The education bills that passed (and failed) in the 2024 Colorado legislative session

An inside view of the Colorado Capitol building with light stone walls and pillars and wooden doors and features.
A school funding formula rewrite, the end of the budget stabilization factor, and more money for colleges were among the issues Colorado lawmakers tackled this year. (Powerofforever / Getty Images)

Schools and money loomed large in the 2024 Colorado legislative session.

State lawmakers approved a new school funding formula 10 years in the making. They passed a “fully funded” K-12 budget, provided financial relief for districts enrolling an influx of newcomer students, and gave a big budget boost to public colleges and universities.

This year’s session, which wrapped on Wednesday, was the sixth in a row that both houses of the legislature were controlled by Democrats. Gov. Jared Polis is also a Democrat.

The new school funding formula prompted the most heated discussions. Lawmakers pushed it through in the waning days of the session, with the final vote taking place on the final day. The bill, which calls for $500 million in new spending over six years, follows a framework created by a 17-member task force but also includes compromises shepherded by sponsors.

The bill gained momentum after lawmakers ended the so-called budget stabilization factor, which withheld constitutionally mandated funding from K-12 schools in order to fund other priorities. Colorado is now in what lawmakers have called its “fully funded” era, though many advocates and district leaders say that schools still need more money.

College and university leaders raised similar concerns about their budgets, warning that they would need to hike tuition if the state didn’t provide more funding for their operations.

The powerful Joint Budget Committee, which has a heavy hand in crafting the state budget, provided millions more for higher education than Polis suggested. While the money will keep tuition increases lower, concerns about chronic underfunding remain.

Here’s a rundown, by topic, of education bills that passed (and a few that failed) this year. Some bills have already been signed into law by Polis, while others have not.

Student rights

Schools will be required to use a student’s preferred name under House Bill 1039. Refusing to use a student’s preferred name will be considered a form of discrimination.

Bullying based on a student’s weight, height, or body size will now be prohibited under House Bill 1285, which adds bullying related to physical appearance to the list of behaviors that are subject to school discipline policies and reporting requirements.

Preschool, public school, and college students will be allowed to wear objects of cultural or religious significance at their graduation ceremonies under House Bill 1323.

Students who are involved in the criminal justice system will have more support enrolling or re-enrolling in school and participating in school activities such as graduation ceremonies and sporting events per House Bill 1216. The state will also begin tracking attendance, dropout, and graduation rates for such students.

Student health

I Matter, a free therapy program for Colorado students started during the pandemic, will become permanent after lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1. I Matter provides six free telehealth or in-person counseling sessions to students in elementary through high school.

Students will be allowed to carry and administer naloxone, a drug that can be used to reverse opiate overdoses, at school without risk of discipline or confiscation under House Bill 1003.

By the 2027-28 school year, an external organization will provide state-funded training to mental health staff in at least 400 public schools with an emphasis on rural schools and students who lack access to mental health support, per House Bill 1406.

Senate Bill 7 creates a behavioral health first aid training program that will contract with a Colorado nonprofit organization to train educators to recognize and respond to the signs of mental health crises and substance abuse in teens.

A grant program that funds school-based health centers will be expanded to include behavioral, preventative, and oral health care services under Senate Bill 34.

A bill to create a task force to study how much time schools give students to eat lunch — and ways to increase that time — never made it out of committee and did not pass.

Student and teacher safety

A task force created by House Bill 1320 will investigate incidents of student aggression against teachers, the effects of special education staffing shortages, and insufficient funding for student wraparound services. The task force will make recommendations for improvements.

Middle and high school sports coaches at public and private schools will have to complete an abuse prevention training program under Senate Bill 113.

Carrying a firearm, openly or concealed, will be prohibited on the grounds of any school, college, or child care center — with some exceptions — under Senate Bill 131.

The Colorado Department of Education will contract with an outside organization to develop best practices for how schools respond to reports of harassment and discrimination per Senate Bill 162. Public schools must begin training their employees in the 2025-26 school year.

Higher education

House Bill 1340 creates a tax credit for students enrolled in college. This bill would fund at least two years of in-state college for students whose families make less than $90,000 a year.

Students between the ages of 17 and 26 who have experienced homelessness at any time during high school will get help paying for college under House Bill 1403.

Colorado colleges and universities that enroll a higher-than-average proportion of students who are the first in their family to go to college will be designated as first-generation-serving institutions under House Bill 1082.

