids who fall behind early never really catch up, there are numerous studies that demonstrate this. And we also know that part of the problem, frankly again, is that some of the instruction is not right
  • This puts each school’s information in this area out in the public eye, where parents and advocates can see which schools are succeeding and which are not so we can apply pressure in the appropriate places. Remember that the state is limited in what it can dictate to local school districts

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • Sunshine is meaningless without context and the data provided here does not provide context. First, the state knows these things already, so this is not exposing new information to policymakers. Second, every school serves a different population and every child’s situation is different. To just throw the numbers out there and expect people to be able to draw reasonable conclusions from them is not realistic. By all means we should (and have) change the READ act to provide more accountability and best-practices. But trying to publicly shame schools is not the way to make positive change.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-151

SB21-106 Concerning Successful High School Transitions (Coleman (D), Priola (R)) [McLachlan (D), Baisley (R)]

PASSED

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: $264,337
Fiscal Impact: Around $300,000 to $600,000 a year

Goal:

  • Create a new pilot program called the fourth-year innovation pilot program for students from low-income families who successfully earn their high school degree early and are participating in a different pilot program called the high school innovative learning pilot program. That program allows schools to still receive full funding for students who are participating in innovative learning opportunities outside the classroom regardless of exact student-teacher instruction and contact hours. The fourth-year program takes 75% of that per-pupil money and directs it toward the costs of post-graduate education for the student (45% for those that graduate prior to their second semester)
  • Bill also tweaks the existing innovative pilot program by allowing schools to participate independent of their districts, requiring the state to consider what sorts of opportunities are being provided, and how the learning plan will disproportionately benefit underserved students

Description:

To be eligible for the four-year pilot, a student must either be eligible for a reduced or free student lunch or for federal Pell grants. Eligible post-secondary programs include degree or certificate programs offered by institutions of higher education and training programs approved by the state as part of its workforce development program.

To be more precise, students are eligible for 75% of the state’s average per-pupil amount or $3,500, whichever is greater. Students who graduate prior to their second semester are 45% or $2,000, whichever is greater. The student share is deposited into a fund created by the bill. For full-year students, the school’s 25% is given to it as part of the regular budget process. For ½ year students, the school still gets 100% (budgeting is done prior to the school year) and the additional 45% is transferred into the program’s fund. Participating schools must report to the state if someone is on-track to graduate early by March 15th. The last year of the pilot program is the 2025-26 school year.

The fund itself pays for the tuition, fees, and other related expenses directly to the post-secondary program. This must be done within 30 days of the student’s request. If the program has any money left over it goes to the student, who must spend it on tuition, fees, books, transportation, or other expenses associated with their program or for any equipment needed to pursue work-based learning training. Students must use their fund money before turning 21 within 18 months of graduation. Forfeited money goes to the general fund.

Pilot program is limited to five school districts or charter schools or board of cooperative services. State must select participants based on applications, with an attempt to balance, urban, suburban, and rural providers. State must report annually on the program to the legislature.

Additional Information:

If a school blows the March reporting deadline, eligible graduates still get their money through supplemental budget requests. First group of eligible students must graduate early during 2021-22 school year. Applying school districts must indicate which high schools in the district will participate.

Annual report must include: number of eligible graduates receiving state funding, their demographic data, and their high schools, amount of funding to each eligible graduate and to each high school, exact post-secondary program that received the funding, amount of funds forfeited by students turning 21, and requested adjustments to the program.

Bill also encourages the state to select up to twenty new applicants to the innovative pilot program and not limit itself to schools that had part-time students in the previous year and enroll fewer than 5,000 students (those criteria are part of the original pilot program criteria). For the opportunities being provided by the applying school, the state should consider if they include opportunities to participate in registered or unregistered apprenticeships, internships, technical training, or skills programs through an industry provider, teacher training opportunity, concurrent enrollment, or programs leading to industry-recognized credentials.


Auto-Repeal: January 2028

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

In Further Detail: This bill is all about melding various education opportunities together. First, we have the innovative learning pilot program, which is designed to help some students get out-of-classroom opportunities towards post-graduation success. This goes along with the state’s career development success program, which the bill tweaks the innovative learning pilot to more align with. But if we have students who are able to do these out-of-classroom projects, some of them may in fact be graduating early. That provides a prime opportunity for us to help boost those who might struggle to afford doing
it on their own into post-secondary education programs. Remember that the innovative learning pilot program ensures that we are already paying the regular per-pupil rate for this student. Instead of sending all of that money to the school, which does not necessarily need it for a student who isn’t in regular classes, we can divert part of it to the student’s post-secondary education. In sum, we are creating opportunities for high school students to participate in learning outside the school to assist them in preparing for the big leap after high school and helping some of our highest achieving students who may otherwise struggle to pay for post-secondary education. That will lead to increased employment opportunities and higher career earnings potential, which will only benefit the state economically. Everyone wins.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • We don’t have unlimited resources and we do have underfunded schools, so no money should be going to a school that doesn’t really have a full-time student behind it and no money should be going to a student to pay for post-secondary education
  • The 2nd semester students actually will cause an increase in funding for them, 145% of normal, since the school still gets its 100% and the student gets 45%

In Further Detail: In a world of unlimited resources, all of this makes sense. But when it comes to state education funding, we know that every dollar is absolutely critical. Once you take a kid out of the classroom they aren’t going to need as much support from the school, so we should not keep paying the school as if nothing has changed. By all means encourage schools to get high school kids out into the world, but school funding is a zero-sum game and we should not be taking funds away from kids in the class full-time to provide it to kids who aren’t. That includes providing them with post-secondary education. Our K-12 education money should go to K-12 education. And although it won’t amount to much, the bill actually creates an additional funding requirement for those 2nd semester graduation students. The school still gets 100% (even though the student isn’t really in school) and the student gets 45% on top of that. 145% for the one student.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-106

SB21-167 Regulation Of Child Care Centers (Holbert (R), Bridges (D)) [Gray (D), Larson (R)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

  • Eliminate the need for an additional inspection of a child care center on school grounds that only is available to school-age children if it was already inspected within the previous 12 months as part of the school health and safety inspection. Also require the state to come up with rules that allow for elimination of duplicate or conflicting requirements for these facilities
  • During an emergency, allow child care centers to use an employee that does not meet caregiver qualifications to supervise children for a limited time while a qualified caregiver is secured. Two hours is the limit, except for rural areas where it is 4 hours although this can be extended as need be Time must be limited to reasonable amount required by the emergency. Centers must maintain child-staff ratios required by the state during emergencies.

Description:

Specific requirements the state must come up with rules for are: playground facilities must accept certification from national playground safety certification expert, the already mentioned facility inspection, and the ability for students to self-administer medication already allowed by the school. State must also create a rule that allows for the acceptance of a signed affidavit from the facility affirming compliance with record keeping and document retention requirements.

Emergencies are defined as: law enforcement action, illness, accident, weather, traffic conditions, death, use of a restroom, or providing special attention or care to a particular child.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • These before and after school child care programs are already inspected as part of the school grounds, we don’t need special extra inspections
  • In an emergency, we want an adult who has passed the required background checks to be watching the children, not doubling up on one qualified caregiver and certainly not leaving the children alone

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • The location here is a red herring. A before- or after-school program is the same thing no matter where it is located: a bunch of kids together in one place looked after by a few adults. This is not a school or a classroom, which is what the department of education is designed to regulate. The schools themselves are frequently not running these programs, they are outsourced

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-167

SB21-172 Educator Pay Raise Fund (Danielson (D), Garcia (D)) [Gonzales-Gutierrez (D), Ortiz (D)]

PASSED

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

  • Create a fund that schools can use to increase the salary paid to teachers and the hourly wages paid to non-licensed employees

Description:

Also creates a task force to make recommendations about the process by which the state will use this fund. This must include a requirement that no school can use the money to fill-in salaries (that is it can only be used to pay additional salary). Task force must consider: number of educators a school employs, salary and wage amounts paid relative to other schools, school's ability to recruit and retain teachers, and school's degree of demonstrated financial need. Must make recommendations by January 15, 2022.

