Who Is In Charge

Bullying bill packed with mandates

A new anti-bullying bill introduced in the legislature Thursday proposes to do everything from creating a legislative study committee on the issue to requiring schools to conduct annual surveys about student perceptions of the problem.

The measure, House Bill 11-1254, was introduced on a day that saw several education news developments, including committee approval of the concussion bill and defeat of a bill to give Colorado State University students and faculty voting seats on the system’s board. (See bottom of story for details on those.)

Here are some of the key provisions of the bullying bill:

  • A legislative study committee would meet after the session adjourns in 2013 and make a report to the 2014 legislature.
  • A bullying prevention grant program (to be funded by donations, not tax dollars) would be created in the Department of Education to give schools grants for anti-bullying programs.
  • A School Bullying Prevention and Education Board would be created to administer the grant program and produce reports on its effectiveness.
  • School districts would be required to keep records of confirmed bullying incidents and adopt anti-bullying policies.
  • Individual schools would have to provide annual reports on incidents.
  • Teachers would be required to take training on bullying prevention.
  • Schools would have to conduct annual surveys of students on perceptions of bullying.

The bill also would apply to charter schools.

Reps. Kevin Priola, R- Brighton and Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, are the prime sponsors, along with Sen. Pat Steadman D-Denver.

The bill seems to be considerably more expansive that originally described by sponsors before the session, and it may raise eyebrows from school officials who’ve been hoping the 2011 legislature will reduce or streamline mandates on local schools districts rather than increase them.

Ed McCaffrey, Kelli Jantz, Sen. Nancy Spence
Kellli Jantz (wearing glasses at right) and Sen. Nancy Spence (red jacket) listen to former Bronco Ed McCaffrey urge adoption of the concussion bill.

Concussion bill campaign hits Capitol

The Senate’s largest hearing room was packed Thursday afternoon as the Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 11-040, the proposal that would require youth sports coaches to take training in recognizing the symptoms of concussions and also set standards for taking injured youths out of practices and games.

Before the hearing, supporters rallied at a well-attended Capitol news conference to promote the bill. Boosters included Kelli Jantz, the mother of a youth who died from a head injury, and former Denver Broncos Ed McCaffrey and Billy Thompson. The Brain Injury Alliance, The Children’s Hospital and several other medical organizations, plus the National Football League, are backing the bill. The NFL has been pushing similar legislation in states across the country.

The air of enthusiasm cooled a bit once the bill got to the committee. There was debate over whether athletic trainers should be added to the list of medical professionals who could clear an athlete to play after a concussion. (An amendment to do that was defeated.)

Conservative Republican Sens. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud and Shawn Mitchell of Broomfield, who take a dim view of government mandates of any sort, questioned whether the bill is necessary but were on the losing side of a 7-2 vote to advance the bill.

The bill would require youth sports coaches to take training in recognizing concussion symptoms, require an athlete be removed from practice or a game if a coach suspects a concussion and also require such athletes be medically evaluated and have written clearance before returning to play. It applies only to sports involving middle and high school-age children. The bill proposes neither penalties nor reporting requirements to ensure compliance.

Senate prime sponsors are Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, and Linda Newall, D-Littleton.

Another defeat for student votes on CSU board

The bill to give students and faculty members voting rights on the Colorado State University Board of Governors died Thursday in the Senate Education Committee, with only Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins and committee chair, voting yes.

CSU student government leaders have pushed the bill repeatedly and in 2010 saw a similar measure pass the full House by a wide margin before dying in Senate Ed on a 2-6 vote.

This year’s proposal, Senate Bill 11-011, would have added two students and two faculty members as voting members, to be appointed by the governor from the university’s two campuses. Last year’s bill included only student members. Students and faculty currently serve on the board as non-voting advisors.

Defeat of the bill came on the same day that legislators spent consider floor time praising the university while discussing a ceremonial resolution honoring the CSU system.

“Garcia bill” has easy time

House Bill 11-1155, which would clear Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia to also serve as director of the Department of Higher Education, was approved quickly Thursday by the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. Prime sponsors of the measure are the majority and minority leaders of both houses, so passage is expected.

For the record

The House gave final approval to surprisingly controversial House Bill 11-1007, which would allow Mesa State College employees to vote on whether to remain in the state personnel system or join the college’s own system. The measure may encounter more opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority.

listening tour

We asked six Colorado school board members what they want from the state’s next governor. Here’s what they said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Late last week, nine candidates for Colorado governor came together to talk education, addressing an annual fall conference of school board members.

Now, we’re giving some of those audience members a chance to speak up.

Before the gubernatorial hopefuls took the stage, Chalkbeat recorded interviews with a half-dozen school board members who represent districts across the state. Our question to them: What are the big education questions you hope the next governor will take on?

Not surprisingly, funding challenges came up time and again.

One school board member asked for a more predictable budget. Another asked for schools to get their fair share of annual increases in new tax dollars. One went so far as to say the next governor would be a chicken if he or she didn’t take on reforming the state’s tax code.

We also heard a desire for leadership on solving teacher shortages, expanding vocational training and rethinking the state’s school accountability system.

Here are the six gubernatorial wishes we heard from Colorado’s school board members:

Reform TABOR to send more money to schools

Wendy Pottorff, Limon Public Schools

Since the Great Recession, Colorado schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the state legislature has tried to close its education funding shortfall, lawmakers haven’t been able to keep up. Getting in the way, Pottorff says, is the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Change the conversation about public schools


Paul Reich, Telluride School District

Reich says public schools are under attack under the false premise that they’re failing — and that isn’t helping the state recruit bright young teachers. He said the next governor must change the conversation about schools to make teaching a more desirable profession.

