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Capitol Report: As Colorado teachers prepare to march, one bill would ban teacher strikes

Good evening, and welcome to another edition of Capitol Report.

This week gave Colorado a little taste of the teacher activism that’s rocked other states. The several hundred teachers who came to the Capitol on Monday used what started as a lobby day related to proposed changes to the pension system to march around the Capitol, rally on the steps, and call for more school funding in general. They were joined by House Democrats who urged them to help pass a $1.6 billion tax increase for education this November.

A lot more teachers are expected to come to the Capitol this coming Thursday and Friday, from Jeffco, Denver, Cherry Creek, Adams 12, Poudre, and more. Districts are canceling classes or, in the case of Denver, planning for an early dismissal, with some of the city’s homegrown charter networks also joining the action. Meanwhile, teachers in Pueblo have voted to strike after the school board there voted down raises.

Colorado teachers aren’t striking en masse, at least not yet and possibly not ever. Teachers coming to the Capitol generally are using allowed personal time to engage in political activity. Nonetheless, two Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would prohibit strikes by public school teachers. The bill sponsored by state Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs and state Rep. Paul Lundeen of Monument also prohibits public school employers from “consenting to or condoning” a teacher strike. Teachers who violate an injunction against a strike could face fines or jail time for contempt of court, as well as immediate termination with no right to a hearing. Local teachers unions found in contempt would see their collective bargaining agreements rendered null and void and would be barred from representing teachers for a year.

This bill has practically no chance of becoming law, but it gives a sense of where the lines are being drawn.

Some Republicans have expressed frustration that teachers are calling for more school funding in a year when lawmakers have made a bigger payment on the negative factor than in any year since this budget maneuver was invented. And the final form of the PERA bill still needs to be negotiated. The amendments adopted by the House Finance Committee this week earned the support of teachers but may not fly with Senate Republicans.

And that’s not all that lawmakers need to resolve, with less than three weeks left to go in the session.

The House Education Committee takes up a series of bills aimed at the teacher shortage this week. One would provide grants to help districts implement programs to keep the teachers they have. Another would promote the “grow your own” approach by creating a teacher of record license for students near the end of their program. Districts and charter schools, with help from state grants, would pay a portion of students’ final credits in exchange for a commitment to remain with the district for at least three years.

House Ed is also scheduled to revisit a proposed change to how school funding is distributed to districts. An initial vote on this bill has been postponed twice already. Plus, lawmakers are considering changes to the READ Act, which requires schools to identify and offer additional help to young students who are falling behind in literacy.

So, that’s a lot. For even more, read on.

– Erica Meltzer, bureau chief


Top Stories

Why Colorado teachers marched on the state Capitol

Chanting “Education is a right! That is why we have to fight!” and “Whose schools? Our schools!” several hundred teachers came to the Colorado State Capitol Monday to call for more school funding and to defend their retirement benefits. “We’re trying to stabilize our profession and bring a sense of dignity to teaching so our kids can have the stable schools they need to thrive,” one Lake County teacher said. Read more

With school finance act, Colorado lawmakers try to pass the hot potato of teacher pay to local districts

A school finance act that puts more money into K-12 education than Colorado has spent at any point since the Great Recession passed a key House committee Monday with easy bipartisan support. Democratic lawmakers on the House Education Committee urged local school boards to turn this money into teacher raises – and Colorado voters to provide even more funds next year. The bill has since passed the House and heads now to the Senate. Read more

National head of DFER after Colorado Democrats’ platform vote: ‘We’re not going anywhere’

In an email to supporters that he also posted on Medium Thursday, Shavar Jeffries laid out his credentials as a Democrat and said disagreements over education policy should remain a “family fight.” Read more

Colorado teachers plan more walkouts, and districts are canceling classes

Teachers from Colorado’s two largest school districts are planning back-to-back walkouts to call for more funding for education. Jeffco teachers are marching on the Capitol Thursday, and teachers from at least a half dozen districts have said they’ll join Denver Public Schools teachers in a large rally Friday afternoon. Read more and more

Westminster’s model part of dispute with federal investigators in education of students learning English

Westminster schools may have failed to identify scores of students needing help learning English, and also neglected to effectively teach many of those students, according to a federal investigation. Those are among the findings in newly released documents behind the school district’s agreement to boost services for English learners. District officials disputed the findings and said they felt that outside regulators once again penalized them for their competency-based model. Read more

In renewing superintendent’s contract, Aurora board president says he didn’t run to ‘fire Rico’

The Aurora school board voted 6-1 to renew Superintendent Rico Munn’s contract. Before the vote, board members, the majority of whom were elected on a union-backed slate in November, said they wanted to go on the record with their thinking. “The concerns you’ve expressed to us and your anger, it’s felt by this board,” board president Marques Ivey said. “We know about it. Believe me, we have discussed it.” Read more

