Capitol Report: Colorado’s school finance picture is still coming into focus

Welcome to another edition of Capitol Report.

Happy Easter and Happy Passover to all who observe.

Of course, this weekend also marks the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, which arrived after an exceptionally difficult week for teachers, parents, students, and school administrators across the Front Range. The decision to close schools in some two dozen districts reminded us all of our ongoing vulnerability to threats and of the complex legacy of Columbine. We want to remember and bear witness, but the tragedy's enduring place in our cultural memory has also turned it into the focus of obsession for troubled individuals. The news that came Friday — that the young woman who was the target of a massive manhunt was most likely dead before the decision to close schools was even made — raises yet more questions about how we respond to risk.

Amid this backdrop, the business of the legislature continues apace. Gov. Jared Polis signed the $30.5 billion state budget this week with $175 million set aside for full-day kindergarten. The bill that would allocate that money to school districts and prohibit them from charging tuition is up in Senate Appropriations on Tuesday after clearing the Senate Education Committee unanimously.

Meanwhile, news that the residential assessment rate should be set at 7.15 percent, just a little lower than the current 7.2 percent, caused more than $100 million to become available for school finance that wasn't in the budget. This is unequivocally good news for school districts — if somewhat less so for homeowners — but in a state in which education has been under-funded for years, it also opens up more debate about how best to allocate those dollars. How much rural districts will see in "one-time" money, how much will be used to boost state funding for special education, and how much will be banked for a rainy day is still up in the air as the Public School Finance Act moves through the Senate.

Also up in the air is the fate of a bill to change Colorado's teacher evaluation system. It was laid over last week and isn't currently on the calendar this week, though that could change. Most likely, the best that supporters can hope for at this point is a working group to study the issue.

We've got all that and more below.

Read on.

— Erica Meltzer, bureau chief

Top Stories

Tax windfall will benefit Colorado schools, especially rural ones

Recommended changes in the residential assessment rate, which determines how much of a home’s value is taxable, mean that Colorado likely will have an extra $107.6 million to put toward school finance. Before this news, a single big-ticket priority, $175 million for full-day kindergarten, accounted for most of the new money going into education. Read more

Local early childhood funding threatened by Colorado anti-tax group

The Colorado Union of Taxpayers received approval Friday to gather signatures to try to repeal House Bill 1052, which allows local governments to ask voters to approve special districts and seek voter approval for taxes to provide services from birth to age 8. “I just don’t understand why people would not want local communities to solve their own problems,” said state Sen. Bob Rankin, one of the bill’s sponsors. Read more

Computer science grant program seeks to break down barriers for girls, students of color

Computer science education geared toward girls and students of color would get a $250,000 boost under a bill approved by the House Education Committee Tuesday. House Bill 1277 would award grants to school districts in an effort to increase diversity in the tech industry that is booming in Colorado. Read more

Teacher evaluations: Test scores would have less weight under Colorado bill

Colorado teacher evaluations would be less tied to test scores under a bill introduced this week, but the changes are more limited than in earlier drafts of the proposal. Most notably, the bill does not call for experienced teachers with effective ratings to get a formal evaluation just once every three years, instead of every year as current law requires. Read more

Colorado School Finance Act advances amid questions about rural funding

A $7.4 billion bill to fund Colorado’s K-12 schools took its first step Thursday with unanimous approval from the Senate Education Committee, despite differences on how to allocate some of the money. Read more

Weekly wrap-up: Colorado school finance picture is still coming into focus

One amendment would move $22 million to special education funding. Another may move any other savings in the bill to the state education fund. Spending more on special education is one of state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger’s priorities this session. Right now, districts pick up the lion’s share of extra costs for students with disabilities.

Meanwhile, a measure aimed at changing Colorado’s teacher evaluation system faltered at a Thursday evening committee hearing. Read more

Think teacher pay is low in Colorado? Try teaching preschool.

Lead preschool teachers in Colorado’s district-run schools made $30,500 on average, nearly $22,000 less than public elementary school teachers, according to a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. Read more

Student and parent groups pushing Denver schools to hire ‘counselors, not cops’

Against a backdrop of rising youth suicide rates and disproportionately harsh discipline for black and Latino students, Denver teenagers and parents are calling for more mental health workers — and fewer police officers and security guards — in the city’s schools. Read more

After Colorado districts held ‘hostage’ by threats, school leaders look for lessons learned

Closing more than two dozen school districts across Colorado in response to a threat from a single individual was unprecedented, but it might not be the last time that school administrators and law enforcement make a similar decision. Read more

Are teachers unions helping or hurting schools? Here’s what the newest research tells us

One study finds that states with stronger unions saw more of the money earmarked for education actually reach classrooms, which in turn helps student learning. Another shows that weakening unions in Wisconsin led to increases in the share of college students training to be teachers, potentially reducing teacher shortages. Read more

Pre-K might help students, even if they don’t attend

A few years after South Carolina expanded access to preschool programs, students’ test scores in elementary school increased. New research suggests that having more students with past preschool experience in early elementary classrooms improved the school environment for all and pushed everyone’s scores up. Read more

What to expect next

Follow education-related bills from start to finish with our 2019 Bill Tracker here.


