Following a productive 2017 legislative session with ten of the 11 bills we supported signed into law, Colorado Succeeds is gearing up for the 2018 session with a focus on six key areas:
1. Expanding Work-Based Learning in Colorado
Colorado Succeeds’ top priority for 2018 is expanding the highly successful Career Success Program, which we championed in 2016. This innovative, two-year program grants participating school districts and charter schools up to $1,000 for each student who either completes an industry certification linked to high demand jobs, finishes a rigorous internship, residency, or apprenticeship program tied to key industry needs, or successfully completes the Computer Science Advanced Placement (AP) course.
There was overwhelming demand for the program in year one (see our findings here). In fact, so many schools and districts applied for the incentives that only the first tier of industry certification credentials were funded. There wasn’t any funding left for internships, apprenticeships, or (AP) computer science. So, we want to see this program continue and expand.
Also, while 27 school districts took advantage of the program, we want to see more districts throughout the state involved. By making the program permanent, Colorado can incentivize more districts to offer these valuable opportunities for students.
2. Equitable Funding for Public Charter School Students
Last year, Colorado saw a historic legislative victory that ended the discriminatory practice of shortchanging Colorado’s nearly 43,000 public charter school students. While this law was a momentous win for charter schools and their students, more can be done to help equalize funding for the 41 charter schools authorized by the state Charter School Institute (CSI). Unlike charter schools authorized by the district in which they serve, schools authorized by CSI don’t have access to local tax revenue. A top priority for us in 2018 will be securing additional funding for these schools and the students they serve.
Anyone who has toured a CSI school can see that many of them are having serious challenges with their facilities. And, because of their uncompetitive salaries, they have higher staff turnover rates than traditional neighborhood schools. More funding would allow them to retain and hire top talent, which their students deserve. This should be a priority for all lawmakers.
3. Improving School Funding
A 2017 law created a legislative interim committee charged with looking at overhauling Colorado’s antiquated school finance formula. This session, we will push for a funding system that is more student-centric than the current one. Currently, a lot of funding factors not related directly to students have a heavy influence over how schools are funded, such as cost of living and personnel expenses.
Colorado Succeeds’ members believe that greater weight in the funding formula should be concentrated on student needs and interests, recognizing that it costs different amounts to educate different students. It should be flexible and fractionalized allowing for greater educational options, and enhancing student experiences and personalization.
4. Reforming PERA
Perhaps one of the thorniest issues legislators will face this session is the funding problems of Colorado PERA, the pension system for state and school district employees. We are hopeful the legislature avoids a short-term solution that kicks the can down the road. Colorado Succeeds supports reforms to PERA that would help attract and retain high quality education professionals. Check out these PERA member profiles for more information about how the current pension system fails to reward teachers consistently throughout their careers and doesn’t put them on a path toward a secure retirement. In fact, 85% of Colorado teachers and other school employees will leave public employment with insufficient retirement savings and no Social Security benefit for that work, according this report.
Putting PERA on sound financial footing would set up districts and teachers for greater success. School district’s contribution rates to PERA are higher than they have ever been before and that means less money in the classroom and fewer teachers.
5. Holding Firm on Accountability
As in previous years, strengthening school accountability will remain an area of focus in 2018. Families, communities, and school leaders should have a clear picture of how schools are performing, and it should be easier to see how underserved populations and other groups of students are doing. Colorado Succeeds will support efforts to ensure transparent information is accessible and actionable to all stakeholders so that it can be uses to guide continuous improvement, support local leaders in making decisions about where to target resources, and help parents choose the learning providers for their children.
6. Supporting Teachers and Leaders
Many of you have heard that Colorado is facing a shortage of teachers. As the Denver Post reported in Dec. 2017, as many as 3,000 teaching jobs go unfilled in Colorado. While this is a challenge, it’s important to know that the teacher shortage is not an across-the-board issue, but rather a dearth in specific content areas and school types.
According the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s (CDHE) Dec. 2017 report on the issue, Colorado rural school districts have greater difficulty recruiting and retaining educators, particularly in secondary math, secondary science, and speech pathology. Schools with higher concentrations of poverty and students of color also struggle to recruit and retain teachers. Overall, Colorado’s teacher shortage content areas reflect national trends, with the state reporting shortages in special education, mathematics, English, and world language, as well as childhood special education, and art/music/drama.
Colorado Succeeds will closely monitor any legislation stemming from the state’s 2017 report. We will oppose proposals that narrow the field of potential teachers, as many schools, particularly rural schools, already have a hard time recruiting teachers. And public charter schools and career technical education programs need flexibility in alternative license programs to find the best candidates for their students and their school. Colorado legislators should ensure solutions to the teacher shortage protect hiring flexibility for these schools.
We encourage legislators to pursue how incentives can be used to increase teacher hiring and retention in hard-to-staff schools and subjects. Options include loan forgiveness programs and transportation and technology stipends.
Furthermore, any attempts to severely undermine the state’s teacher evaluation system in 2018 must be defeated.