Additional Information:

12 Task force members are appointed by president of Senate and speaker of House. They must include: four teachers or school employees appointed with input of organizations that represents educators, two rural public school adminstrators appointed with input of organization that represents educators, two non-rural public school administrators (one must be a superintendent) appointed with input of organization representing school executives, two people who serve as directors on school boards appointed with input of organization representing school district boards of education, and two people employed by charter schools, one an educator and one an adminstrator, appointed with input of statewide advocacy group for charter schools.

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We don’t pay our teachers enough, we consistently rank below average at best when it comes to various teach pay comparisons to other states
  • We cannot dictate to local schools how they spend their money or even how they spend their per-pupil money from the state
  • With our resources as they are, rather than as we’d like them to be, this is the best way to create a dedicated pool of money just for improving teacher and other school employee pay

In Further Detail: We simply do not pay our teachers enough. Multiple studies show us doing slightly below average at best when it comes to various teacher pay comparisons to other states. Perhaps the worst is the comparison of what teachers make in this state as a starting salary ($33,400) versus the average salary for all occupations. While it might not be a complete apples-to-apples comparison, finishing dead-last is still a bad thing. The same study found that if a teacher moved from Denver to New Orleans they would instantly improve their standard of living by 50%. Of the 178 school districts in the state, all but four reported a minimum teacher salary of less than $40,000. As a result teachers here frequently work multiple jobs to make ends meet. And it is not just teachers that struggle. Our school need paraprofessionals, custodians, food service workers, and office workers to function. But these folks are also underpaid, with some making the equivalent of $4 to $5 an hour on the low end. We cannot force districts to pay certain amounts, we cannot dictate what they do with the per-pupil funding the state provides and we have to work with the means we have in the state. TABOR constrains our ability to bring in more revenue (in fact we have to return hundreds of millions of dollars this year). We have dire needs in mental health care and transportation. This bill simply provides a place to set aside money specifically for teacher and other employee raises.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • This doesn’t do very much, it is unfunded when we probably need tens of millions of dollars just to start with and unfocused. No prioritization is given for any money this fund does receive

In Further Detail: This doesn’t do very much. There is no money appropriated for the fund, and to be clear we’d probably need more than $100 million to truly make a dent in the pay of teachers and employees around the state. And there is no prioritization requirements put on the money in the fund. Just how are going to decide who gets whatever is put into this fund? Highest financial need? Based on what criteria? Number of teachers paid below $40,000 a year (which is specifically mentioned in the declaration of intent in the bill)? How do we avoid rewarding freeloader districts that have drastically lowered their property taxes and so cannot afford to pay their teachers properly?

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-172

SB21-157 Increase Cap Charter School Moral Obligation Bonds (Priola (R)) [Michaelson Jenet (D), Baisley (R)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: None unless there is mass default

Goal:

  • Raise the cap on the amount of money the state’s charter school moral obligation bond program fund can hold from $500 million to $750 million. This fund is used as a backup for charter school bonds if the charter school defaults.

Description:

As of the end of 2019, the outstanding value of all bonds for which this fund is obliged was $405 million. This cap has been raised twice since the fund’s creation, most recently in 2014.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • This program allows our charters to get better financing on their bond terms since the state is a guarantor against default. But we have to ensure that the cap stays ahead of the total amount of bonds out in the world in case of some sort of catastrophe that would require all bonds to be repaid at once by the state. Getting too close for comfort right now.

Arguments Against: n/a

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-157

SB21-182 School Discipline (Buckner (D)) [Herod (D)]

KILLED BY BILL SPONSORS

Appropriation: None
Fiscal Impact: Save about $700,000 a year

Goal:

  • Prohibit the handcuffing of elementary school students in schools. Prohibits police from arresting or issuing a summons, ticket, or notice for appearance in court or at a police station for almost all misdemeanor and petty offenses that are not violent or large in scale (see Description). All such conduct must instead be reported to the principal
  • Prohibit schools from referring a student to law enforcement for conduct at school or on school busses or at school sanctioned events unless there are no other available alternatives for addressing serious bodily injury inflicted on another person or an imminent threat of bodily injury or if schools are obligated by law
  • Require any school that contracts school resource officers (police in schools essentially) to adopt a policy that requires candidates to demonstrate a record of experience developing positive relationships with youth, have no disciplinary actions or sustained complaints in their service record, and volunteer for the position. All resource officers must be constantly evaluated based on their conduct, with students, parents, and staff encouraged to provide feedback. All evaluations must be shared with the state and state police board and provided to the public upon request
  • Bars schools from declaring a student habitually disruptive (which bears on suspension and expulsion criteria) unless the school can demonstrate it has implemented a behavioral management plan for the student
  • Requires all schools to track disciplinary actions taken by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, socioeconomic status, and instructional program service type. This must be reported to the state. Each school must also develop and annually review a plan to address disproportionate discipline practices based on those same categories and must hold public meetings before and after creating the plan

Description:

Bill also adds chronic absenteeism (absence for any reason for more than 10% of school days) and risk of dropping out due to disciplinary actions to expulsion and suspension across several at-risk definitions in programs designed to help students who are in danger of being expelled. This includes adding attendance supports and behavior supports to actions schools can take to try to intervene and altering the state’s at-risk grant program to allow partnerships with local government agencies to provide help to school employees to support students identified as at-risk of dropping out due to chronic absenteeism or disciplinary actions. This can include: attendance, discipline, and grading policies and practice review; training in behavioral interventions and classroom management; and equity, diversity, and inclusion training, including anti-bias training.

Removes ban on failure of a district to identify an at-risk student as a defense in an expulsion proceedings.

Exact list of crimes officers cannot arrest students for: interference with staff, faculty or students in carrying out their duties at the school; disorderly conduct (as defined by criminal statute); theft when the value of the item(s) stolen is less than $300 (again as defined by criminal statue); trespass or interference at a public building or second degree trespass that involves remaining in someone else’s car (again, statute); criminal mischief when the damage is less than $1,000; gambling; loitering; simple harassment; possessing or consuming ethyl alcohol; giving a minor alcohol or attempting to acquire alcohol as a minor; underage smoking; misdemeanor or petty marijuana offense; possession of drug paraphernalia; misdemeanor menacing; non-violent obstruction of a first responder; and any other criminal violation that does not involve serious bodily injury or threat of serious bodily injury and is a misdemeanor or petty offense.

As part of the policy and plan to address disproportionate discipline, schools are encouraged to provide training on best practices and skills to address disproportionate discipline and create new, inclusionary approaches to discipline.

Bill adds equitable enforcement to the requirements for school conduct and discipline codes and tweaks the language of some of the requirements to focus more on age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate punishment that support student learning, positive school climates, restorative justice, trauma-informed approaches, emotional and social supports, mental and behavioral health services, and other wraparound services that use suspension and expulsion as last-measure resorts to protect safety of school community.

