The more than 100 bills filed on the first day of Colorado’s 2019 legislative session include proposals to address the teacher shortage, bolster mental health services in schools, reduce regulation on rural schools, and provide bonuses to teachers deemed highly effective.
Among the first 10 bills filed in each chamber were two ideas struck down by Senate Republicans last year before a blue wave swept them from power: One, sponsored by state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat, would provide $5,000 of loan forgiveness for teachers who work in hard-to-fill positions, for example in rural schools or in subjects like math or special education. The other, sponsored by House Education Committee Chair Barbara McLachlan, a Durango Democrat, would provide training for school principals.
Here are some of the education and child care-related bills that caught our eye.
HB19-1002 Leadership Professional Development For School Principals
More than a fifth of teachers who leave the profession cite dissatisfaction with school leadership, and strong principals are also seen as key to improving struggling schools. The bill, sponsored by McLachlan, a former teacher, and Republican Jim Wilson of Salida, a former principal and superintendent, would create a pilot program pairing newer principals with experienced ones who are considered good at their jobs.
HB19-1005 Income Tax Credit For Early Childhood Educators
This bill with bipartisan sponsorship was among House Democrats’ first 10 bills of the session and reflects an idea in departing Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed budget. It would provide an income tax credit to early childhood educators who hold a professional credential as an incentive to child care workers to get more training and stay in the field.
HB19-1008 Include Career And Technical Education In Building Excellent Schools Today Program
The Building Excellent Schools Today — BEST — program provides grants to school districts and charter schools for repairs and new construction. The money comes from marijuana tax revenue and state land proceeds. This bill with bipartisan sponsorship, also among the first 10 in the House, would allow these grant funds to be used to retrofit classrooms for career and technical education. It reflects policy makers’ priority of preparing students for jobs after high school that don’t necessarily require a college degree.
HB19-1017 Kindergarten Through Fifth Grade Social And Emotional Health Act
This bill from state Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat, and state Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, would create a pilot program to assign a social worker to every grade in elementary schools in a high-poverty school district. Those social workers would follow their students for five years in the hopes that there would be a long-term payoff in both the well-being of those children and their academic progress.
SB-003 Educator Loan Forgiveness Program
Among the first five bills filed by Senate Democrats, this bill from state Sen. Zenzinger would provide up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness for teachers who take hard-to-fill positions, defined by either geography or content area. As many as 100 teachers a year could benefit from the program. This bill didn’t make it out of the Senate last year, disappointing advocates who said research in other states has found loan forgiveness to be an effective way to attract teachers to shortage areas. Now it’s back.
SB19-009 Financial Incentives For Rural Educators
This bill sponsored by the chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees also revives an idea that didn’t make it out of the gate last year. It would expand an existing incentive program for rural educators by raising the stipend to $4,000 and removing the cap on the number of teachers who can benefit each year.
SB19-010 Professional Behavioral Health Services For Schools
This bill takes an existing grant program that provides money for substance abuse treatment in schools and expands it so that it can used for a range of behavioral health care needs, including screenings, counseling, therapy, referrals to community organizations, and training for students and staff. Schools would be prioritized based on a demonstrated need for mental health professionals and the extent to which the school had seen an increase in suicide attempts among students, along with other factors.
SB-033 Automatic Law Waivers for Rural Schools
In their opening day speeches, Republicans in the House and Senate said reducing regulations on schools would be one of their priorities. This bill from state Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, would establish a list of rules and regulations from which rural schools could request automatic waivers. With a lone Republican sponsor in a Democratic-controlled General Assembly, this one is a long shot.
SB19-022 Bonuses For Highly Effective Teachers
State Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, said this bill is a way to improve teacher pay and provide accountability through a carrot rather than a stick. It would provide school districts and charter schools with more than $20,000 per employee that could be used to provide bonuses to teachers deemed highly effective under the current evaluation system.
The bill lacks Democratic co-sponsors. Amid calls to raise teacher pay, Republicans have focused on targeting money to teachers considered more effective, while Democrats have been more focused on ways to raise base pay. School districts, not the legislature, ultimately set teacher salaries.