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

Friday, April 28, 2017

New twist may stall school funding debate

The 2017 legislative session has to adjourn by May 10, so bills are advancing and dying at a fast pace as the clock ticks down.

On the issue of most importance to education, K-12 funding for next school year is still in limbo, and this week it got tangled in the fight over mandatory district sharing of mill levy overrides with charter schools.

There’s good news on one point. On Thursday the Joint Budget Committee, using new estimates of local property tax revenue in 2017-18, decided that the negative factor can stay at about $831 million next year, the same as in the current school year. The JBC earlier had estimated that the negative factor might have to increase by about $48 million next year.

As a formality, the negative factor is set in the annual school finance act, which is SB17-296 this year. Things with that bill got complicated Thursday because Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, succeeded in amending that bill to include his pet 2017 project, requiring school districts to distribute mill levy override revenues with charter schools on a per-pupil basis. (A standalone bill on that issue, SB17-061, is stalled in the House.)

So, school funding for next year is at least temporarily hung up by the charter fight.

Legislative education studies
A proposal that would have set up a multi-year study of a “vision” for the future of education in Colorado, HB17-1287, was killed in a Senate committee this week. (There’s some politics behind this, but it’s complicated.)

But another study proposal, HB17-1340, remains alive. It would launch a review of the state’s school finance system, and it passed the House on a 65-0 vote Thursday.

Laws that could affect you
Several lower-profile education bills have passed the finish line. While none of them make any big changes in education policy, some will affect administrative and classroom operations and are worth noting.

Early literacy assessments - HB17-1160 would allow districts to choose whether to give early-grades literacy assessments to ELL students in English or Spanish. Advocates of such flexibility argue that these READ Act assessments are intended to gauge literacy, not English proficiency, so should be given in Spanish to some students. The bill was an attempt to get around the State Board of Education, which favors English-language tests. The final bill has some compromise elements: Tests also would have to be administered in English if parents request, and students who show at least partial proficiency in English on district exams will have to take at least one READ assessment in English. The bill’s on its way to the governor’s desk.

STEM diploma endorsements – A bill that would allow districts to approve diploma endorsements in STEM subjects is on its way to the governor. To be eligible for such endorsements, students would have to have a 3.5 grade point average, have certain scores on the ACT, SAT, International Baccalaureate or armed services tests and complete a “capstone” project.

Technologically savvy content standards – This won’t affect districts immediately, but HB17-1184 would require the Department of Education to incorporate knowledge of requirements about communications and information technologies into all state academic standards. Since the ongoing revision of academic standards will extend into the next decade, this will take awhile. This bill has been sent to the governor.

Lead testing – This measure, House Bill 17-1306, also is on its way to the governor. It would establish a grant program in the Department of Public Health and Environment to test school water systems for the presence of lead. Districts would have to pony up 10 percent of the testing costs and would be totally responsible for any costs of replacing bad pipes. Testing would start with the oldest elementary schools. The goal is to have state schools tested by mid-2020. But, districts that already have done their own lead testing aren’t eligible for grants.

The teacher shortage – This bill won’t affect anyone immediately, but HB17-1003, which would require the departments of education and higher education to study the teacher shortage and come up with some ideas to fix it by next fall, also is on its way to the governor. The report’s due next fall.

Of the nearly 70 education-related bills introduced this session, about two-dozen remain in play.

Contact Your Colorado Legislators
Policy Matters, LLC BVSD Bill Tracker
2017 BVSD Legislative Platform

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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.