The resource officer’s employing law enforcement agency must be a part of the evaluation process. Specifically evaluations must include the frequency of tickets and arrests made by the resource officer and the actions the officer takes to apply preventative, restorative, and trauma-informed approaches to disciplinary issues. Schools must also enter into a memorandum of understanding with the law enforcement agency which must address: strategies, procedures, and practices that minimize student exposure to the criminal and juvenile justice system and prioritize enhancing student learning, safety, and well-being; procedures and policies to establish a sustainable and successful balance between education and protecting students, teachers, and the school; and limitations on student referrals to law enforcement as required by this bill.

Additional Information:

Every school district must have an employee that is a liaison to the state for discipline and training resources and reporting discipline statistics.

For the creation of the plan to address disproportionate disciplinary actions, schools must provide written notification to parents of the plan, issues identified by it, the timeline for adoption, and dates/times of public hearings. 30 days notice is required before the hearing on adoption of the plan.

State board of education must review all data provided on suspensions and expulsions and if available, the reason for the discipline. Data the state receives on discipline under the provisions of the bill must be reported to the federal biennial Civil Rights Data Collection survey. Data must comply with federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy law.

Removes ability for schools to provide partial credit for make-up work missed during a suspension. Adds course remediation, credit recovery. Supplemental education services, work-based learning opportunities, and concurrent enrollment to the definition of “educational services” as what schools can provide students.


Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • Police and schools don’t mix very well at the moment, with an almost endless stream of incidents nationwide (and in Colorado) of officers treating students like budding criminals. Handcuffing for minor infractions, arrests for youthful indiscretions that harmed no one, and no tolerance whatsoever for the propensity for kids to challenge authority
  • Treating these indiscretions and mistakes like criminal behavior pushes kids into the criminal justice system, the school-to-prison pipeline, that makes having a bright future as a contributing member of our society with good employment and a secure life difficult
  • The burden of that pipeline falls disproportionately on students of color
  • So we need to force police to stop treating kids like criminals, get a better handle on school resource officers, and confront head-on the disparities in punishment we see in our schools. We can keep our kids safe with different forms of discipline

In Further Detail: Police and schools don’t mix well right now. Police are authority figures, used to absolute deference and people immediately following their orders. Schools are not that kind of place and the best schools work to develop positive cultures and punishment structures. Not every fight needs to end in an arrest, not every student talking back needs to be handcuffed, and no student needs to be threatened with a firearm. There are numerous horror stories of students being handcuffed, tackled, arrested, and threatened with a firearm, for simply violating school rules. Just this month an eleven year-old was handcuffed and left in a squad car for two hours. His crime? Scratching a classmate with a pencil. Just a taste: criminal charges for disrupting a school for fake burping, disorderly conduct for cursing, assault and battery with a weapon for throwing a baby carrot, drug possession for carrying a maple leaf, battery on police officer for a five year-old(!) for an ADHD-related tantrum, terroristic threats against an 8 year-old disabled student who threatened their teacher, pepper spray used in a school that contaminated the cafeteria food, pepper spray used on a 15 year-old that had locked herself in the bathroom, a 16 year-old tased for punching a wall, an elementary student whose wrist was broken when an officer tried to arrest him for participating in an argument, a boy beaten with a nightstick or using profanity, drawing a gun and pointing it at a student 24 times in three years in a district in Texas, and in Florida, threatening to shoot a high schooler who was not supposed to be in the school parking lot and tried to leave. And that is a very small taste. Many states have found a spike in juvenile arrests during the school year due to law enforcement in schools. We have to give kids the chance to make kid mistakes without pushing them into the criminal justice system, where just being involved in one charge dramatically drops the prospects for future success. We arrested or cited over 4,000 students across the state for non-violent misdemeanors in the 2017-18 school year. Finally, there is a severe racial angle to all of this. Black students are already twice as likely as white students to be referred to law enforcement. A study of New York City middle schools found that black boys from neighborhoods with increased school police presence saw their academic performance drop. In the 2018-19 school year, Black children were over three times more likely to be suspended than white students and Hispanics were nearly twice as likely. Numerous other research demonstrates harsher punishment for children of color than for white children for the same offense. This is literally the school-to-prison pipeline on steroids. So what do we do? First, stop policing the schools the same way we police the streets. Only as a measure of last resort should students be involved in the criminal justice system. This also involves greater control over school resource officers (literally police embedded in schools). Second, pay closer attention to suspension and expulsion data and attack the disproportionate problems we find there head-on, with community involvement. Third, pay more attention to chronic absenteeism as a warning sign that needs intervention and put more effort into so-called habitually disruptive students before we kick them out of school and push them down a dark path that few recover from. We can still keep our schools safe and our kids safe without treating our kids like budding criminals in need of punishment to teach them a lesson.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • Police in schools done wrong is bad but we cannot strip our officers of the tools they have to do their job. Students will know officers have little recourse and will treat them accordingly. This is also true of disruption in schools, which affects everyone who is there trying to learn and trying to teach
  • School administrators also should not have their hands tied for referring kids to the police, for many of the same reasons
  • We should not downplay that some schools in this state are dangerous places, even if we are not considering school shootings
  • School resource officer evaluation is vague, does not include any quantitative data on the positive elements the officer is supposed to bring around school safety, and is open to abuse from disgruntled students and parents

In Further Detail: There is no doubt that police in schools done wrong is bad. But we cannot strip officers of all of the tools they have to do their primary job: keep everyone safe. If students know that the ability for officers to take any action against them is severely limited, they are less likely to listen to officers trying to keep the peace. This also ties the hands of school administrators who again are severely limited in what they can report to law enforcement. We shouldn’t sugar coat that some schools, especially some high schools, are dangerous places even if we are not thinking about school shootings. We also should not downplay the disruption that can occur in schools from what would be considered criminal activity (even if it is minor). That disruption impacts everyone in a classroom including all of the other students trying to get their education. When it comes to safety and disruption in our schools, police should have more involvement than the bill would allow. The bill also puts a target on school resource officers. Parents and kids who are unhappy with appropriately administered discipline have easy access to complain about the officer to the vaguely setup evaluation process which does not contain much criteria other than number of tickets or arrests made (clearly meant to be negative) and qualitative information about the officer. What about how safe the school is? How many injuries or reports of bullying or threats or suspensions or expulsions at the school? Isn’t that all relevant to how well the resource officer is doing their job? Of course all of that is potential positive data.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-182

SB21-185 Supporting Educator Workforce In Colorado (Zenzinger (D), Rankin (R)) [McLachlan (D), McCluskie (D)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Moderate

Appropriation: $12.7 million
Fiscal Impact: None this year beyond appropriation, about $14 million next year

Goal:

  • Create the Teacher Recruitment Education and Preparation Program (TREP), which allows high school students following the teaching career pathway this bill creates (see below) to concurrently enroll in post-secondary courses. This is similar to the existing ASCENT program where the school received per pupil funding for 5th and 6th year “seniors” (see Additional Information). Students must be selected by their schools, not require developmental education courses, and be accepted into an institution of higher education. Program is capped by what the legislature approves each year. For next year the cap is 200 students.
  • Create the Educator Recruitment and Retention program to award participants up to $10,000 a year for tuition costs at an educator prep program in exchange for agreeing to teach for three years in a rural school district. The state must also provide services to program participants and schools (see Description). Honorably discharged members of the armed forces qualify within three years of discharge from the military, otherwise you must already have at least a Bachelor’s degree, be a working paraprofessional working toward a Bachelor’s degree, meet state vocational and technical teacher requirements, or have the equivalent of 18 semester hours of postsecondary enrollment and six years of military experience in a vocational or technical field. Appropriates $5 million to the program
  • Creates a career pathway for teaching which must connect school districts, local district colleges, community colleges and four-year institutions of higher education with adult programs. It must align with teaching licensing standards and consist of a clearly defined path from level of education to the next with the ultimate goal of earning licensure as a teacher. It must also provide help along the way (see Description)
  • Requires the department of education to direct resources toward promoting all of its teacher education and preparation programs (there are nine existing programs and the one created by this bill). Must collaborate with non-profits that support entry into the teaching profession
  • Allows schools to employ adjunct instructors to address recruiting challenges or to establish a diverse workforce (right now can only be to provide specialized enrichment in addition to and support of required content areas)

Description:

Schools must send back any unused money by TREP participants at the end of the year. State board of community colleges and occupational education must approve guidelines for the program established by the state board of education (K-12), including selection criteria for the program. To help the legislature decide how many TREP participants to fund, schools must submit the total number of potential participants for the next school year.

