Who Is In Charge

Last education bills get cleared out

Updated 9:30 a.m. May 7 – The Senate today gave final 27-8 approval to a late bill intended to give the University of Colorado more flexibility in admitting out-of-state students and using the additional revenue to provide merit scholarships to bright Colorado students.

CU-Boulder campus view
PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
Campus of University of Colorado at Boulder

House Bill 13-1320, introduced only on April 23, is the last education bill in line as the 2013 legislative session heads toward Wednesday adjournment. It’s had a bit of a bumpy ride in committee, but on Monday passed on a voice vote after about 20 minutes of debate. After Tuesday’s final vote the House will have to consider Senate amendments.

Although the bill applies in theory to all Colorado colleges, in practice it’s tailored for CU-Boulder, which is bumping against its allowed percentage of non-resident students. CU officials want to admit more non-residents both so it can gain the substantially higher tuition they pay and also so it can use some of that revenue to provide merit scholarships for top Colorado students. (The state hasn’t provided any merit aid since 2009, although colleges can do so on their own, as CU does already.)

Issues decided Monday

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A controversial portion of the bill allows a college to count a Colorado merit scholar as equivalent to two regular Colorado students, making it possible to maintain the required 55 percent resident undergraduate enrollment while creating more space for out-of-staters.

“What they have done here is a little creative, I would say,” said Democratic sponsor Sen. Rollie Heath, whose district includes the Boulder campus. “You could say ingenious, but we have to resort to this sort of thing at this stage of the game.” Heath and other bill sponsors argue that top Colorado high school graduates are being lured out of state by generous scholarships offered by other universities.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, said, “It’s not pretty, it’s not clean” but that he supports the bill anyway.

Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, argued against the bill Monday evening, noting questions raised last week by the Department of Higher education. Claiming the bill could lead to fewer Colorado students at CU, Renfroe asked, “Is that what you want?

The House version of the bill also included $3 million in state funds to be divvied up among colleges for merit scholarships. The Senate stripped the money fom the bill, and the House isn’t expected to object. (Learn more about the bill’s intricacies, who would qualify for scholarships and more in his legislative staff analysis.)

Green schools bill finally passes

School under construction
School under construction

Senate Bill 13-279, another late April bill that encountered some turbulence, is on its way to the governor. The measure sets energy conservation requirements for new school buildings and substantial renovations. Amendments to soften the bill and make its requirements more flexible somewhat eased the initial concerns of school districts. The Senate accepted House amendments and re-passed the bill 19-16.

Passage of the bill is a long-awaited victory for Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, a Jeffco teacher who floated several unsuccessful versions while serving in the House.

Here are the details on the other education bills that passed Monday:

School medical emergencies

House Bill 13-1171 allows (but doesn’t require) schools to stock epinephrine injectors to treat students suffering allergic reactions. Students with diagnosed allergies now can bring their own injectors to school. Advocates of the bill argued that schools should stock injectors for undiagnosed students who have reactions. The bill was delayed because of negotiations over training of school employees, liability issues and the role of school nurses. Passed Senate 27-8; the House Tuesday adopted Senate amendments and re-passed the bill 57-8.

Parent involvement

Senate Bill 13-193 makes several changes in parent involvement laws. The measure requires school accountability committees to better promote parent involvement and to be more involved in school turnaround and priority improvement plans, requires each district to designate one staff member as a parent contact person, expands the role of the State Advisory Council for Parent Involvement in Education and allocates $150,000 for the Department of Education to hire a parent engagement specialist. Passed 37-28; the Senate has to review amendments.

Teacher evaluations

Teacher evaluationHouse Bill 13-1257 tweaks the state’s 2010 educator evaluation law and gives the Department of Education greater oversight of district principal and teacher evaluation plans. (Current law allows districts to use the state model system or develop their own systems if they meet state standards.) The bill allows the department to review district plans – or do so at the request of “any interested party” – and order compliance with state standards or use of the state system. The Senate passed the bill 21-14, and the House later approved Senate amendments and re-passed it 35-27.

The bill was introduced in a very different form, at the behest of AFT-Colorado, which represents teachers in the Douglas County Schools. The union and the conservative Dougco board are locked in a variety of disputes. The original bill essentially would have given teachers’ unions veto power over district evaluation plans. That idea had little or no support, and the measure was dramatically retooled.

Technical education

House Bill 13-1165 directs a variety of state agencies, including the community colleges board and the departments of education and higher education, to create “a career pathway for students seeking employment in the manufacturing sector.” The program has to be up and running for the 2014-15 academic year. Passed 21-14. (Get more information on the bill here.)

The bill directs state officials to hold a “summit” with industry representatives to determine state manufacturing workforce needs and to design programs to fill them. The measure has a $474,600 price tag in the first year. This is one of two workforce/education bills that survived this session. The other, House Bill 13-1005, directs the community college system to create pilot programs that combine adult basic education with career training. The highest profile workforce bill, a measure allowing community colleges in a limited number of technical fields, died in the face of opposition from state universities.


House Bill 13-1021 makes several changes in state truancy law with the intent of keeping more students in school and reducing the jailing of truant students. The bill encourages districts to develop procedures for identifying students who are chronically absent, to work more closely with local with juvenile services agencies and to adopt policies for dealing with habitually truant students. The bill says districts should “minimize the need for court action” and take students to court “only as a last resort.” The bill also limits detention of a student to no more than five days at any one time. The House agreed to Senate amendments and re-passed the bill 38-27. (Read the bill text for more details.)

Also approved Monday was House Bill 13-1007, which reinstates a legislative early childhood study commission. The body won’t receive funding – it will be getting in-kind support from the Colorado Children’s Campaign — but the panel will have the ability to propose bills without those counting against the limit of five that applies to individual members. Re-passed 21-14 by the Senate and 37-26 in the House.

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.