Key Victories — and Some Disappointments — for Public Education at the Legislature in 2019


May 3, 2019

Success on funding and community schools despite lack of action to improve teacher evaluations

DENVER – A Democratic controlled legislature produced a mixed bag of results for public schools, students and educators. Strong educator voice was key in securing more school funding SB-246, but legislators remained stubbornly ‘status-quo’ when presented with ideas from teachers to improve Colorado’s ineffective and burdensome educator evaluation system SB-247.

“Educators moved the needle on school funding, successfully advocating for more funding than our elected officials first proposed. We are grateful for additional resources that will make a big difference in the lives of our students, but there is still a long way to go with over a half-billion dollar shortfall still existing for public schools,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, a high school counselor and president of the Colorado Education Association.

“We are disappointed that the voices of educators were not honored on important changes we need to make to the evaluation system to help reverse the state teacher shortage,” Baca-Oehlert continued. “Education was the number one issue last election and we hoped for more progress to honor our students and educators. Quality public schools are a top priority for Coloradans and they should be as well for the legislature.”

CEA began the session looking at every bill through the lens of showing respect and value for educators and students. Building off CEA Days of Action last year that involved 17,000 educators, educators were back at the Capitol during five CEA Lobby Days. “Our members laid out three key priorities of funding classrooms not corporations, enacting policies like the teacher evaluation bill that are student-centered and led by educators, and addressing the growing teacher shortage by retaining and attracting quality educators,” said Baca-Oehlert.

The approved public education budget took educator voice into account by putting about $500 million more toward public education funding than last year (when including full-day kindergarten funding). CEA’s 38,000 educators were the only ones to consistently challenge lawmakers to approve a $100 million budget stabilization reduction ($23M more than first proposed), plus $20M in one-time money for rural schools and $22M for special education. Lawmakers will also refer a measure to voters (HB-1257) that will allow the state to keep all revenue in excess of the constitutional spending caps. Colorado voters have locally approved these types of measures across the state. If passed, the revenue will be invested in K-12 public schools, higher education and transportation (HB-1258).

The legislature also passed various grants to support students and educators, though Baca-Oehlert pointed out, “CEA members continue to be concerned by the frequency with which grants are viewed as a solution to our bigger funding concerns. Grants and pilot programs do not provide stable funding to ensure all students and educators have access to the resources and supports they need, and when grants expire, the work they were funding is at risk of being lost.”

Colorado communities scored a major victory with passage of a bill recognizing the exciting promise of Community Schools (SB-102). This law provides a common definition of Community Schools for districts to consider as an option in their school innovation plans. “We want to keep public schools public. Community Schools offer an educator and community-led model for improving turnaround schools and districts, rather than contracting with out-of-state, for-profit education companies that don’t understand community concerns and haven’t had much success in improving high-needs schools in other states,” added Baca-Oehlert.

CEA applauds Gov. Polis for realizing his priority, which has long been a priority of CEA, to provide state-funded, full-day kindergarten for all students (HB-1262). CEA is a proud member of the Kindergarten NOW Coalition and educators are excited to end the inequity and place all of our youngest learners on the same playing field to get a fresh start in school. “We are pleased the Governor reiterated our ask, on behalf of thousands of educators who came to the Capitol, that districts previously investing in full-day kindergarten should place freed-up dollars into better pay that will attract and retain quality teachers and support professionals,” Baca-Oehlert said.

Legislators missed an opportunity to protect student safety and provide greater transparency by voting down a bill requiring more accountability in contracting out school services (HB-1249). Raised by Rep. Rochelle Galindo, a school custodian and CEA member, the proposal sought to protect communities against the outsourcing of education support professional positions in schools by ensuring a transparent process and accountability before a district could hire outside employees from a third-party contractor.

CEA members helped elect pro-public education candidates in 2018 who supported many efforts to improve the lives of Colorado students, families and educators. The pro-public education agenda was boosted as the legislature passed laws, including grants and pilot programs, that will:

  • Bolster mental health supports (HBs 1017, 1120; SB-10);
  • Ensure free lunch for all Colorado students who qualify (HB-1171);
  • Increase numbers of school nurses (HB-1203) and physical education classes (part of SB-246 finance act);
  • Include contributions of minority groups in U.S. and Colorado history and civil government instruction (HB-1192);
  • Improve professional development of principals with focus on the importance of quality leadership to teacher retention and student success (HB-1002);
  • Raise financial incentives for new educators wanting to teach in rural school (SB-009);
  • Expand voting rights (HB-1278) and increase transparency in elections (HB-1318); and
  • Assist Colorado working families (HB-1210).

Legislators easily defeated measures not in the best interests of students and educators, including harmful proposals for various education vouchers and calls to lower state income tax rates even though the state is not fully funding schools.

In the final hours of session, a referred measure that would have asked voters about taxing liquid nicotine in vaping products (HB-1333) in order to curb youth tobacco use failed. Teen vaping in Colorado is twice the national average at 27%. The state currently does not tax liquid nicotine, which a Harvard study recently found to contain chemicals associated with lung disease.

“The voices, concerns and ideas of parents, students and educators serve as the center of any approach to enhance our schools,” concluded Baca-Oehlert. “We are not done fighting for our students and we will be back in the Capitol next year to lead discussions on student-centered, educator-led policy that we know will help every student thrive. We particularly hope lawmakers will be more receptive to our ideas on changing the way teachers and principals are evaluated, as we are the practitioners who know what is best for our students and our profession.”

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