Capitol Report: Colorado’s school accountability system is due for some fixes

Good evening, and welcome to the Front Porch Edition of Capitol Report. If I can’t get out and enjoy this weather in the real outdoors, I will at least write outdoors.

The budget debate continues this week as the Joint Budget Committee must reconcile the House and Senate versions of the long bill. After initially rejecting an amendment to add $35 million for school security, a few minds got changed over the course of a few hours Wednesday, and the Senate ultimately adopted an amendment very similar to the one in the House. The footnote attached to this allocation says it should be used for “resource security officers” and for physical upgrades to school facilities that enhance safety.

Some Democrats and community groups want to see a much broader use of these funds, if this is going to be part of the budget at all. They want this money to fund more social workers, more training in restorative justice and de-escalation, and more training in how to identify troubled kids. Advocates will be working hard on this over the next week.

“I hope our legislators will hear our students and parents who do not want more security guards in our schools,” said Corinne Rivera-Fowler of Padres y Jóvenes Unidos. “Following Parkland, as this momentum has grown around school safety, nobody wants more guns and more police in our schools. This is not the solution. … We’re really hopeful that the organizing around this will make a difference.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have made some hay out of the notion that Democrats don’t care about school safety.

While we’re on the subject of money, the House Education Committee delayed a vote on a bill from state Rep. Dave Young that would change how Colorado distributes money to schools, provided voters approve a tax increase for K-12 education. This proposal has the backing of nearly all of the state’s superintendents, but Democrats and Republicans both had concerns and questions. When it comes to school funding, there are always a lot of moving pieces and a lot of constituencies in play.

This week, the House Education Committee takes up another complex bill, this one on school accountability, and the House Public Health and Human Services Committee takes up a bill that aims to make it a little easier for some of Colorado’s most disadvantaged youth, those in foster care, to graduate from high school. A bill that would prohibit public employees from engaging in union activity on the job is in a kill committee in the House, and a bill that would require school districts to notify parents when employees are charged with certain crimes is back in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

Keep reading for that, plus stories on Colorado’s low ranking on teacher pay, startling disparities in early childhood suspensions, and an unfortunate consequence of four-day school weeks.

– Erica Meltzer, bureau chief

Top Stories

Lawmakers delay first vote on overhaul of Colorado’s school finance formula

A bill sponsored by state Rep. Dave Young and backed by 171 of Colorado’s 178 superintendents would fundamentally change how the state distributes money to its schools. Those high stakes led Young, a Greeley Democrat, to ask the House Education Committee Monday to postpone a vote on the bill.

The proposal faced skepticism from Republicans and Democrats alike, though for different reasons, and Young said the superintendents had worked too hard on the proposal to field amendments on the fly. Read more

School security measure passes the Colorado Senate in late night reversal

The Colorado Senate joined the House in adopting a budget amendment Wednesday that sets aside $35 million for school resource officers and building upgrades to improve security. The late night vote came after the initial version of the amendment failed on something close to a party line vote. Read more

What’s next for Colorado schools ‘on the clock’? This bill would show the way.

Colorado’s 2009 school accountability system calls for state intervention into schools and districts that show poor performance for five years in a row. But the law is silent about what should happen next if students still aren’t learning in the years that follow. A bill introduced this week in the Colorado General Assembly would lay out those next steps – and give the Colorado Department of Education a greater role earlier in the process. Read more

Four-day school weeks, a nationwide symptom of tight budgets, lead to more youth crime, study finds

Using sophisticated statistical techniques and data from 1997 and 2014 in Colorado, researchers Stefanie Fischer and Daniel Argyle looked at how four-day weeks affected crime among high-schoolers. The results aren’t pretty. Read more

Colorado teachers can claim an unwelcome distinction: most underpaid in the nation (or close to it)

A recent study from the Education Law Center, a group that advocates for more school funding, ranked Colorado dead last in the competitiveness of its teacher salaries. The typical 25-year-old teacher at the beginning of her career in Colorado makes just 69 percent of what her peers with similar education levels who work similar hours earn. Read more

As teachers across the country demand higher pay, here’s how much salaries have stalled — and why it matters for kids

The renewed attention to teachers’ paychecks marks a departure from many of the prevailing debates about teacher pay. Those questions, like whether high ratings or student test scores should factor into teacher pay, often focused less on how much to pay teachers and more on how to pay them.

Now, those paychecks are in the spotlight. Here’s a quick guide to the numbers behind the walkouts and how salaries end up mattering for students, too. Read more

7 things to know about how Colorado schools punish their youngest students

Young black boys are suspended at disproportionate rates in school districts across Colorado. Some rural districts have the highest early childhood suspension rates in the state. And despite nationwide debate about the impact of harsh discipline on young children and local efforts to bring the numbers down, suspensions in the early grades are actually going up.

These are a few of the findings from a new Chalkbeat analysis of three years of data on out-of-school suspensions given to students in kindergarten through second grade. Chalkbeat obtained the district- and state level data — some of it disaggregated by race and gender — from the Colorado Department of Education through a public records request. Read more

Colorado gubernatorial hopeful Mike Johnston, known as an education reformer, says what schools really need is money

Now a Democratic candidate for governor, Johnston released an education platform this week that hinges on a major tax reform and calls for free full-day kindergarten, more access to preschool, and higher pay for teachers, as well as two years of higher education or career training, debt-free, in exchange for community service. Read more

Denver has welcomed school autonomy, but some teachers are now saying no thanks

For the first time ever, teachers at two Denver schools voted this year against renewing “innovation plans” that allowed the schools to set their own calendars, choose their own textbooks, and in the case of one school, waive parts of the teachers union contract.