Provide a clear budget forecast

Anne Guettler, Garfield School District

Approving a school district’s budget is one of the many responsibilities of a Colorado school board. That’s a tall challenge when the state’s budget is constantly in flux, Guettler says. She hopes the next governor can help provide a clearer economic forecast for schools.

Rethink school accountability to include students and parents

Greg Piotraschke, Brighton 27J

Colorado schools are subject to annual quality reviews by the state’s education department. And it’s time for the state to rethink what defines a high-quality school, Piotraschke said. He suggested the governor could help rethink everything from how the state uses standardized tests to how to incorporate parents and students into the review process.

Give schools more resources to train the state’s high-tech workforce

Nora Brown, Colorado Springs District 11

In light of Colorado growing tech sector, several gubernatorial candidates have come out in support of more technical training for Colorado students. But that costs money, Brown says. The Colorado Springs school board member said promising better job training for high school students without more resources is empty.

Remember there’s a difference between urban and rural schools

Mark Hillman, Burlington School District

Crafting statewide policy is an onerous task in Colorado, given the diversity of the state’s 178 school districts. Hillman said the next governor must remember that any legislation he or she signs will play out 178 different ways, so they must be careful to not put more undue pressure on the state’s smallest school districts.

Colorado Votes 2018

Five things we learned when Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates got on the same stage to talk about education

Colorado Republicans running for governor addressed some of the state's school board members at a forum hosted by the state's association of school boards. From left are George Brauchler, Steve Barlock, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Nine Republicans and Democrats hoping to become Colorado’s next governor offered contrasting views Friday of the state’s public schools to an audience of more than 100 local school board members.

Most of the five Republicans told the crowd of locally elected officials — who are charged by the state’s constitution with governing Colorado’s public schools — that their programs were in need of improvement and innovation, and that they were there to help.

The four Democrats hoping to succeed fellow Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, pledged to reform the state’s tax code to send more money to schools.

The candidates spoke at the annual fall delegation conference of the state’s association of school boards.It was the first forum of its kind to address education issues exclusively this election election cycle.

Unlike previous elections, Colorado’s public education system has been a key policy debate early in the campaign. Several candidates, especially Democrats, have worked on education issues before.

Here are our five takeaways from the forum:

The Republican candidates didn’t pull any punches when they said the state’s public schools were in need of improvement — and several said that they were the ones to do it.

From District Attorney George Brauchler to businessman Doug Robinson, every Republican candidate said one part or another of the state’s school system needed to do better.

“Education is life itself,” said former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell. “And there is no greater challenge facing our state than 50 percent of our at-risk kids who graduate can’t complete college-level course work.”

Both Mitchell and Robinson pointed to their experience as entrepreneurs as evidence that they could help set the state’s schools free of what they consider unnecessary red tape. Brauchler called for empowering teachers and parents.

Every Democrat and several Republicans agreed that the state’s schools were in a “funding crisis.” But they offered very different paths forward.

It was an easy question for Democrats. Businessman Noel Ginsburg, former state Sen. Michael Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne were in lock-step that the state’s schools are in need of more money.

“If we don’t fundamentally solve this crisis, the rest of the issues don’t matter,” Johnston said.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne talk after a forum for gubernatorial candidates. Both are Democrats. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Johnston and Kennedy forcefully pledged to take on the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits how much tax revenue the state can collect and requires voter approval to raise taxes.

Lynne was more tempered. While she acknowledged tax reform was needed, she said wanted a legislative committee working on school finance to complete its work before suggesting any overhauls.

Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker and a small business owner, was the only GOP candidate who said he would take on the state’s complicated tax laws. If elected, he promised to establish a committee to send a reform proposal to voters.

Robinson and Brauchler acknowledged that schools were in a funding crunch. But they stopped short of saying they’d send more money to schools.

Mitchell said “he wasn’t sure” if there was a funding crisis, but added, “The system should be reformed before it’s fully funded.”

PERA, the state’s employee retirement program, could play a prominent issue in the election — especially for Republicans.

Earlier at the conference, school board members received a briefing on a proposed overhaul to the state’s retirement program, which includes school district employees.

While the situation is not as dire as it was a decade ago, the program’s governing board has become so increasingly worried about unfunded liabilities that it’s asking state lawmakers to pass a reform package to provide more financial stability.

Two Republicans, Brauchler and Steve Barlock, who co-chaired President Trump’s campaign in Colorado, said PERA was in crisis. Barlock warned school board members that their budgets were in jeopardy as lawmakers fiddle with the system.

Neither went into any detail about how they hoped to see the retirement program made more fiscally stable. But watch for this issue to gain greater traction on the campaign trail, especially as Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton ramps up his gubernatorial campaign, and as lawmakers begin to wrestle with PERA reforms next year. (Stapleton did not attend the forum.)

Some candidates offered careful responses to a question about school choice. Others, not so much.

Every Democrat and one Republican, Brauchler, said they respected a family’s right to choose the best school for their children. But that choice, they said, should not come at the expense of traditional, district-run schools.

“I’m concerned that we’d build a system where the success of some schools is coming at the expense of other schools,” Kennedy said.

Republicans strongly supported charter schools, and in some cases, vouchers that use taxpayer dollars to pay for private schools. Robinson called on creating new ways to authorize charter schools. Mitchell said he wanted to repeal a provision in the state’s constitution that has been used to rebuff private school vouchers.

There’s no party line over rural schools.

Republicans and Democrats alike said the state needed to step up to help its rural schools, which are typically underfunded compared to schools along the Front Range. They need more teachers, better infrastructure and fewer regulations, the candidates said.

“We need to get rural areas into the modern age,” Robinson said.