House, special orders, second reading

  • SB19-137 — Extend The Colorado Student Leaders Institute

House, second reading

  • HB19-1312 — School Immunization Requirements
  • SB19-104 — Elimination Of Duplicate Regulation Of School Building

Senate, third reading

  • SB19-215 — Parents Encouraging Parents Conference

Senate, second reading

  • HB19-1222 — International Baccalaureate Exam Fee Grant
  • SB19-007 — Prevent Sexual Misconduct At Higher Ed Campuses

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

  • HB19-1120 — Youth Mental Health Education And Suicide Prevention


Senate Appropriations, LSB B, 7:30 a.m.

  • HB19-1024 — Colorado Youth Advisory Council Review Committee
  • HB19-1032 — Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education
  • HB19-1132 — School Incentives To Use Colorado Food And Producers
  • HB19-1171 — Expand Child Nutrition School Lunch Protection Act
  • HB19-1262 — State Funding For Full-day Kindergarten
  • SB19-253 — Exempt CDE Department Of Education From Office Of Information Technology

Senate, second reading

  • SB19-204 — Public School Local Accountability Systems
  • SB19-066 — High-cost Special Education Trust Fund Grants
  • SB19-246 — Public School Finance
  • HB19-1192 — Inclusion Of American Minorities In Teaching Civil Government
  • SB19-199 — READ Act Implementation Measures

Senate Finance, SCR 357, 1:30 p.m.

  • HB19-1257 — Voter Approval To Retain Revenue For Education and Transportation
  • HB19-1258 — Allocate Voter-approved Revenue For Education and Transportation
  • SB19-255 — Gallagher Amendment Residential Assessment Rate

House State, Veterans, and Military Committee, LSB A, 1:30 p.m.

  • SB19-196 — Colorado Quality Apprenticeship Training Act Of 2019

House Education, HCR 0107, 1:30 p.m.

  • SB19-171 — Apprenticeships And Vocational Technical Training
  • SB19-190 — Teacher Preparation Program Support
  • SB19-176 — Expanding Concurrent Enrollment Opportunities


Joint Budget Committee, JBC hearing room, 1:30 p.m.

  • Consideration of potential legislation and discussion of general business


House Education, HCR 0107, 1:30 p.m.

  • Any bills referred to the committee may be heard at this time

Senate Education, SCR 352, 1:30 p.m.

  • HB19-1110 — Media Literacy
  • HB19-1187 — Increase Student Aid Application Completion Rates
  • HB19-1134 — Identification And Interventions For Students With Dyslexia

What else we’re reading

Colorado lawmakers this session are pushing far-reaching criminal justice reforms. At the same time, they’re partially re-opening a high-security facility in Cañon City. Colorado Independent

Colorado’s new U.S. attorney is encouraging law enforcement in the state to investigate overdose deaths as homicides. Colorado Sun

Columbine High School has long served as a site of pilgrimage for people with disturbing ideas. “There are people that want to feel it, touch it, see it, experience it,” said John McDonald, executive director of security and emergency management for Jefferson County Schools. “And those are the people that we have to say no to.” Colorado Public Radio

Columbine seniors Kaylee Tyner and Rachel Hill weren’t born yet when their high school’s name became forever linked to mass shootings. They’ve poured themselves into activism in an effort to reduce gun violence, even as schools shootings have occurred over and over again throughout their childhoods. Denver Post

Gov. Jared Polis signed a $30.5 billion budget into law that includes funding for full-day kindergarten and $300 million for transportation. Colorado Public Radio Associated Press

Anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce faces new legal troubles and up to five years in prison related to the condition of an old bar he owns in a small city in Pennsylvania. Colorado Politics (paywall)

After a 14-hour hearing, the longest of the 2019 legislative session so far, a House committee advanced a bill that would tighten requirements for vaccine exemptions for school-aged children. Denver Post

Colorado’s progressives are building the infrastructure to defend Democratic politicians from recall efforts. Denver Post

Check out these great pictures of New Yorkers past in their Easter finery. New York Times