Colorado legislature to take up big education issues in 2022

Colorado lawmakers are returning Wednesday to the start of the 2022 legislative session in hopes of addressing long-standing educational challenges as well as new challenges caused by the pandemic.

Money for both K-12 and higher education will, as usual, be the main topics, and defenders say it is time for the state to make up for years of low funding. There is also the potential for greater investment in vocational training and changes in the way the state shares money with districts.

The polarization system of state accountability and how to move forward with school rankings during a pandemic will also be discussed, as will the impetus for empowerment for public sector workers.

All of these are overshadowed by ongoing challenges facing schools: a shortage of teachers and bus drivers, mental health crises, and the long-term impact of COVID on student learning. Lawmakers believe they have ideas to help, while education advocates fear new programs and unfunded mandates.

Here’s a look at the key education issues that lawmakers can address this year.

Accountability

Last year, Colorado lawmakers significantly reduced standardized tests and suspended a system of accountability that rates schools based on test scores.

This year, Colorado students can expect to take a full set of standardized tests, but school districts do not want the accountability system to be restored immediately. It is said that last year’s test data are not a reliable basis for conclusions.

School districts and teachers’ unions prefer a transition period before schools regain their normal ratings – although it is unclear what this will look like – and they have the support of key Democratic lawmakers.

Proponents of this “bridge” to accountability say they are working with reform advocates on an acceptable compromise, but advocates of the accountability system are worried that the changes will complicate getting a full picture of how the pandemic affected student learning.

Funding

Advocates of education are generally optimistic about increasing school funding this year. But expect discussions about how much money the state should allocate for future years and how much to spend now.

Schools are full of money from federal aid, much of it still unspent, but advocates say the state should increase its support to keep schools from falling off the fiscal cliff.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are also considering changes to the way Colorado shares money with school districts. The Special Committee on School Finance could recommend increasing funding for special education students and changing the way it identifies students at risk, an appointment that brings in extra money for school districts. Conservatives will ensure that changes in funding are tied to better student performance

There is also a proposal that the state allocate appropriate funds to increase local property taxes in areas with low appraisal values, seeking to reduce some disparities between rich and poor areas, although this is controversial even among committee members.

But don’t expect a serious rewriting of the funding formula. Previously, this proved too politically touching, and the special committee postponed some of the more pressing issues until the end of the session.

Collective bargaining

It is expected that the coalition of working groups will seek to expand the rights to collective bargaining for civil servants, including teachers and higher education unions.

Colorado Education Association President Ami Baka-Olert said ensuring teachers ’rights is a top priority, and teachers receive higher salaries and are happier at their jobs in areas with unions.

But the Colorado School Heads Association, which represents principals, has serious concerns and wants the bill to exclude teachers ’unions. They view the law as a violation of local control and do not think the state has the right to dictate whether school districts recognize workers’ unions.

Preschool

Colorado is moving forward with plans to create universal preschools, a key element of Governor Jared Polis ’educational platform. Last year, lawmakers set up a new state department of preschool education to oversee the deployment of a program funded by voter-approved nicotine taxes. This year, lawmakers need to follow a series of recommendations on how the program will actually work. These include the belief that the preschool covers the children who need it most, that families have many options and that the application process is simple.

“We want to make sure the new department is ready to administer early childhood in the fall of 2023,” said Sen. Janet Buckner, a Democrat at Aurora who is leading the effort.

Workforce training

Even before the pandemic, Colorado leaders wanted more of the state’s population to receive higher education or a certificate, given the increase in the number of jobs requiring college education, but college admissions declined during the pandemic.

Thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Colorado has about $ 3.8 billion to help recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Now lawmakers need to figure out how to spend that money, including helping residents connect to job training. These efforts will be guided by the recommendations of Commission 1330, established under last year’s legislation on the success of higher education students.

The way lawmakers allocate money can lift Colorado residents who need work the most, and open the college to a much larger number of people.

It will also represent a major investment in higher education, especially given that the 1% increase in funding for higher education proposed by Polis does not keep pace with inflation.

Recovery from the pandemic

The surge of omicron, which strains schools and colleges K-12, does not allow easy legislative correction, in particular to correct the lack of teachers and the lack of substitutes.

More money would help meet the mental health needs of students and alleviate stressful classroom conditions, but more counselors will not be found.

House Education Committee Chair Barbara McLachlan, a Durango Democrat and former teacher, is working on legislation to bring more school workers back from retirement and expand a program that brings together new principals with experienced teachers. In the long run, improving school leadership will improve teacher retention, she said.

State MP Colin Larsson, a Republican from Littleton, hopes the bill to provide grants for innovative transportation plans can alleviate the growing shortage of bus drivers.

Due to the fact that during the pandemic, students’ performance on standardized math tests is falling, Larson wants to promote better math learning.

Republicans will look for ways to get money from parents to meet the educational needs that Democrats will almost certainly oppose as opening black doors for vouchers.

“Parents know,” said State Sen. Paul Lundin, a Republican in the field of monuments. “They know what experience their child has had and what their child’s needs are.”

Senate Education Committee Chair Rachel Censinger wants schools with chronically low test scores to be able to transform into public schools with comprehensive services that help students and families with out-of-class needs.

Brett Miles, who heads the Colorado School Heads Association, is asking the legislature not to place more burden on the school.

“Can’t we make 80 bills to try to fix education this year?” He asked. “Teachers are tired. I want lawmakers to hear it every time they turn around. ”

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