The votes against autonomy come at a time when national portfolio proponents have questioned whether Denver Public Schools is backing away from its more aggressive school improvement strategies. But Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova said she doesn’t see the votes as a harbinger of change in either district policy or public opinion. Read more

Responsibility for translation and interpretation can’t fall to students, according to new Aurora policy

The proposed policy is meant to signal that translation services are a core responsibility of the district, located in one of the most diverse cities in Colorado — not something to be passed onto students simply because they’re available. The board is expected to vote on the draft policy May 1. Read more

What to expect next

Follow education-related bills from start to finish with our 2018 Bill Tracker here.


House, third reading, 10 a.m.

  • HB18-1070 – Additional Public School Capital Construction Funding

House, second reading

  • HB18-1335 – County Child Care Assistance Program Block Grants
  • HB18-1209 – No 529 Account Income Tax Deduction For K-12 Kindergarten Through Twelfth Expenses

House, consideration of Senate amendments

  • HB18-1322 – 2018-19 Long Appropriation Act

House, consideration of adherence

  • SB18-151 – Colorado Department of Education Bullying Policies Research

House Education, HCR 0112, 1:30 p.m.

  • HB18-1355 – Public Education Accountability System

Joint Budget Committee, JBC hearing room, 2 p.m.

  • Meet as necessary to finalize the 2018-19 budget


Senate Appropriations, SCR 357, 8:35 a.m.

  • HB18-1186 – Sunset Review Colorado Youth Advisory Council
  • HB18-1193 – Extend Advanced Placement Incentives Program
  • SB18-012 – Military Enlistment School Performance Indicator
  • SB18-083 – Education Income Tax Credits for Nonpublic School
  • SB18-163 – Extend Repeal Early Childhood Legislative Commission
  • SB18-225 – Definition of Early College High Schools

House, second reading, 10 a.m.

  • HB18-1263 – Medical Marijuana Use for Autism and Acute Pain
  • HB18-1286 – School Nurse Give Medical Marijuana at School

House Public Health Care and Human Services, HCR 0107, 1:30 p.m.

  • HB18-1306 – Improving Educational Stability for Foster Youth

Joint Budget Committee, JBC hearing room, 2 p.m.

  • Meet as necessary to finalize the 2018-19 budget


House Education, HCR 0112, upon adjournment

  • SB18-177 – Private School and Private Occupational School Bonds

House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs, Room 271, 1:30 p.m.

  • SB18-175 – Prohibit Paid Union Activity by Public Employees

Senate Judiciary, SCR 352, 1:30 p.m.

  • HB18-1156 – Limit Penalties for Juvenile Truancy

Joint Budget Committee, JBC hearing room, 1:30 p.m.

  • Meet as necessary to finalize the 2018-19 budget


Senate, third reading, 9 a.m.

  • SB18-201 – Religious Organization Child Care Licensing Exemption

Senate Education, SCR 352, 1:30 p.m.

  • SB18-229 – Colorado Department of Education Student Teacher Criminal History Record Checks
  • SB18-228 – Improving School Choice In Traditional Schools

House Judiciary, HCR 0112, 1:30 p.m.

  • HB18-1269 – Parent Notice for Student Safety and Protection

Joint Budget Committee, JBC hearing room, 1:30 p.m.

  • Meet as necessary to finalize the 2018-19 budget

What else we’re reading

University of Colorado Chancellor Phil DiStefano has backed off, at least for now, on a proposal to reduce the budget of CU’s student government by 90 percent after hundreds of students protested and called for his resignation. Students said this would gut the power of one of the most autonomous student government organizations in the country. Among those objecting are current state lawmakers like Sen. Steve Fenberg, Rep. Leslie Herod, Rep. Dan Pabon, Rep. Joe Salazar, and Rep. Jovan Melton, who said they got invaluable political experience in student government. Daily Camera

State Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Republican from Hot Sulphur Springs, survived an expulsion vote pushed by Democrats after an independent investigator found that it was more likely than not that he slapped and grabbed the buttocks of a legislative aide. KUNC

A lengthy report from an outside consultant found an unhealthy workplace culture at the Colorado Capitol. While most people said they felt safe, 30 percent said they had experienced or witnessed sexual harassment – and very few reported it. KUNC

Four out of five Colorado Republicans love President Donald Trump, which leaves Republican gubernatorial candidates walking an uncomfortable line. “There’s obviously opportunity for the candidates, especially Republican primary candidates, to align themselves with Trump,” a leading Republican pollster said. “But to really embrace the president you can have some baggage.” Denver Post

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis is no longer seen as the obvious frontrunner for governor in a crowded Democratic primary field. He’s also walking a bit of a line, trying to stake out progressive territory during what’s expected to be a Democratic wave year, while also pointing out his bipartisan record to reduce the sting of the “too liberal” label. “I think political insiders might use that as a dog whistle to remind people that I’m gay,” he said, “because I have a strong track record of working in a bipartisan way to get things done in our state.” Denverite

A proposal to allow people, including children, with autism to treat their symptoms with medical marijuana cleared a House committee this week. So did a bill that would allow school nurses to administer medical marijuana at school. Denver Post Fox 31

Labor actions by teachers around the country in many cases are happening ahead of or in spite of the position of union leadership. NPR

People responding to water damage in the basement of the Capitol came across a collection of long-lost official portraits of Colorado governors. As the portraits are restored, officials will need to decide where and how to display them, including those who presided over the violent suppression of mining strikes, massacres of Native Americans, and, in the case of Clarence Morley, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Colorado Public Radio

In a remarkable editorial, The Denver Post called on its owners to change their business model or sell the newspaper to someone who will run it as the great civic asset that it is. This comes as Alden Global Capital has demanded yet more layoffs, even though the newspaper makes a profit. The move drew national attention, with The New York Times reporting that corporate did call to have words with Editor Lee Ann Colacioppo. Denver Post New York Times