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Home Chalkbeat Where are they now? A progress report on Colorado education bills

Where are they now? A progress report on Colorado education bills

Kindergarten, by Larry Law, via Flickr:Creative Commons

Colorado’s General Assembly is just about at the halfway mark, but most major education legislation is still under consideration.

And the biggest issue – how to fund schools – has yet to surface, either in the form of a comprehensive school finance bill or other potential legislation. Funding for Gov. Jared Polis’ top priority of universal full-day kindergarten is among the big-ticket items awaiting introduction.

But there’s action on plenty of fronts, including measures that stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate in recent years but now appear to be moving full-steam ahead.

Here’s a look:

Tax credits: Bills to provide tax credits for early childhood educators and for low-income families that need childcare await action in the House Appropriations Committee after being approved by the House Finance Committee. It’s possible the bills won’t come up until after the state budget is introduced, when it’s clear how much money is left for new expenses proposed by lawmakers.

Mid-year funding adjustments: With higher-than-expected property tax revenues in many districts and lower enrollment that predicted, the Joint Budget Committee proposed returning $77 million to the state’s general fund. The House amended the bill to let school districts keep $12.9 million of that cash. The Senate rejected that amendment. The budget committee will discuss what to do Monday afternoon.

Community schools: Proponents believe including a definition of community schools in statute would make it easier to get federal grants for programs such as social services, adult education, and other “wraparound” services beyond academics. The Senate approved Senate Bill 102, and the House Education Committee will consider the bill on March 12.

Elementary school social worker pilot program: Ten at-risk elementary schools around the state would get a social worker in each grade under this measure that next goes to the House Appropriations Committee.

Comprehensive sex education: Schools that teach sex education would have to teach about consent and include gay and lesbian relationships in a broader discussion of healthy relationships. Charter schools could no longer get exemptions from state rules in order to promote an abstinence-only message. This hotly contested bill has passed the House and now goes to Senate Appropriations.

Mental health care for middle schoolers: Youths ages 12, 13 and 14 would be able to get mental health counseling without parental permission under this measure approved in a party-line vote on Friday, March 1, by the House Public Health Care & Human Services Committee. It’s headed to the House Appropriations Committee.

Interdistrict transportation of students: Late in the 2018 session, Republicans added an amendment to a bill related to foster youth that allowed school districts to cross boundaries to provide transportation, even if the neighboring district objected. A bill that strips that language and returns Colorado law to its previous position — that districts need the consent of their neighbors to provide transportation across district boundaries — awaits the governor’s signature.

Expanding free school lunches: This bill would make school lunches free for high-schoolers whose families qualify for reduced-price lunches under federal guidelines. Approved by the House Education Committee, it will be considered by the House Appropriations Committee.

Reduce charter school funding: The House Education Committee on Tuesday will consider reversing a 2017 law that gave more money to state-authorized charter schools.

Dyslexia screening: Approved by the House Education Committee, this bill next goes to the House Appropriations Committee. The measure creates a task force to make policy recommendations and includes a pilot screening program for five schools.

Closed meetings to discuss bargaining strategy: This bill, clarifying that school boards may discuss strategy for negotiating with unions in private, is scheduled for debate on the House floor on Monday, though it’s possible it could get pushed back.

Reducing suspensions for youngest students: The House Education Committee is scheduled to take up this bipartisan bill on March 14.

Encouraging students of color to take advanced classes: The Senate Education Committee approved a bill encouraging more diverse enrollment in advanced classes; it awaits action in Senate Appropriations.

Failed:

  • A Republican bill to give bonuses to highly effective teachers died in the Senate Education Committee.
  • A Republican bill to provide automatic waivers of state regulations to rural schools died in the Senate State Affairs Committee.
  • A Republican bills to give teachers tax credits when they buy their own school supplies died in the Senate Finance Committee.
  • A Republican bill to make scholarships available to the families of struggling readers died in the Senate Education Committee.
  • A Republican proposal to ask Colorado voters to take lottery proceeds away from outdoor recreation and put them toward education died in the Senate State Affairs Committee.
  • Two Republican bills that would have helped parents pay tuition at private schools if their child were subject to bullying or violence died in House and Senate State Affairs respectively.

Erica Meltzer contributed to this article.

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Melanie Asmar on March 2, 2019. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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