Educator recruitment and retention program must provide: educator recruitment through one-on-one counseling and career and teacher job fairs, substitute teacher boot camps for newly authorized subs and the school, job placement platforms for educators and schools, individual candidate coaching for job placement opportunities, professional development through first three years as an educator, and retention counseling services for schools. Ex-military who do not meet the three year requirement to get tuition assistance can still get all of these program aids. Anyone who receives the $10,000 assistance and then does not work the three years required in a rural county must pay the money back.

State must report to the legislature on the recruitment and retention program annually with total number of applicants, number of qualified program participants, total financial assistance distributed, summary of data from participants and schools on the program’s effectiveness, and any recommended changes to the program.

The teacher pathway must created by a collaboration of the department of education and administrators of institutions of higher education. Education options must be non-duplicative, allow for credit transfer, give the opportunity to earn post-secondary credits, and maximize credits for prior learning. The program must also provide academic and career counseling, best practices is wraparound support services (especially at transition points), and support and develop individual career and academic plans. It must also have curriculum and instructional strategies that are appropriate for adult students and that embed learning and skill-building in a work-related context. It may allow for a student to earn income.

To be issued an adjunct authorization by the state, current law (which the bill does not change) requires the individual to possess outstanding talent and demonstrate specific abilities and knowledge in a particular area of specialization and has been employed for at least five years in their area of specialization or holds at least a Bachelor’s degree in that field. The school must request the authorization (and right now has to demonstrate student need, but the bill gets rid of that). Authorization is valid for three years and can be renewed.

Appropriates $5 million to the existing educator recruitment and retention program.

State must report in 2031 on the effectiveness of all of the teacher preparation programs and if they should be continued, changed, or repealed.

Requires the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center to create and operate an educator well-being and mental health program to provide support services to the state's K-12 teachers. Services must include a hotline for educators providing daily phone and text access, staffed support groups, and training and support programs for educators that focus on coping with stress and building resilience during the pandemic. State is to enter into a limited fee-for-service contract to fund the program. $240,000 appropriated for program. University must report to the state each year on the program. Program expires July 2026.

Additional Information:

Department of education and institutions of higher education must publicize the teaching career pathway on its website and social media.

TREP program begins in 2022-23 school year. The legislation states its goals are to increase number of low-income and traditionally underserved populations in postsecondary education and create a more diverse teacher workforce, so the state may use those as prioritization criteria if there are more students than slots in the program. For graduation rates, schools are to count TREP students as graduated in the year they meet the state’s minimum graduation requirements.

For the funding of TREP, schools use the per-pupil funds to pay college tuition at the resident community college rate. These kids are not classified as college students and therefore cannot receive federal or state financial aid. The amount each school district receives will change as per-pupil funding changes each year, but as an example, the estimated 2021-22 extended high school per pupil rate is $7,625 per student.

Requires the state to provide technical support to schools to help them access all 10 teacher prep programs and in otherwise recruiting people to pursue teaching careers.

The bill clarifies that someone with an adjunct authorization can only teach at their authorized school and only under the supervision of a licensed professional teacher. Bill forbids employing adjunct instructors as full-time teachers unless there are no qualified licensed teachers for the position.


Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

  • We have massive unmet needs for teachers in Colorado, particularly in rural areas and at the same time are seeing decreases in enrollment and completion of educator preparation programs
  • Creating a career pathway and accompanying TREP program allows us to try to encourage more Coloradans to become teachers and at the same help more Coloradans into post-secondary education
  • Encouraging people just out of the military to become teachers (as well as some other non-military educators) by giving them money in exchange for teaching in our rural areas for at least three years obviously fills shortage problems and it is possible some of those folks will stick
  • We do have quite of few of these incentive programs but no requirement in law right now for the state to actually market them, which the bill corrects
  • The bill actually strengthens some protections around preventing schools from using adjunct professors as full-time teachers but at the same time helps us not only with shortages, but potentially addressing the diversity problems we have in our educator workforce

In Further Detail: We still have massive teacher shortages in Colorado, 14% of all teacher positions and 19% of all special service provider positions in the state need to be filled in the last pre-COVID school year (19-20). That’s nearly 9,000 people we needed to hire. We did pretty well, considering the challenge, but still came up short 367 people and only filled 1,054 positions through shortage mechanisms. This problem is particularly acute in rural Colorado. Meanwhile a recent study by the state found that we are actually seeing a decrease in enrollment and completion of state educator preparation programs, with the result that half of the teachers the state licenses annually are from out-of-state. This bill attacks this problem in two ways: first by creating a career pathway similar to what already exists from STEM jobs to encourage high school students to enter the field and then provide them with enhanced support via state education funds to push them along the path. That program has no strings attached, in part because we are helping our own high school students and attacking a different problem, increasing access to post-secondary education. The second part is a pathway to in particular encourage those just out of the military to enter the teaching profession (the structure of the program makes it much easier for them to qualify, but there may be some paraprofessionals we can sweep up as well). This time in exchange for our money we require at least three years teaching in one of our rural schools. And yes, we do already have a bunch of programs devoted to increasing the number of teachers in the state but no requirement right now for the state to actually spend money promoting them. That’s an easy change that could be a great investment if we can get more of the teachers we desperately need. Finally, the change on adjunct instructors. The bill actually strengthens protections from school districts using this as a teacher replacement by putting into law some additional guidelines, but at its core the change is about shortages, as much of the rest of the bill is, but also about yet another problem we have in our teacher workforce: it is not very diverse. In Colorado, 77% of all teachers are women and 67% of all teachers are white women. That does not match the diversity of our state at all. 47% of all public school students are non-white. As for the idea of greatly raising teacher pay, first we cannot dictate to school districts what they pay teachers, it is a local decision. Second, we simply don’t have the budget to fund the large increases in teacher pay that would attack the problem from that angle.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • Instead of creating yet more new incentive programs, we should focus on improving the ones we already have, streamline our efforts, and push a coherent and integrated approach

In Further Detail: Part of the problem here is the sheer number of these programs. It seems like every year we come up with some new teacher incentive program to add to the pile, hoping that this time we will find the magic solution, instead of building on what we already have. The grow your own teacher program, for instance may be a better home for career pathways than a new program, since part of the idea is keeping teachers in the state. We already have a program for student teachers in rural areas, a teacher cadet program to support high school students interested in teaching in rural areas, programs to support paraprofessionals in seeking teacher’s licenses, a grant program to place teachers in school districts struggling to find teachers, and a student loan forgiveness program (and more). Instead of throwing yet more on the pile, we need to focus on what we already have, make whatever changes are necessary, and push a coherent and integrated approach.


