Who Is In Charge

Licensing bill on ice for 2013

Updated – Sen. Mike Johnston said Wednesday he will not introduce a teacher licensing bill this year, saying there’s not enough time left to consider such a complex topic during the 2013 session, which must adjourn by May 8.

Colorado CapitolTeacher licensing reform had been discussed as a top 2013 issue ever since a report presented to the State Board of Education last September urged significant changes in the system, including tying license renewals to teacher evaluations. (See EdNews story about the report here and the “Making Licensure Matter” text here.)

Johnston promised to introduce such a bill and has been meeting with educators and others over the winter and spring to discuss the issue. But the Denver Democrat also has had to spend lots of time on the undocumented students tuition bill (Senate Bill 13-33) and the school finance reform bill (Senate Bill 13-213). That latter measure is still pending.

As recently as last Friday Johnston said he still hoped to introduce a licensing bill this week. Some education interest groups were privately urging him not to do that, citing the waning amount of time left in the session.

Johnston told EdNews Wednesday that he’s now decided there isn’t enough time, especially since SB 13-213 remains unresolved. That bill has passed the Senate but has yet to be considered by the full House. (See latest story on that issue.)

Instead, Johnston said, he plans to convene a series of meetings and studies over the summer and fall to develop a detailed teacher licensing proposal for the 2014 session.

Some of the ideas that Johnston had been considering included elimination of most current state regulations for teacher prep programs, making it possible for people who have college degrees and who can pass a content knowledge test to obtain “transitional” teaching licenses, creation of master licenses for highly effective educators and creation of a new appointed board to advise the Department of Education on licensing. The bill also was expected to cover principal licensing and to tie license renewal to evaluations.

With licensing off the legislative table, finance reform is the only major education issue before the 2013 session. Several other lower profile education bills also remain in play.

Funding bill for 2013-14 advances

Education bills are on the move in both houses as lawmakers feel the pressure of the looming May 8 adjournment deadline.

The Senate Appropriation Committee Tuesday voted 5-2 to advance Senate Bill 13-260, the 2013-14 funding bill for K-12 schools. (Wags are calling it “classic” school finance to distinguish it from Senate Bill 13-213, the full overhaul of the finance system now pending in the House.)

Senate floor debate on the measure is expected Friday.

SB 13-260 contains some $5.5 billion in total program funding, the combination of state and local money used to pay basic school operating costs. That’s an increase of about $200 million over this year’s level. The bill would reduce the state’s estimated $1 billion shortfall in school funding (referred to as the “negative factor”) by $35 million.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, warned the committee that the bill takes a bit more money – about $11 million – out of the State Education Fund than he would have liked. Steadman is a prime sponsor of the bill and chair of the Joint Budget Committee. “But after long discussions,” he said, “We decided to forge ahead.”

Get more information on the bill in this legislative staff summary and in this EdNews story.

Evaluation system tweak gets committee nod

The House Education Committee on Monday approved a significantly amended version of House Bill 13-1257, which affects teacher evaluation systems developed by individual school districts.

As originally introduced, the bill basically would have given teachers unions veto power over evaluation systems developed by districts. The measure was suggested by the American Federation of Teachers Colorado, which represents teachers in the Douglas County Schools, where the union and the school board have been feuding.

Both mainline and education reform groups opposed that version, and negotiations produced a compromise that gives the Department of Education greater oversight over local plans. The state’s landmark evaluation law, Senate Bill 10-191, and subsequent regulations set statewide standards for evaluation but allow for some local variations.

ELL update plan moves to Senate

The House on Monday gave 60-2 final approval to House Bill 13-1211, which would extend the eligibility of students for English language learner programs and provide additional funding to districts to improve such programs. Learn more about the bill in this legislative staff summary.

Long days ahead

Facing time pressure with less than a month left to go, the Senate scheduled late-afternoon floor sessions Tuesday through Thursday and plans to work Friday “as long as necessary to clear the day’s calendar,” in the words of a note atop Tuesday’s calendar.

Despite that, the Senate made only modest progress – at least on education bills – during an evening session Tuesday.

In the House, Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, on Tuesday warned members to expect long floor sessions Wednesday through Friday “and possibly into Saturday if we need to.”

What’s the cause? Like college students, lawmakers are notorious for leaving things to the last minute. And this year Republicans are blaming Democrats for introducing a lot of late bills. Some Democrats grumble that Republicans are wasting time with long floor speeches opposing bills they know are going to pass anyway. There’s truth to both complaints.

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.