Education Highlights from Colorado’s 2018 Legislative Session

The 2018 session of the Colorado General Assembly adjourned on May 9 with notable education victories that will create more opportunities for students to be college- and career-ready and provide more support for struggling districts and schools, among other positive changes. Click here for a brief snapshot of key legislative wins.

Let’s start with the numbers:

  • 15 out of 15 bills we supported passed
  • 4 out of 4 bills we opposed were defeated
  • $17.5 million steered toward our shared priorities
  • $10 million allocated to address the teacher shortage
  • $5.5 million for more public charter school students to receive equitable funding
  • $2 million for expanding advanced placement coursework and financial incentives for schools offering industry credentials
  • 5 years the successful Career Success Program was extended, which incentivizes schools to offer credentialing opportunities

Here is a rundown on what happened this session and the impact to Colorado.

1. More students will be able to earn industry credentials, and districts and schools will be rewarded financially.

Member Joel Pennick of JE Dunn testifies in support of HB-1266
Our member, Joel Pennick of JE Dunn, testified in support of HB-1266.

In 2016, Colorado Succeeds championed the creation of an innovative pilot program that rewards school districts financially when students earn industry credentials, complete a work-based training program, or pass AP computer science. This year, the legislature green-lighted a five-year expansion of the overwhelmingly successful Career Success ProgramIn its first year, demand for the Career Success pilot far exceeded the supply of allocated funds. Districts and schools reported 3,000 credentials completed, but only 1,800 received retroactive funding.

The program’s expansion will help thousands of more students earn credentials in in-demand fields like certified clinical medical assistant, certified networking associate, and automotive repair specialist. The expansion of the program will also support more districts from across the state to participate, particularly those outside the Front Range. And, now knowing the program will be funded for at least five years, districts have greater certainty that their investment in this opportunity will be well spent.

2. Advanced coursework options are expanding, which will allow more students to become college- and career-ready. Another program providing incentives to rural schools and districts to offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams was extended through 2021. And a new state program will renew subsidies for low-income students to offset much of the high cost of AP exams.

Another new law expands high school students’ access to concurrent enrollment in college classes by allowing community colleges to offer courses to school districts outside a college’s designated regional service areas. This will ensure high school students are not limited by the offerings at their local community college.

3. Schools and districts in need of improvement will receive comprehensive support sooner and for a longer period of time to ensure positive results. A new law will provide more support to struggling schools and districtsColorado Succeeds has long advocated for holding schools accountable for student performance, while providing assistance to help struggling schools improve. Previously, struggling schools that met performance targets for just one year stopped receiving targeted support from the state.

A new law stipulates that a district or school must meet performance targets for two consecutive years before state support and oversight is removed. Improvement plans must also include parental and community engagement early on, which we believe is critical to the improvement process.

4. Equitable funding for all public charter school students. Last year’s historic measure to equitably fund public charter school students did not include funding for students attending charters authorized by the state Charter School Institute (CSI), rather than the local school district.

$5.5 million in funding was secured this year to ensure children who attend CSI public schools receive the levels of funding they are entitled to. No child should receive less simply because of the type of public school they attend.

5. Efforts to address Colorado’s teacher shortage will focus on subjects and geographic areas with demonstrated need. Colorado’s teacher shortage, while a true challenge, is not a universal problem. It’s most acute in certain subject areas – math, science, and special education – and in rural communities. Numerous bills aimed at addressing teacher shortages passed this session. In total, they committed $10 million to helping reduce the problem.

A key bill we supported invests in promising students who commit to teaching in a known shortage area. In return, the student receives tuition assistance and ongoing support and mentorship throughout his or her training. The bill also requires outcome data about participant retention in the classroom to make sure the state’s investment was worthwhile.

Another bill creates a competitive three-year grant program for school districts and public charter schools to devise their own plans for addressing the teacher shortage. These plans could feature, for example, peer review and mentorship programs; financial incentives to attract teachers to rural areas and hard-to-staff subject areas; and teacher leadership positions for highly effective teachers.

6. Reforms to the state pension fund, PERA, fell short. A compromise bill to shore up Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) delivered a disappointing result. While the new law creates a framework to achieve solvency by 2049, the bill does nothing to modify the current formula that leads to back-loaded retirement benefits for teachers.

In particular, we were disappointed that teachers were not included in an expanded defined contribution (DC) retirement plan option, despite all other public employees gaining access. This means many teachers still risk their retirement security if they move between the private and public sectors or between states over the course of their careers. Leaving teachers out represents a major flaw in the bill.

We see a long-term fix to PERA as a talent management issue. Colorado will not be able to attract and retain the best teachers without a pension system that addresses their unique needs and accounts for the fact that most teachers no longer spend 20+ years in the profession. And, continuing to rely on higher employer contributions takes away from other investment opportunities, such as higher teacher pay or more funding for work-based learning in schools.

7. More students can access the school of their choice thanks to lower transportation barriers. 

New law aims to eliminate transportation barriers to school choice

Transportation, a barrier for some students to attending the best school for their needs, was lifted this session.

A new law allows the school district that a student choices into to provide transportation to and from school (and outside the district boundaries).

This will help provide more equitable access to schools for low- and middle-income students by expanding transportation options – the historical reason some children have had barriers to true school choice.

Stay tuned for more updates as Colorado Succeeds starts to develop its 2019 policy agenda.

Kelly Caufield

Director of Policy and Advocacy
Colorado Succeeds

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