Antwan Wilson being paid up to $60,000 to consult for Denver Public Schools

“We considered other local or national consulting organizations that could provide these services, but determined they would not be able to meet our needs,” Denver Public Schools Chief Operating Officer David Suppes wrote as justification for why the contract was not put out for competitive bid. Read more

The highs and lows of Colorado education are spotlighted in ‘The Outliers’

A new report from the Denver-based education reform advocacy group A Plus Colorado examines both exemplary and struggling districts. This is the second year that A Plus has released “The Outliers,” which is intended to help educators find models to emulate. One finding: Students in online schools do worse even than students in low-performing brick-and-mortar schools. Read more


What to expect next

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

Monday

House, second reading

  • SB18-200 – Modifications To PERA Public Employees’ Retirement Association To Eliminate Unfunded Liability

House Appropriations, LSB A, upon adjournment

  • HB18-1019 – Kindergarten Through Twelfth Grade Accreditation Weighted Factors
  • HB18-1276 – Teaching Competent History In Public Schools

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

  • SB18-158 – School Access To Interoperable Communication Technology
  • HB18-1395 – Colorado Youth Advisory Council Review Committee
  • HB18-1197 – Student-centered Pilot Accountability Systems
  • HB18-1367 – Leadership Professional Development For School Principals
  • SB18-085 – Financial Incentives For Education In Rural Areas
  • HB18-1309 – Programs Addressing Educator Shortages
  • HB18-1412 – Retaining Teachers Grant Program
  • HB18-1396 – Advanced Placement Exam Fee Grant Program

Senate, third reading, 10 a.m.

  • SB18-163 – Extend Repeal Early Childhood Legislative Commission
  • HB18-1335 – County Child Care Assistance Program Block Grants

Senate, second reading

  • HB18-1277 – BEST Building Excellent Schools Today Financial Assistance Grant Application Requirements

Tuesday

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

  • HB18-1070 – Additional Public School Capital Construction Funding

Senate, second reading, 9 a.m.

  • HB18-1355 – Public Education Accountability System

Wednesday

House Education, HCR 0112, upon adjournment

  • HB18-1393 – Effective Implementation Of Colorado Reading To Ensure Academic Development Act
  • HB18-1232 – New School Funding Distribution Formula

Senate State, Military, and Veterans Affairs, SCR 357, 1:30 p.m.

  • HB18-1341 – Apprenticeship And Vocational Technical Training

What else we’re reading

One of the reasons Colorado teachers are marching on the Capitol is to defend their retirement benefits as state lawmakers figure out how to reduce an unfunded liability in the state pension system of tens of billions of dollars. Colorado teachers are among 1 million teachers in 15 states who don’t get Social Security benefits when they retire, so this fight is high stakes for them. There’s a historical reason for the exclusion of public sector workers from Social Security. NPR

Concerns about unfunded pension liability are driving teacher unrest around the country, including in Kentucky. Nationally, teacher pension debt adds up to about $516 billion, and the cost of shoring up retirement funds eats into money available for other educational needs. Ed Week

House Democrats this week put their own stamp on the PERA overhaul. The changes, which no longer require bigger contributions from public employees and put the retirement age at 60, not 65, earned the support of teachers. The Denver Post editorial board argues that this version of the PERA bill leaves taxpayers on the hook and isn’t really a fix. Associated Press Denver Post

Radio journalist Bente Birkeland, who on Friday was named journalist of the year by the Colorado Society of Professional Journalists, continues to investigate the culture of fear around reporting sexual misconduct at the state Capitol. Those afraid to come forward include current and former Republican staffers who have additional complaints against state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, the Hot Sulphur Springs Republican who survived an attempt to have him expelled from the Senate. KUNC

Everyone agrees that the Gallagher Amendment, which limits residential property tax assessments, is a major threat to rural communities, but lawmakers have dragged their feet on a fix. With a few weeks left in the session, Colorado fire chiefs are mounting a push for a short-term fix, and lawmakers are asking for an interim committee that would put a measure before voters in 2020. Associated Press

Democrats have a candidate on the ballot in every single Colorado race. Democrats say it’s a measure of enthusiasm and increases their chances of retaking the state Senate. Republicans aren’t acting like they’re concerned. Denver Post

One-third of students in Canadian schools are immigrants or have at least one immigrant parent, and the country has one of the highest-performing educational systems in the world. Within three years of arriving in Canada, English language learners are doing as well in school as native-born Canadians. What makes the difference? More money for students, more consistent teacher training and mentoring, and more community support for new arrivals. PBS/Ed Week