The last two sessions have seen major debates around charter school funding, specifically, mandating that districts share funds from mill levy overrides with district charter schools. At the end of the 2017 session, the legislature passed a measure (HB17-1375) requiring districts to either share mill levy override dollars on an equal basis or on a per student basis.
Colorado, similar to most states, will experience a teacher shortage in the next few years. Indeed, the shortage is already impacting certain types of teachers (math, science, and special education) throughout the state, and all types of teaching positions in sections of rural Colorado. Numerous national studies have documented the large number of teachers who will retire in the next decade. In 2017, the legislature adopted legislation requiring the Departments of Education and Higher Education to develop a strategic plan to address the teacher shortage. This report was released on December 1, and contains a variety of recommendations, including ensuring teachers have continual training and professional development. This can include focusing on teacher induction programs and alternative preparation programs, and better programs for preparing teachers to work in hard to serve areas. In addition, the report recommends supporting teaching as a career so that teachers remain in the classroom. The report also recommends a minimum salary for teachers. Currently, according to a Colorado Department of Education Survey, average teacher salaries range from high districts of Boulder ($72,951) and Cherry Creek ($69,110) to low districts Agate ($29,748) and Woodlin ($26,649).
Coloradans can expect bills to be introduced aimed at mitigating the teacher shortages in rural communities as well as hard to serve urban districts. Concepts include creating a teacher loan forgiveness program, an apprenticeship and/or mentorship program, and a teacher cadet program, among others.
Outside of teacher shortages, the legislature will likely debate suicide prevention for school students. Such legislation will include grant programs to train school personnel, and a recommendation of model suicide prevention policies.
There are two groups currently examining the state’s education system. In 2017, the legislature established a two-year Interim Committee on School Finance. It is unknown if they will have any recommendations for the 2018 session. Also, the Governor’s Office reestablished the Education Leadership Council to review coordination between K-12 and higher education.
Outside of the ongoing discussions in the interim committees, the School Finance Act, both the allocation of funds between districts and the amount of funds to be allocated, will be a critical discussion. To many, the 1994 School Finance Act is outdated; however, modifying or updating the Act is difficult without creating “winners and losers” among the districts. The Governor’s budget request will fully fund inflation plus enrollment and “buy down” the Budget Stabilization Factor (formerly the Negative Factor) by an additional $70 million. The average change in funding for districts is 5.2 percent, though this will vary widely based on enrollment changes.
Finally, the question: does K-12 education need more money? In the November 2017 election, voters said a resounding yes – two thirds of the mill levy override elections passed at the local level. Those passing elections include Greeley (its first ever), some larger districts, (Colorado Springs D-11 and Mesa) and many smaller districts. Six districts that went to the voters failed. Herein lies the larger policy question about mill levy overrides – while obtaining local voter support is impressive, does the increasing reliance of overrides in selected districts indicate an imbalance of resources?