Welcome to the BVSD Legislative Update, which will be provided throughout the 2017 session of the Colorado General Assembly. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Some new education ideas finally pop up

A couple of fresh education proposals have surfaced in a legislative session that so far has seen mostly recycled K-12 bills that were introduced but rejected during previous sessions.

One measure proposes a pay-for-performance funding system that would financially reward districts with high student performance – and reduce state funding for other districts.

The other issue – appropriate discipline of K-2 students - isn’t exactly new, but two just-introduced bills are the first concrete proposals offered after a couple of years of talking about the issue.

Let's look first at the pay-for-performance measure, Senate Bill 17-200. Although its chances of passage are questionable, it’s noteworthy because it’s the first bill in recent memory that explicitly proposes school funding be based partly on the academic performance of districts. District and school academic performance has never been a factor in state funding of schools, which is based on enrollment with individual district adjustments for factors such as the percentage of at-risk students, cost of living in individual districts and district size.

In the past, a few legislators have raised the idea of performance funding, but it’s never been a serious part of the education debate. The proposal, Senate Bill 17-200 (the bill has the somewhat awkward acronym name of REWARD – the Rewarding Excellence With Annual Redirected Dollars Act), would work like this:

The state’s districts would be divided into rural and non-rural, and then further grouped by demographic factors such as percentages of at-risk students. Based on “objective” measures of student performance determined by the state Department of Education – depending mostly on the current factors used for school and district accountability – districts would be ranked on performance every year.

The top 10 rural and the top 10 non-rural districts would receive additional funding every year. That “bonus” fund would be 1 percent of total program funding after subtracting the negative factor. That equals about $64 million at current funding levels. Some 35 percent of that pot – about $22 million – would go to the 20 districts in equal shares. The rest of the money would be distributed to those districts on a per-pupil basis. There’s an interesting caveat – bonus money could go only to districts that have 95 percent student participation on state tests.

Every other district – all 158 of them – would see their shares of state funding reduced by the money that was spent in bonuses (that bonus money would be taken just from the state share of school funding, not from funds raised by local property taxes).

The bill has narrow support. Republican Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson is the prime sponsor, along with three other Senate Republicans. There are no House sponsors yet from either party. 

The other “new idea” bills introduced recently involve suspension and expulsion of students in preschool through second grade. House Bill 17-1210 basically would bar schools and state-funded childcare centers from expelling students in those grades and limit suspensions to three days (there are a few exceptions to those requirements).

A companion measure, House Bill 17-1211, would establish a grant program to help train educators in appropriate discipline strategies for young children. Although statistics on early-grades discipline are hard to come by, advocacy groups like the Colorado Children’s Campaign believe it's a problem and have been pushing for a new approach to this issue. A wide variety of education and other groups were consulted on the bill, and it has a long list of bipartisan sponsors in both houses. 

Each year, the BVSD Board of Education sets BVSD's legislative priorities for the session. The Superintendent's office directs the lobbying work of BVSD's legislative consulting firm, Policy Matters, LLC. BVSD also works with other PK-12 policy organizations such as the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB), the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE), the Colorado Education Association (CEA), and Great Education Colorado, a nonpartisan organization advocating for the benefit of Colorado's more than 800,000 public school students. Addressing Colorado's chronic shortfall in school funding is always on BVSD's legislative agenda along with other issues that could impact classrooms. If you are not yet on the email list and would like to be, please email BVSD Communications at communications@bvsd.org with your email address and you will be added to the distribution list.