5 Key Takeaways from the 2020 Legislative Session

The 2020 legislative session wrapped up last week after an unprecedented year. Colorado’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced on March 5 and, less than two weeks later, the Colorado General Assembly went into a two-month recess. The Legislature reopened on May 26 for a fast and furious three-week mini-session focusing on must-pass bills like the state’s balanced budget, the K-12 School Finance Act, and legislation responding to COVID-19 impacts.

Colorado Succeeds wants to thank all our critical education advocacy partners, members, agency leaders, and legislators who supported students during this session. Without a strong coalition, many of these victories would not have been possible. 

With session wrapped, here are our 5 key education takeaways from this legislative session.

1) College Credit for Work Experience is a Game Changer for Credential Attainment

Strongly supported by Colorado Succeeds, CareerWise Colorado, and other key partners, this legislation (HB20-1002) passed by wide margins, enabling students and adults in the workforce to earn postsecondary credit for prior work experience, including work-based learning.

This legislation is critical to ensuring there are multiple high-quality pathways for learners seeking post-secondary credentials. Work-based learning will also become more valuable, as it can now be tied to transferable post-secondary credit, lowering the cost and time needed to complete credentials.

Over 200 business and civic leaders expressed their support, and Colorado Succeeds board member, Edie Sonn, Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs at Pinnacol Assurance, testified in support of the legislation. A special thank you to sponsors Reps. Barbara McLachlan (D), Mark Baisley (R), Sens. Rachel Zenzinger (D) and Tammy Story (D), and the Colorado Department of Higher Education for their leadership.

2) Cuts are coming to education, but state leaders worked to limit the impact.

In total, for the 2020-21 school year, Colorado schools will face 5% across-the-board cuts to per-pupil funding and reduced grant-funded programs. Due to Gov. Polis’ leadership, additional federal stimulus funding was directed towards K-12, providing additional revenue for schools. However, next year’s budget is expected to be much more challenging.  

Given the difficult budget realities, Colorado Succeeds and partners advocated for cuts to be limited against programs serving students with barriers. One such program is the READ Act, which focuses on the literacy needs of K-3 learners with reading deficiencies as well as services for English language learners.  

We appreciate the legislature avoiding disproportionate cuts to charter schools, including the Charter Schools Capital Construction Fund, which would have singled out students by school type. Colorado Succeeds also supported partners in defending against legislative attempts that unfairly targeted only charter schools and did not extend similar changes to all schools.

Cuts to education are expected to be more significant for the next fiscal year. Colorado Succeeds will continue to advocate that funding is targeted to serve the students who are below proficiency and most chronically under-supported.

3) Legislators support investments in early childhood educators and will ask voters to decide on expanding preschool

Colorado Succeeds’ mission statement focuses on ensuring all of Colorado’s children are educated to their greatest potential. With research showing that early childhood experiences have lifelong impacts, we know the building blocks for success start early.

Legislation was passed to strengthen the early childhood workforce by streamlining early childhood education and care pathways through additional concurrent enrollment opportunities and supports for teacher recruitment and retention. 

A ballot measure was also referred by the legislature to the November ballot. If approved by voters, it would increase taxes on tobacco products and implement a new tax on nicotine products, which will put revenue into K-12 education for the first two years and preschool programming thereafter, including free half-day preschool for all Colorado kids.

4) COVID-19 impacted all aspects of education and pushes forward critical conversations on the future of assessments and accountability 

COVID-19 had a significant impact on learners, educators, and schools during the 2019-20 school year. According to a needs inventory administered by the Colorado Department of Education, in collaboration with the Colorado Education Initiative, the top four needs identified by school districts were:

1) student emotional support

2) technical supports for delivering remote learning

3) online instructional support for educators

4) family engagement practices

In terms of policy, the impact on COVID-19 could not be ignored. Based on federal guidance, assessments and accountability were paused for the 2019-20 school year. However, meaningful conversations will take place this fall to further discuss the long-term impact of COVID-19 on accountability, assessments, and educator evaluation. We look forward to using the summer to listen to businesses, educators, district leaders, families, and students to gain insight on methods to ensure schools are assessing how students are performing academically, given the disruptions to learning.

With partners, we urged the Colorado Department of Education to require districts to utilize diagnostic assessments this fall to assess student achievement levels and determine whether learning loss occurred during the disruption to in-person instruction. 

5) Career Connected Learning remains a statewide priority, significant growth in students accessing experiences and information

Colorado Succeeds and our partners worked hard to educate legislators about the importance of the Career Development Incentive Program (CDIP). We were pleased that this program was preserved in the FY20-21 budget. Rep. Daneya Esgar (D) continues to be an important champion of expanding high-quality career connected learning through this fund.

This program has already allowed 58 school districts to expand career-connected learning tied to high demand, high wage jobs. Over the last three years, 16,000 students were incentivized to complete industry credentials aligned to high wage, high-demand jobs at no cost to the student. School districts are using the incentive money to expand offerings to more students and cover exam fees for underserved students unable to pay.

Furthermore, the legislature overwhelmingly approved My Colorado Journey, an online education and career pathways navigation website, by unanimous support in both chambers. A tremendous thank you to sponsors Reps. Daneya Esgar (D) and Julie McCluskie (D),  Sens. Rachel Zenzinger (D) and  Bob Rankin (R), the Governor, and the Colorado Workforce Development Council for their leadership. Multiple members met with key legislators to explain why business cares about learners accessing a platform with the best information available about how to navigate through college and career pathways towards high demand, high wage jobs.    

We look forward to keeping in touch this summer about ways you can help inform the 2021 legislative agenda, which will be here before we know it!

Vice President of Government Affairs
Colorado Succeeds