Introducing the Bill that’s Reimagining High School

Now is the time for Coloradans to reimagine the high school experience. Through the Successful High School Transitions bill (SB21-106) introduced by Senator James Coleman (D), Senator Kevin Priola (R), Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D), and Rep. Mark Baisley (R), Colorado Succeeds and partners are working to make high school more engaging and relevant for students and connect more of them to high quality pathways to career and other postsecondary opportunities, while laying the groundwork for a strong, local talent pool for Colorado’s businesses.

There are several reasons why it’s critical that we reimagine high school now.

  • High school is not engaging for most students. Students would benefit from greater opportunities for rigor, relevance, and experiential learning. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, young people across the country have not consistently engaged in remote learning, and low-income students and students of color are experiencing even higher rates of disengagement.
  • Traditional, rigid high school schedules make it difficult for students to pursue different pathways. COVID-19 forced many students to rethink how and where learning takes place. Allowing students to choose what they do for their fourth year of high school allows them to gain skills and experiences through career-connected learning or begin full-time postsecondary education – saving them time and money. 
  • Colorado businesses – who were already facing talent pipeline challenges before the crisis – need to find talent solutions that set the economy on the path to recovery. Many employers view career connected learning as critical to their economic recovery to help address the talent pipeline, and this gives them the opportunity to provide a rich learning experience for students.
  • Students need more affordable pathways to postsecondary education. As the costs of higher education continue to rise without guaranteed outcomes for students, it is critical to offer more affordable and efficient pathways to college and career.

With all of this in mind, the Successful High School Transitions bill has two parts:   

  1. It creates greater flexibility to break free from requirements that students learn within the walls of the traditional classroom. This allows career-connected learning that takes place outside of school to count towards the required number of hours needed to be considered a full-time student (also called the “seat time” requirement).
  2. It provides funding for low-income high schoolers who have met their graduation requirements early to participate in post-secondary education or workforce training during their fourth year of high school. This saves students time and money, and also frees up time for students to gain skills and experiences in the workplace through internships or apprenticeships, allowing for greater pathway exploration.

This bill builds on important learnings from previous legislation. In 2019, the legislature approved the Innovative Learning Opportunities Pilot (ILOP), which gave five Colorado school districts seat time flexibility and allowed students to engage in career-connected learning like internships, apprenticeships, and college courses. The new Successful High School Transitions bill seeks to expand this offering to up to 20 districts and establishes a clearer focus on prioritizing applicants with plans to disproportionately benefit underserved students.

Eight other states have created programs that allow students to gain training at institutions of higher education during their fourth year of high school. However, this new Colorado bill focuses on supporting multiple pathways to success, allowing students the option to pursue college level courses or qualified workforce training approved by the state.

The Successful High School Transitions bill has benefits for a wide range of stakeholders.  

  • The bill is a win for students, families, and school districts. It gives students the opportunity to graduate early with financial support to pursue post-secondary education, encourages them to become re-engaged in learning and explore topics of interest to them, creates opportunities to build skills relevant to high-demand careers, and addresses equity by prioritizing students with fewer resources and less access to career-connected learning opportunities.
  • The bill is also a win for talent pipeline development. It encourages business to invest in the training and support of young people. Through career-connected learning experiences, students can develop both the soft and technical skills needed in local industries, while businesses benefit from the new ideas and energy that interns and apprentices bring. Also, the legislation’s focus on prioritizing those furthest from opportunity supports the building of more diverse and innovative teams.  

Excited to support the success of this legislation? Here’s what you can do to help.

  • Add your organization’s name to this letter of support.
  • Share the letter of support with colleagues and state elected officials through your communications channels.
  • Contact us to testify (remotely) in support of the bill and/or participate in stakeholder meetings with key associations and policymakers.

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Kelly Caufield