Bottom Line:

  • Three years is nice but nothing is going to prevent that educator from leaving once their three years are up. We could have some sort of payback requirement to keep them at least in the state longer. $10,000 is a lot of money to give someone.

Bottom Line:

  • We’ve tried a dizzying array of these incentive programs, as evidenced by the long list of them the state would have to spend money to publicize and have yet to land on one that works. This is likely because we are not addressing the core of the problem: wages and housing. Much larger financial commitments are going to be necessary to truly solve this problem.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-185

SB21-202 Public School Air Quality Improvement Grants (Moreno (D), Lundeen (R)) [Sirota (D), Larson (R)]

*State stimulus bill, 1% of all state stimulus funding in this bill*

SIGNED INTO LAW

Appropriation: $10 million
Fiscal Impact: None

Goal:

Use $10 of the budget surplus from last year (thanks to better than anticipated tax revenues) to pay for schools to improve their air quality systems. This would allow them to meet standards for re-opening.

Description:

Transfers $10 million to the school capital construction assistance fund to be used only for grants to schools in order to improve their air quality systems in the school. This can include acquisition, repair, maintenance, or upgrade of portable high-efficiency particulate air fans or filtration systems. The capital construction board is to prioritize applicants with the lowest matching money percentages and can award no grants for projects completed before April.

Must report to the legislature next year on each grant, including amount spent, estimate of total number of students likely to benefit from all grants, and any other information deemed worthwhile.

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • A big part of safe school re-opening is air filtration systems. Costs of these systems can exceed $100,000 for big older buildings and are quite simply beyond the means of many school districts in the state (that $100k plus amount is just for one school). And of course low-income districts are more likely to be affected, which means they are more likely to still be in remote learning, which means their students are more likely to fall even further behind. Right now schools are scrambling to find sources of grant money or donations on their own. We have $700 million (now 800 million) (some of which has already been spent) in excess funds from the last fiscal year, thanks to better than expected tax revenues. Making our schools fit to be reopened during an airborne pandemic is a great use of that money

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • We need some guardrails here on what these schools can spend money on, exactly, because not all systems are created equal. Adams 14 schools have been trying out hydrogen peroxide systems from a company called Synexis that pulls oxygen and moisture out of the air and pushes out dry hydrogen peroxide that can kill viruses. This system does not have much of a track record and some scientists do not recommend spraying hydrogen peroxide into the air because chemicals produce byproducts and we don’t have any studies on the effects of this particular chemical in indoor, occupied spaces. There is also concern about use of bleach fumigation, ion-generating systems, and ozone generating systems that are used in hospitals but some believe are not appropriate for schools. So we need to make sure schools are doing this carefully and properly rather than creating brand new problems in an attempt to solve COVID-19

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-202

SB21-268 Public School Finance (Zenzinger (D), Lundeen (R)) [McLachlan (D), McCluskie (D)]

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Very Significant (category change)

Appropriation: Other than money already designated in the budget, $13,610,665 of which $3.5 million is federal money
Fiscal Impact: Best understood from perspective of budget

Goal:

Set per-pupil funding for the 2021-22 school year, with a boost of $77 million to be distributed on top of the formula to account for reduced price school lunch kids and English language learners and permanently change the school finance formula to include reduced price school lunch kids and English language learners (this will boost schools who have more of these kids enrolled). Also fund multiple programs that had funding cut last year and make other smaller changes.

Description:

Sets the per-pupil amount for the 2021-22 school year at essentially $8,857 $8,991 on average (the base rate is lower but the formula adds in amounts for various things), which is a 9.7% 10.7% increase over last year. However, the bill also adds $77 million which is to be distributed on top of the formula (the per pupil calculation is a complex formula that takes multiple elements into account in each school) based upon how many students in the school qualify for reduced price lunch (not free lunch, which is already accounted for in the formula) and how many are early English language learners. The bill also permanently changes the state’s school funding formula by giving reduced price lunch kids the same weight as free lunch kids (previously reduced price lunch kids did not matter in the formula at all) and adds English language learner pupils as well (at 8% of per pupil funding, so you get an 8% bump). Those two changes will provide an additional $118 million in funding for schools across the state, which is mostly offset by the state not having to pay as much money to backstop schools due to a different bill in this session dealing with property mill levy overrides (which in essence will raise property taxes in some districts around the state).

Bill also adds chronic absenteeism (absence for any reason for more than 10% of school days) and risk of dropping out due to disciplinary actions to expulsion and suspension across several at-risk definitions in programs designed to help students who are in danger of being expelled. This includes adding attendance supports and behavior supports to actions schools can take to try to intervene and altering the state’s at-risk grant program to allow partnerships with local government agencies to provide help to school employees to support students identified as at-risk of dropping out due to chronic absenteeism or disciplinary actions. This can include: attendance, discipline, and grading policies and practice review; training in behavioral interventions and classroom management; and equity, diversity, and inclusion training, including anti-bias training.

Requires the state board of education to approve or reject local school board decisions on innovation school plans. This must be based upon serving the best interests of students, families, and the community (this is basically the same oversight the board has for charter schools). Forbids local school board from making any changes to innovation school plans during the 2021-22 school year.

Requires any board of cooperative services (school districts that band together), before operating or locating a full-time school within the boundaries of another district that is not part of the co-op, to obtain permission from that district. Does not apply retroactively and only applies for this school year.

Also makes some appropriations to specific programs: $2 million to the school counselor corps program, $800,000 for the 9th grade success program, $493,907 for the local accountability systems grant program, $2.5 million for the K-5 social and emotional health pilot program, $3 million for the behavioral health care professional matching grant program, $2 million to the mill levy equalization fund, $1.75 million in federal stimulus funds for the concurrent enrollment expansion and innovation grant program, $1.75 million in federal stimulus funds for the career development success program, $410,221 for the imagination library, $375,807 for the school leadership pilot program, $280,730 for the accelerated college opportunity exam fee grant program, and $250,000 for the automatic enrollment in advanced courses grant program.

Additional Information:

Allows the state to take action against an educator’s license for an offense committed in another state which is similar to a felony drug offense in Colorado.

Extends the accreditation contract with the state’s charter institute (which runs the state’s charter schools) by 18 months.

Gives school boards an extra month to certify mileage reimbursement amounts to the state and the state another month to certify those to the state treasurer.

Changes the amount of time schools have to set alternative dates for determining pupil enrollment from 45 calendar days to 45 school days after the first school day.

Allows schools to keep more than 15% of the READ funds they received for the 2020-21 school year into next year (usually they can only keep a maximum of 15% year-to-year). This is for this year only.

Removes a $10 funding cap on the existing school counselor corps grant program.


Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We dramatically raised the per-pupil funding through the budget process (aren’t relitigating that here, what there is to spend is what there is to spend at this point) and restored funding to a bunch of programs that got cut last year
  • Reduced price lunch kids and English language learners add costs to districts that aren’t currently accounted for in our per-pupil formula. The bill adds extra money on top of the formula to account for that this year while another bill looks at the formula itself Given the money the state will save thanks to a different bill in this session that in essence allows districts to get more property tax money (voter approved already), we can add these elements into the formula without taking money away from other schools (though they will gain less)
  • Many of the other changes are related to the pandemic, for innovation schools, it makes sense to treat them like charters in how the state board of education oversees their interaction with local school boards a one-year pause in any changes makes sense due to the pandemic

In Further Detail: Obviously the first thing to point out here is that we dramatically raised the per-pupil funding amount just through the budget process (which we aren’t going to rehash here, once you’ve decided on the budget, that’s what it is and you can only make changes around the edges, which the bill also does). We’ve also restored funding to a bunch of grant programs that got cut in last year’s budget tightening. But the big thing to discuss is the reduced price lunch and English language learner changes. A different bill deals with adjustments to the underlying formula itself, but The essence of the issue here is that our finance model for schools hasn’t been working for schools in the state located in low-income areas because the only thing that mattered was free lunches, not reduced price. Obviously it is a big deal to a school if they have students on reduced price meals, but that has not been part of our state’s formula. The same is true of having students who are English language learners. Now this is generally a zero-sum game, so a gain for these schools is a loss for others and that is why this long-needed change hasn’t happened yet. So this bill puts additional money towards those areas while the formula itself is not touched here, but the effect is roughly the same Now, though, with a different bill in this session allowing districts who have passed TABOR revenue overrides for their property taxes for schools to actually keep that extra money (way too complicated to get into here, look at HB1164 for more detail), we can make this change without creating losses for any districts (some will just gain less than others). Many of the other changes in the bill are administrative in nature, for the innovation schools, it makes sense to treat them like charters in how the state board of education oversees their interaction with local school boards a one-year pause in any changes makes sense due to the pandemic (which is what several of the other parts of the bill are about too). For the chronic abseentism change, we need to pay more attention to chronic absenteeism as a warning sign that needs intervention and put more effort into so-called habitually disruptive students before we kick them out of school and push them down a dark path that few recover from.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • There’s no reason to have this weird additional money setup in this bill and then look to change the formula in another bill—just change the formula in this bill permanently. We have the basis to do it now without creating a situation where districts will lose money, thanks to a different bill in this session that will save the state money spent on education (districts will get more property taxes)

Bottom Line:

  • There is a fundamental difference between free and reduced price lunches that we would be missing if this becomes law. The current school formula has served us well and should be continued, at least until the in-depth study that a different bill in this session proposes is done

SB21-198 Repeal Capital Construction Education Fund Report Requirement (Smallwood (R), Rodriguez (D)) [Roberts (D), Bockenfeld (R)]

From the Legislative Audit Committee

TECHNICAL BILL

SIGNED INTO LAW

Description: Repeal requirement that state auditor annually report uses of state education fund money for school capital construction to legislature as report is no longer needed as the BEST act covers it now.

SB21-236 Increase Capacity Early Childhood Care & Education (Story (D), Sonnenberg (R)) [Tipper (D), Van Beber (R)]

*State stimulus bill, 2% of total stimulus funds spend in this bill*

SIGNED INTO LAW

AMENDED: Very Significant

Appropriation: $8.8 million state money, $320.2 million in federal funds
Fiscal Impact: Negligible each year beyond appropriation

Goal:

Spend $35 $292.3 million of federal funds on the existing child care sustainability grant program. Spend $8.8 million on a new grant program to incentivize employers to provide their own child care facilities for employees, with a private match requirement for employers and priority given to areas that are child care deserts (more than 3 kids for every available child care slot). Spend $1.1 $7.2 million in federal funds on a program to provide grants and scholarships to encourage more people to become credentialed or obtain higher level credentials so as to qualify to be early childhood educators. Spend $3 million in federal funds on a program to boost early childhood educator salaries. create Spend $16.8 million of federal funds on a new grant program to address systematic challenges in the early childcare system that were worsened by COVID. Spend $23.8 $58.6 million in federal funds on the existing child care assistance program in the department of human services. Spend $4 million in federal funds on child care grants from the department. Spend $2.2 million in federal funds for the existing early childhood mental health consultation program.

Description:

Creates four new grant programs to address early childhood care and education.

The first program is the Employer-Based Child Care Facility Grant Program. This is given $8.7 million and $110,000 for administration. This is to provide grants to employers to construct, remodel, renovate, or retrofit a child care center on or near the employer’s work site to provide licensed child care services to employees. For-profit grantees must provide a 50% match and non-profits a 25% match for the grant. State is to prioritize applicants that serve a high percentage of children eligible for the child care assistance program (165% of federal poverty line) that serve a high percentage of employees with wages below the area's median income, applicants with plans to meet the level 5 4 standard of the Colorado Shines quality rating standard for early childhood care, applicants with a stated commitment to and business plan for a well-compensated child care staff, applicants with innovate model plans like co-ops, hubs, or microcenters, applicants with staff that represent the linguistic or cultural diversity of the community population, and applicants with plan to serve children in child care deserts or regions with low capacity. A desert is defined as a community or area where there are more than three children under the age of 5 for every available child care slot.

Grant applications must include a business plan that has:

  • A description of the intended construction, including total cost and budget
  • Documentation of review and approval by state licensing for child care, local fire division, and local board of health. If the business leases the space, a current valid lease that includes authorizations to make these changes to the property
  • Description of how the child care facility will address the employees’ child care needs, such as non-traditional hour care or infant and toddler care
  • Description of how the business will financially sustain the facility after grant money is gone
  • Any other components the state feels are necessary

Applicants must also include written assurance they will obtain the necessary child care license and will provide its employees with first priority for open slots. Employees must also be given connection to resources describing the state’s early childhood assistance program. State must provide information and referrals to staff training and all public early childhood assistance programs. State must report in 2023 and 2024 to the legislature on the program. Reporting must include: number of grantees, number of children served, number of early childhood staff hired, Colorado Shines rating of each grantee, any innovative approaches used by grantees, and any other relevant information. Program repeals July 2024.

The second grant program is the Early Care and Education Recruitment and Retention Grant and Scholarship Program. This is given $1.1 7.2 million in federal funds. This will grants and scholarship program money to non-profits and institutions of higher education (that run scholarship programs), and licensed early child care and education providers. Money can be spent on:

  • Administration of a scholarship program up to fixed amount of grant (to be determined by state, 5% is the amount generally used for such things)
  • Payment of tuition, fees, and materials for courses that result in someone who was not qualified to be an early childhood educator becoming qualified or for someone already qualified being eligible for a higher qualification
  • Costs associated with earning a coaching, formal trainer, mentorship, or professional development certification that allows an educator to serve as a trainer or mentor to others
  • Payments to cover paid release time for individuals, substitutes, and program costs to allow pursuit of courses and training in the field
  • Payments to providers, schools, community colleges, institutes of higher education, early childhood councils, or other local non-profits to cover costs of grow-your-own programs that support achievement of requirements to qualify as an early childhood educator
  • Payments to providers to cover costs of promoting teachers to coaching or mentorship roles
  • Raises, bonuses, and other financial incentives (including loan forgiveness) for providers to reward educators and improve retention
  • Payments for registered apprenticeships for work-based learning opportunities for those interested in entering the field. Apprenticeship must create a pathway into the profession and must be approved by the state specifically for this program

State must add monetary awards for use of approved apprenticeship programs which can include direct money to the program, technical assistance, money for recruiting mentor teachers, incentives for program participants, financial rewards for skilled gained in programs, incentives for providers to participate, costs of classroom training and instruction, costs of earning a credential, support on-the-job training.

Grantees must report to the state and state must report on its website. This program does not expire.

The third grant program is the Child Care Teacher Salary Grant Program. This is given $3 million in federal funds. This is to allow eligible child care facilities to apply for grants to increase teacher salary. To be eligible, a facility must serve families eligible for the state’s child care assistance program and have a rating of at least 3 in the Colorado Shines system. Money can only be used to increase salaries, state is to determine how much based on number of applicants and available appropriations. This program does not expire, it is not clear if the intent is to permanently support the increases with grant money.

