School Views: Proposed legislation will help Eagle County students, parents, teachers (column)
February 20, 2019
Colorado lawmakers have assembled in Denver for the first regular session of the 72nd General Assembly. One-third of the legislators are new in their roles, and for the first time, there is a majority of women in the Colorado House of Representatives.
There are over 60 bills related to K-12 education and likely more to come.
The big news for K-12 is Gov. Jared Polis’ initiative to fund full-day kindergarten. Presently, the state supports kindergarten at a rate of .58, leaving districts and families to offset the remaining .42 for full-day kindergarten. In Eagle County, that amounts to parents contributing about $513,000 while the school district pays around $740,000 annually. Polis will need to negotiate this top-budget priority with the legislature, meaning the total funding for K-12 schools will likely decline somewhat in the process.
The legislature may need to reduce funds in the regular K-12 funding bill or increase the “budget stabilization factor” (dollars withheld from the schools that are due in the funding formula) to balance the state budget. Nevertheless, the value of funding full-day kindergarten would be a tremendous benefit for families with young children in Eagle County.
Of interest to students in Eagle County, the legislature is considering adjustments to statutes related to Early College High School. A few years ago Eagle County Schools opened two Early College High School options allowing high school seniors to remain enrolled at Battle Mountain or Eagle Valley beyond their 12th-grade year to access classes at Colorado Mountain College. This gave students an option to earn an associate degree for free. Last year, lawmakers changed the rules related to Early College High School and effectively eliminated our version of Early College High School. We, along with our partners at CMC, have been lobbying to amend the new definition to keep our version of Early College High School viable for Eagle County students.
Another key issue legislators are addressing is teacher evaluations. Senate Bill 191 was signed into law in 2010. Co-sponsored by Mike Johnston, then a state senator, it radically changed the teacher evaluation landscape. After almost nine years of implementation, there is a push to make some adjustments. Proposed edits include allowing for effective veteran teachers to be evaluated every three years instead of annually. There is also a desire to change the value placed on academic achievement and growth in determining teacher evaluation scores and effectiveness ratings. The Colorado Education Association, representing teachers across the state, will advocate for a fair and effective evaluation process.
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Lawmakers will remain in Denver through May 3, so the session is young. Most funding questions require the official March Budget Forecast to be addressed. That's when the real fireworks begin. We can expect more news on education-related bills in the next few months and will be adding a page on our website, Capitol Update, to help parents, staff and the community track development.
Philip Qualman is the interim superintendent of Eagle County Schools.