The first bills filed on opening day of the 2020 Colorado General Assembly give a window into the education priorities of both political parties.
A number of these bills came out of the School Safety Interim Committee and reflect the desire to better coordinate school responses to threats and to better support student mental health. Bills that come out of interim committees, which meet during the off-season, have a head start in the process, though no guarantee of passage.
There are also bills to diversify the teacher workforce, improve college access, expand school choice, and create incentives to draw good teachers to low-performing schools.
Republicans are promoting many of their education bills under the brand #trustEDco, attempting to put their own stamp on the issue. Some of the bills died last year, while others are new ideas.
Major legislation often doesn’t get introduced on the first day because sponsors are still working to refine their ideas. So this is by no means everything lawmakers will tackle on the education front this year.
Here are some of the initial education bills that caught our eye:
School safety and student mental health
HB20-1005 Improving the Safe2Tell Program
The bill, which came from the School Safety Interim Committee, aims to improve the Safe2Tell program by making sure individuals in crisis can get quick access to counseling. It would also improve the process for routing incoming tips and change how the program is marketed to reduce misuse.
SB20-014 Excused Absences In Public Schools For Behavioral Health
Another product of the School Safety Interim Committee, this bill would require school districts to make behavioral health needs a valid, excused absence, similar to a physical illness.
SB20-023 Colorado Working Group On School Safety
This bill would create a group that includes experts and lawmakers to keep working on many of the difficult issues raised by the School Safety Interim Committee. Those include looking at the practice of lockdown drills, implementing recommendations made by the state auditor, creating minimum school safety standards, identifying best practices, and standardizing risk assessments.
SB20-001 Expand Behavioral Health Training For K-12 Educators
This bill would create a “train the trainer” program that would prepare educators to teach their colleagues about behavioral health issues with a goal to improve school climate and promote the health of children. Topics would include trauma-informed approaches, identifying mental health issues and substance use, bullying prevention, and how to encourage positive bystander behavior.
HB20-1006 Improving Access to Early Childhood Mental Health
This bill came from the Early Childhood Readiness Interim Committee. It would create a statewide mental health consultation program to support and expand early childhood mental health services, including in preschool settings.
College Access and Affordability
HB20-1002 Providing College Credit for Work-Related Experience
This bill came out of the Making Higher Education Attainable Interim Committee and would require the Commission on Higher Education to create a way for colleges and universities to give academic credit for work-related experiences. The credits would be accepted at and transferable across all state institutions, with the aim of helping non-traditional students.
SB20-031 Improve Student Success Innovation Pilot
Also a product of the interim committee, this bill would create a pilot program to encourage collaboration among institutions of higher education to find ways to get more students to graduation.
SB20-006 Amend Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative
This bill makes changes to an existing scholarship program so money can be used not just for tuition but for other costs, like room and board or books, and to allow more money to be spent on services that help students with fewer resources complete college. It’s also from the interim committee on college attainment.
SB20-004 Postsecondary Education Loan Repayment Assistance
This bill would create a “Get on Your Feet” loan assistance program that would cover up to two years of loan payments for eligible applicants. It’s sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Steve Fenberg of Boulder and Reps. Leslie Herod of Denver and Julie McCluskie of Dillon.
Teacher pay and pathways
HB20-1007 Increasing K-12 Educator Diversity
Colorado’s teachers don’t reflect the diversity of their students, one factor that has long been cited as a barrier to reducing academic gaps between students of color and their white peers. This legislation would require the departments of Education and Higher Education to look into barriers to recruitment and retention of teachers of color and recommend strategies to achieve a more diverse educator workforce. This bill comes from state Rep. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat.
HB20-1015 Future Educators Pathways Grant Program
This bill would provide grants to school districts and charter schools that set up programs to encourage students to become teachers, through access to college classes while in high school and through apprenticeships. It’s sponsored by state Rep. Bri Buentello of Pueblo and state Sen. Jeff Bridges of Greenwood Village, both Democrats.
SB20-066 Highly Effective Teachers And Low-Performing Schools
This is just the first of what are likely to be several bills on teacher pay. In Colorado, local districts, not the state, set teacher salaries. This bill would create a grant program to give incentives to highly effective teachers — as determined by the state evaluation system — who teach in low-performing schools. This is one of a host of bills Republicans identified as part of their 2020 education platform, though it does have a Democratic co-sponsor, state Rep. Bri Buentello of Pueblo, along with Republican state Sen. Kevin Priola of Brighton. It’s already been assigned to a “kill” committee.
SB20-050 Eligible Educator Supplies Tax Credit
Another Republican idea that didn’t make it very far in 2019, this bill creates a state income tax credit worth up to $750 for teachers who use their own money to buy classroom supplies. It’s sponsored by state Sen. Rob Woodward.
SB20-015 Student Access To Transportation To Other Schools
This bill would allow school districts to provide transportation to students who reside in other districts — or reimburse their parents for transportation — if they are eligible for subsidized lunch or have a disability or have received special education services. Transportation is a major barrier for families trying to exercise school choice — and a touchy subject for school districts who don’t want students “poached.” Colorado law generally restricts districts to providing transportation for residents of their own district, with exceptions for homeless students and those in foster care who have a right to attend their most recent home school. This is another bill in the Republican agenda already assigned to a “kill” committee and one of several likely to reopen the issue of interdistrict busing.
Follow Colorado education bills with our 2020 bill tracker.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.