The fourth grant program is the Community Innovation and Resilience for Care and Learning Equity Grant Program. $16.8 million in federal funds appropriated to the program. This provides grants to eligible providers to improve affordability of care for families who are not in the state’s child care assistance program through tuition subsidies or scholarships, public-private partnerships, or employer-based cost sharing; increase access to all families for birth to 3 year-old care, strengthen business practices of child care programs, ensure equitable access of children, including those with special needs; or other approaches to improve early childhood transitions, workforce preparation, affordability, outcomes, or innovative practices. Eligible facilities include: providers that receive federal child care and development block grant funding, local early childhood councils, and any other community-based or education-based or government entity approved by the state that proposes grant activities aligned with the program. The bill does not provide any prioritization requirements but does state the intention of the program is address systematic challenges for early child care and learning providers that have worsened as a result of COVID and to promote innovation. Grant applications must include what the money will be spent on, description of any partnerships the entity intends to establish, a description of how the proposed activities will achieve the purpose of the program, and a detailed budget. This program does not expire.

The bill also removes scheduled expirations for the child care sustainability grant program (July 2023) and the emerging and expanding child care grant program (July 2023). It removes the grant award requirements for the child care sustainability program (was $5,000 to no more than $35,000) and increases the maximum grant amount for the expanding child care program from $50,000 to $200,000, but requires the state to focus on multiple small grants as possible.

The bill also appropriates $35 $58.6 million to the department of human services in federal money, with $23.8 $32.5 million going to the existing child care assistance program (this is a government assistance program based on income that uses federal funds, like Medicaid), $4 million to grants for child care and $2.2 for the early childhood mental health consultation program (free program to help parents with kids under 6 with the children's mental health and socio-emotional development).

Additional Information: n/a

Auto-Repeal: June 2024 for employer grant program

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • We have a crisis of early childhood care in Colorado, with 51% of Coloradans living in child care deserts before the pandemic (which saw 10% of facilities at least temporarily close) and poor wages of just under $27,000 on average making it difficult to recruit educators
  • Early childhood care has multiple positive links to success later in life and is absolutely necessary for working families where no parent can stay home with the kids
  • This bill makes it easier for people to obtain the credentials needed or to get higher level credentials, in order to help get more people into the educator pipeline. It encourages mentorship and apprenticeship, and also provides money to boost wages
  • The bill also provides incentives for employers to provide their own facilities to help boost the number of providers throughout the state

In Further Detail: We have a crisis of early childhood care availability in Colorado. Half of the state’s early childhood care staff changed jobs in the last three years. Wages are poor (most earn about half of Kindergarten teachers on average), with a median average wage of just under $27,000 a year and even so, child care is expensive. Before the pandemic research indicated more than 39,000 children under the age of 4 did not have the child care their family needed. 51% of Coloradans lived in child care deserts (same definition as the bill, more than three children for every open slot). And the pandemic at least temporarily closed 10% of child care providers in the state. We know that early childhood education is important. Research has shown that it can be very beneficial for later life success. It is a boon to working parents who need some form of trusted, safe childcare during working hours. It is also critical for most childhood development problems to catch them early, the earlier they are caught the more likely they can mitigated. But we know we don’t have the workforce we need in early childhood education to meet either our current needs or the expected 20% increase in demand over the next ten years. We don’t have enough facilities. And so we need to attack this problem across multiple dimensions. First, we need to make it easier for people who have the appropriate skills or are working toward them, to obtain the necessary credentials or licensing. This includes finding ways to get more people into the pipeline through financial support for education and credential obtainment. Apprenticeships, of course, are an extremely valuable way to do this, but other financial incentives can also help. Then we also need to improve ways for mentorship within the industry so as to help pull up that next generation of educators. We need to provide help to employers to create their own child care facilities. And we need to foster innovation in the industry. All of this is addressed by this bill in a variety of different ways. We have $800 million in state stimulus money to spend thanks to better than expected tax returns last year. This is a great way to spend a chunk of it.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • The third and fourth grant programs in the bill are pretty vaguely defined and the fourth grant program is not given any money at all, even though it is the only program specifically aimed at COVID-related effects. The salary boost grant program has no guidance on how long grants should last, how we are supposed to keep salaries boosted if the grants don’t last or funding availability changes, and how we are to prioritize grants. This is not a blueprint for long-term stability. The fourth grant program also lacks prioritization and the stated uses of grant money are so vague that just about anything would qualify.

Bottom Line:

  • The problem is overly stringent state licensing and credential requirements for what should really just amount to day care. There is research that shows that the scholastic advantages early-childhood educated kids come into school with vanish by 2nd or 3rd grade. Early childhood education helps not because of the great teaching kids get but because of the advantage it gives the family of reliable daycare with meals, health screenings, and other social services. So we should relax our standards to make it easier for more people to enter the profession.

Bottom Line:

  • Spending all of this money is nice, but this problem is similar to our K-12 educator problem: without structural changes to make this a professional where you don’t have to work multiple jobs to get by, we are never going to have the child care infrastructure we want in this state. Because those salary boosts cannot come from higher fees, which would drive out the families we need, the only solution is bringing early childhood care into our public K-12 umbrella. That of course requires some serious systematic changes to bring in the revenues we need to support this without going over TABOR limits forcing us to return that same money. Until we do that, we’re still going to just be nibbling around the edges of the problem.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-236

SB21-254 Eliminate Obsolete Committee Child Care Licensing (Kirkmeyer (R), Zenzinger (D)) [Lynch (R), Pico (R)]

TECHNICAL BILL

From the Statutory Revision Committee

PASSED

Description:

Eliminates an obsolete advisory committee on child care facility licensing. The early childhood leadership commission now fills this role.

SB21-274 Sustainable Model To Serve Facility Students (Moreno (D)) [Herod (D)]

From the Joint Budget Committee

PASSED

Appropriation: $6.2 million
Fiscal Impact: None beyond appropriation

Goal:

Pay $5.7 million extra to facility schools (schools located in treatment facilities) this year and create a working group to develop a new model for serving these kids in the future. The group is to focus on creating the capacity necessary to serve all the kids in-state and is empowered to have the parts of its model that don’t need legislative changes to be implemented by the state.

Description:

Pays an extra $5.7 million to facility schools (schools located in treatment facilities) for this year. State is to determine exact method of appropriation.

Creates a working group to develop a model for serving kids in residential or day treatment facilities or specifically designed school district programs for kids with high behavioral health needs for their schooling. The group is to define the target population of kids, analyze their educational needs, analyze the cost of filling these needs, evaluate existing capacity in the state, evaluate other cost-effective options that exist in the state or other states that could be incorporated to ensure necessary capacity to serve students in-state rather than out-of-state, identify barriers and develop solutions to creating additional capacity, analyze the current funding model for these facilities including federal and state and local and private sources, and funding model necessary to ensure long-term viability for in-state placement of all of these kids.

The model must clearly define roles for the department of education, department of human services, department of health care policy and financing, and the department of public health and environment. It must address the entire continuum of potential care, which must include residential treatment, day treatment, and hospitals. It must also include efficacy evaluations for outcomes.

Work must be completed by October 2022 with a plan for implementation beginning in July 2023 with full implementation by July 2027. The bill’s language requires the model to be implemented (so need for legislative approval) but it does require the group to ask the legislature for any changes in law required to make the model work. Group must report to the legislature each year on implementation progress. Bill appropriates $500,000 to pay for the group. State may use an independent facilitator to support the group and independent entity to perform required financial analysis.

Additional Information:

Group must include representatives from: school districts, boards of cooperative services, special education directors, facility schools and facility school board members, department of health care policy and financing, department of education, department of human services (including division of youth services), and county departments of human or social services.

