Capitol Report: Strap in, we’ve got PERA reform and the 2018-19 education budget on deck

Good evening, and welcome to a Very Money Edition of Capitol Report.

In the week that was, Democrats in the House declined to go along with Senate Republicans on the school finance mid-year adjustment bill that’s been bouncing between the chambers. At stake is $7 million in funding that could go either to school districts or into the general fund. We’ll see if any agreement can be found in conference committee.

Much more significantly, state Sen. Jack Tate and House Majority Leader K.C. Becker unveiled the PERA reform bill that everyone has been waiting for. The teachers union immediately went on the offensive against one aspect of the bill, the proposed creation of a 401(k)-like option within the public employee retirement system. The PERA board also was not keen on many aspects of the bill. The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to hold its first hearing on this legislation Tuesday, but expect the big changes to come when the bill gets to the House.

Also on Tuesday, the Joint Budget Committee is scheduled to discuss the 2018-19 budget for K-12 education.

In movers and shakers, Denver Public Schools brought on former speaker of the Colorado House Terrance Carroll. He’s the second former speaker to go work for the state’s largest school district, which prompted longtime political reporter-turned-spokeswoman Lynn Bartels to quip on Twitter that perhaps Frank McNulty should join them.

“Not sure I’d fit in at DPS,” the Republican responded.

Ready Colorado, the conservative education reform group, also announced a major hire, Craig Hulse, as their new vice president. Most recently, Hulse worked on legislative issues for Uber, including autonomous vehicle regulation. He previously worked on education issues in Nevada, where he served as chief of staff for the speaker of the House, among other roles. In that state, he helped usher in universal education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships for private schools, the creation of an achievement school district, and the exemption of additional education spending from collective bargaining.

“Craig’s hiring is a sign that Ready Colorado is here for the long run, and we’ve only just begun our fight to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for all of Colorado’s kids,” Ready Colorado President Luke Ragland said in the press release announcing the hire.

Read on.

– Erica Meltzer, bureau chief

Top Stories

Why Colorado lawmakers are fighting over a ’rounding error’ in school funding

Fewer students showed up in Colorado this year than predicted, and they were a little better off economically too. That slight discrepancy between the forecast and the actual student count has created some wiggle room in the state’s $6.6 billion education budget. That wiggle room, in turn, has led to a partisan fight over the fate of a few million dollars, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of what the state spends on K-12 education. Read more

Teachers union opposes 401(k)-like provision in Colorado pension overhaul bill

Colorado lawmakers Wednesday unveiled one of the most anticipated bills of the session – an overhaul of the public employee pension system in which most public school teachers participate – and the teachers union immediately raised alarms about a central provision. Read more

Former Colorado speaker Terrance Carroll to work for Denver Public Schools

A former Colorado lawmaker who served as the state’s first African-American speaker of the House will join Denver Public Schools as a senior official overseeing the district’s legal, communications, and public affairs departments. Read more

Three years in, an ambitious experiment to improve the odds for kids at one elementary school is scaling back

The shifting shape of Blocks of Hope — originally framed as a 20-year effort intended to change the trajectories of children 0 to 9 within the Tennyson Knolls Elementary School enrollment zone — is a disappointment for some advocates who’d hoped this “placed-based” approach would not only be successful, but also possibly serve as a model for other Colorado communities. Read more

What to expect next

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


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

  • SB18-099 – Align Early Childhood Quality Improvement Programs
  • HB18-1217 – Income Tax Credit for Employer 529 Contributions
  • HB18-1222 – Systematic Review of Education Programs

House Finance, LSB A, 1:30 p.m.

  • HB18-1208 – Expand Child Care Expenses Income Tax Credit

Senate, third reading, 10 a.m.

  • SB18-011 – Students Excused from Taking State Assessments

Senate, second reading

  • SB18-175 – Prohibit Paid Union Activity by Public Employees


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

  • HB18-158 – School Access To Interoperable Communication Technology

Joint Budget Committee, JBC hearing room, upon adjournment

  • Figure setting recommendations for Department of Education

Senate Finance, SCR 357, 2 p.m.

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


House Education, HCR 0112, upon adjournment

  • SB18-160 – Charter School Induction And Alternative Licensure Program

House Transportation and Energy, HCR 0112, 1:30 p.m.

  • HB18-1289 – Exempt Local Government School Districts Forced Pooling

What else we’re reading

The bipartisan PERA proposal calls for cuts to benefits, increases in contributions, and a 401(k)-like defined contribution option. Even the Democratic co-sponsors say it doesn’t have the votes to get out the House in its current form, but they want to push forward with a bill in the hopes of landing on a compromise that will bring the retirement fund to financial stability. Denver Post

There’s a committee that no lawmaker wants their bill assigned to, the State, Veteran, and Military Affairs Committee. These “kill” committees in the House and the Senate are how leadership in each chamber prevents bills from getting to the floor for a full vote. Colorado Public Radio

Cary Kennedy crushed the Democratic caucuses. What does that mean for the race for the governorship? Colorado Independent

TABOR got famous! I don’t know the backstory here, but it’s hard to imagine that CPR’s podcast The Taxman didn’t have something to do with comedian Samantha Bee’s satirical program Full Frontal taking on Colorado’s signature tax law. Full Frontal

Republicans will fill the vacancy created when state Rep. Steve Lebsock was expelled from the House. The former Thornton lawmaker switched parties from Democrat to Republican right before the fateful vote. Denver Post

Democrats in the Senate have harshly criticized Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Cañon City Republican, for not taking stronger action against lawmakers in his party and his chamber who have been accused of sexual harassment. KUNC