Students who transfer from one university to another will be able to retain the credits they earned, among other rights for transfer students enshrined in Senate Bill 164

Senate Bill 51 fixes an oversight in a law passed last year that was meant to expand adult diploma programs to help the more than 300,000 residents who never graduated high school.

Child care and early childhood education

A pandemic-era team that helps Spanish-speaking child care providers become licensed will continue its work after Colorado lawmakers approved ongoing funding in House Bill 1009.

Colorado’s child care subsidy program will get an overhaul that’s meant to boost aid for some families, make the subsidies easier to access, and attract more providers to accept subsidies. House Bill 1223 will also cover full tuition for child care employees with kids in child care.

Nature-based preschool programs can become licensed child care centers under Senate Bill 78.

House Bill 1331 creates a $5 million grant program for academic enrichment programs that occur when school is not in session. The programs must serve public school students.

Students with disabilities

House Bill 1063 puts stricter guardrails on the use of shortened schedules for students with disabilities and will require the state to collect data on how often students miss part of the school day because they are sent home early or placed on modified schedules.

A bill that would have banned seclusion, which is the practice of shutting students inside a room alone, was defeated at the request of the sponsor. State data shows that young students with disabilities are disproportionately secluded.

Senate Bill 69 requires the state to create a training program for parents and special education advocates “in plain and easy-to-understand language” about individualized education programs, or IEPs, which detail the services schools must provide students with disabilities.

Teacher workforce

School districts experiencing a teacher shortage will be able to hire more retirees to fill vacancies without impacting those retirees’ pension benefits under House Bill 1044.

Rural school districts will be able to hire retired superintendents and principals without impacting their pension benefits under Senate Bill 99.

Teachers will have an alternative way to get endorsed to teach special education or early childhood education, two fields with persistent shortages, per House Bill 1087. Instead of completing a college program, teachers can participate in a new induction program.

Out-of-state school psychologists who want to work in Colorado schools will be able to more easily transfer their licenses under an interstate compact created by House Bill 1096.

House Bill 1264 creates an online portal for educators to post resumés and school districts to post job openings. The portal will also include information about career incentives, stipends, loan forgiveness programs, mentorship opportunities, and more.

Teacher training

House Bill 1446 creates a free, optional training program for science teachers that will include “instruction on interventions for students who are below grade level or struggling in science, children with disabilities, and students who are English language learners.”

Experienced teachers will get paid stipends to mentor novice teachers with fewer than three years of experience under an expansion of an existing program, per House Bill 1376.

Some student teachers will get stipends under House Bill 1290.

School funding

Colorado lawmakers earmarked $24 million to be distributed to school districts that enrolled migrant students after the Oct. 1 student count under House Bill 1389.

Lawmakers passed House Bill 1390 in an attempt to shore up a new state program that provides free school lunches to all students. The program is facing a funding shortfall, and the bill delays implementing certain parts of the program in order to save money.

Charter schools

Charter schools authorized by the state’s Charter School Institute can now ask to share in some of the proceeds of local voter-approved tax increases when the schools need funding for construction or building renovation projects, per House Bill 1154.

CSI-authorized charters will also receive so-called mill levy equalization funding — state funding equal to the voter-approved tax revenue received by district-run schools in the same communities — under House Bill 1394.

A bill that would have significantly changed how Colorado charter schools operate and made it easier for local districts to close them was defeated by state lawmakers.

History and research

House Bill 1444 provides two more years of funding for a History Colorado research program “regarding the physical abuse and deaths that occurred at federal Indian boarding schools in Colorado.” The bill prioritizes collecting oral histories from survivors.

Climate education

Colorado high school graduates will now be able to earn a “seal of climate literacy” on their diploma to show they have the skills for green jobs or a background in managing Colorado’s natural resources under Senate Bill 14.

Prison education

House Bill 1461 will allow incarcerated students to take full advantage of a law that grants them early release for earning college degrees.

Career education

Colorado employers that employ an apprentice for at least six months can now get a tax credit of up to $12,600 per apprentice under House Bill 1439.

House Bill 1365 allocates $3.8 million for a fourth round of Opportunity Now grants to address workforce shortages in infrastructure and building trades.

Book bans

Colorado lawmakers voted down a bill that would have made it harder to remove content from a school or public library. But the issue resurfaced later in the legislative session in Senate Bill 216 — with a notable omission. School libraries are not part of the bill that passed.

Jason Gonzales is a reporter covering higher education and the Colorado legislature. Chalkbeat Colorado partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage. Contact Jason at jgonzales@chalkbeat.org.

Melanie Asmar is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Colorado. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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