The group must obtain input from parents and students who reflect the diversity of the state


Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • Right now we cannot serve all of the kids in this state who need education in treatment facilities or specially designed programs due to diminished capacity and a broken funding model
  • This means we have to send kids out-of-state, which not only is plain wrong from a separation from family and community standpoint but also imposes extra costs on our schools (which have to pay for these treatment placements and out-of-state is obviously more expensive)
  • This means we need an overhaul of our system and the bill creates a working group empowered to do just that
  • We also have to staunch the short-term bleeding, thus the $5.7 million appropriation for this year

In Further Detail: There are about 1,600 kids in the state who require education in either treatment facilities or specially designed programs in school districts and the simple truth is right now we cannot support all of them. Capacity in the state has diminished due to facility closures and legal changes that limit the number of placements in residential facilities. There is only one other thing that can occur in these situations and that is sending these kids out-of-state, away from their families and communities. Beyond the clear negative impacts of this situation, it also imposes extra costs on our school districts. Because it is the districts that have to pay for the educational placement costs and of course out-of-state costs a lot more. This situation clearly cannot continue and we need large-scale reform to create a system that will work for in-state placement of kids. Thus the bill creates the working group and most importantly, empowers it to make the changes necessary. It is important to keep in mind that funding for any program is ultimately determined by the legislature through the budgeting process, so it is literally impossible for a group like this to destroy the state budget or any other such concern by creating a model that doesn’t work within existing finances. It is also important to staunch the bleeding as we can in the short-term, thus the $5.7 million appropriation for this year.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • Wholesale changes to funding models should flow through the legislature. By all means create working groups to examine problems in detail and come up with solutions but the people’s representatives should be the ones making any actual changes for something this large (just look at all of the affected agencies)
  • We like to pretend like these are vast problems but the bottom line is pretty simple: we are getting what we are paying for. Without vast increases in actual money put toward these facilities, all the tinkering around the edges in funding formulas won’t accomplish much

In Further Detail: No wholesale change to any funding model should be implemented without a vote by the legislature. Certainly working groups are necessary to examine problems in detail and come up with solutions, but they should not be able to unilaterally change anything. Just look at the multiple agencies affected by this issue—even if it can be done without a new law it should not be. Part of that is because the solution is going to require more money. We keep trying to find some magic bullet that will solve our behavioral and mental health treatment problems in this state but the solution is very basic: a lot more money. We are getting what we are paying for and until we change how much we pay, all the tinkering around the edges in the world isn’t going to change anything in a fundamental way. Given the constraints of TABOR, an enterprise program in the state funded by fees on hospitals (who otherwise have to treat crises, so better treatment means lower costs for them) is the way to go and part of that enterprise can be education in treatment facilities.

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-274

SB21-119 Increasing Access To High-Quality Credentials (Bridges (D), Lundeen (R)) [Esgar (D), Geitner (R)]

PASSED

AMENDED: Minor

Appropriation: $20,000
Fiscal Impact: Negligible each year

Goal:

  • Expand the state’s career development success program for schools, whereby high school students can earn industry credentials, work-based learning experiences, and advanced placement courses. The high schooler’s school gets $1,000 for each successful achievement. Bill removes residency programs as qualified programs and expands pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs to any industry (currently just construction). Bill requires all money the school receives from this program be used on outreach to promote access to the program
  • Focuses the industry-recognized credential part of the program to those designated as high-skill, high-wage, in-demand occupations. That is determined by the state’s plan for increasing technical education
  • Requires the state, beginning in the 2022-23 school year, to identify the top ten industry recognized credentials that may be awarded to high school students. To qualify a credential must be associated with one of those state-designated in-demand industries, there must be an ability for high school students to access the credential, and it must include guaranteed credit transfers and be likely to lead to a post-secondary degree and a high-skill, high-wage job in an in-demand industry

Description:

Bill also alters the work force development council by including state community college’s as a required collaborator and allowing it to remove industry-credentialed programs, apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships, and internships from its website that do not have labor-market value (high-paying, high-wage jobs in in-demand industries).

Board of education must identify the state content standards that line-up with the top ten credentials and post on its website an explanation of the standards and course alignments for each one.

Requires all schools to notify middle school students and parents of this program (previously was just high school students) and include the top ten credentials in their notifications to all. Bill explicitly requires communicating this information in a language the students and families will understand.

State must also provide materials to the schools each year on the top ten programs and a sample communications plan for each credential to educate students and families.

The bill also changes multiple reporting requirements. Schools must provide, to the extent possible, de-identifying information on the race, ethnicity, gender, disability status, English language status, and reduced or free school lunch eligibility of program participants. The state must report to the legislature, in addition to what was already required, how schools chose their program offerings and how those choices are aligned with state or local workforce needs.

Additional Information:

Specific outreach uses for the money schools receive include: working with local workforce boards to determine what their needs are, communicating with students and families, purchasing and maintaining equipment and supplies for programs and courses which can include exam fees, and assisting students eligible for free or reduced lunches, students with disabilities, and English language learners with support needed to access and succeed in the program.

Communication plan to students and families must include how high school credit is tied to credentials and how post-secondary credit can be earned, including through concurrent enrollment.

Statistics state must present on the program outcomes are expanded from just if students enrolled in post-secondary education after graduation to also include enlisting in the military and if they joined the workforce instead, if their career is related to their completed credentials to the extent the school can practicably gather that information.


Auto-Repeal: n/a

Arguments For:

Bottom Line:

  • This is an extremely successful program that helps students earn a living-wage job more quickly after high school and supports post-secondary attainment. It also helps fuel a pipeline of qualified applicants for jobs in the state. Everybody wins
  • But we do want to broaden the scope of the apprenticeship aspect of the program so we are hitting all relevant fields and make sure that we aren’t leading students down a false path. There needs to be a true high-skill, high-wage job in an industry that needs workers waiting at the end

In Further Detail: This career success program has been around for four years and in that time, it has provided nearly 25,000 industry recognized credentials, work-based learning experiences, and advanced placement courses to students in 54 school districts and charter schools. It is a great way to encourage students to take steps while still in high school to prepare for life after high school. Research has demonstrated that programs like this help students gain a living-wage job more quickly after high school (there is a long list of jobs that do not require college degrees but do require industry certifications or apprenticeship) and support post-secondary attainment, including lowering its costs. This helps fuel a pipeline of qualified applicants for jobs here in Colorado. This is a true everyone wins program. This bill simply tweaks it to broaden its applicability beyond the construction industry for apprenticeships and at the same time ensure we are focusing on the jobs waiting out there for qualified applicants that will pay well. The last thing we want is to make all of these promises and send these kids out into the world with no real advantage for their hard work, either because the credential or experience was in an industry with a glut of workers and few jobs or because it pays poorly.

Arguments Against:

Bottom Line:

  • By rewarding the schools, the incentive structure encourages schools to put undue pressure on the students to participate in these programs. We’re putting pressure on 14 or 15 year-olds, and in some cases, perhaps shortchanging their belief in their ability to get into college by shunting them into a trade-track. In others, we may be locking them into a career track that does include college they later regret

Bottom Line:

  • The minimum funding of this program needs to be raised. While the legislature can budget whatever it likes, we are still leaving thousands of program requests on the cutting room floor, the most ever in 2019-20. 9,110 qualified requests were made and only 6,441 were filled, leaving 2,669 requests out in the cold. If this program is truly such a great investment, we can spend more than $4.3 million on it

How Should Your Representatives Vote on SB21-119