Interim committees tackle safety and school finance
The Colorado State Legislature has spent its time between legislative sessions addressing two very profound issues relating to K-12 public schools. The first of which is the school finance interim committee, which is charged with reviewing the state’s formula for funding public education in Colorado. The second is the School Safety Committee, which is charged with reviewing existing statutes related to school safety, emergency response planning, and the prevention of threats to the safety of students, teachers, administrators, employees and volunteers present on the grounds of public schools.
After three meetings of deep briefings on Colorado’s school finance system (and two prior interim committees of briefings and no action), the committee’s future path got a bit clearer as members gave some signals about what they may try to do and the committee learned its schedule and deadlines for proposing bills for the 2020 session.
In June, legislative staff experts briefed the committee on school finance and worked with consultant EdBuild on next steps. In August, EdBuild staff and other experts briefed the committee on the school finance “factors” – cost of living, size and at-risk. Funding for all school districts includes a base amount. The “factors” are additional dollars that vary by district and compensate for financial differences among districts. And the last meeting In September included similar briefings on the categorical programs – special education, English language learners (ELL), gifted and talented and transportation.
The committee plans to work with EdBuild’s computer simulator to generate different formula scenarios. They will host another meeting to take stakeholder testimony and decide what bill ideas to have drafted. And lastly, once those bill ideas are vetted, they will vote on which bills to introduce during the 2020 session. Additionally, the committee will post an online survey so interested people can comment on formula reform.
The School Safety Committee has also been busy meeting and gathering data related to school safety and the state’s approach to funding programs in the state. The Colorado Office of the State Auditor (OSA) was asked to address the school safety audit and whether state programs are efficient and if there are gaps. The audit concluded that there is lack of coordination and risk of duplication with the state’s approach to spending and was unable to determine if current spending is effective or efficient. Nevertheless, OSA was able to provide a starting point for the Legislature in terms of the types of programs and money being spent.
The committee voted to begin the drafting process on the following bill ideas:
- Create a coordinating body with representatives from state agencies involved in school safety to make recommendations and implement changes based on the state audit.
- Similar to the goal of a coordinating body, the committee would like to hire an outside evaluator to pull together recommendations from the audit.
- Deploy a climate survey of school safety and bullying for teachers and school staff to help the Legislature better understand where the problems lie. The survey would be anonymous but parents would have access to the survey data.
- Modify Safe2Tell calls so that incoming calls would begin with the crisis hotline and then if not appropriate for crisis, would be forwarded to Safe2Tell. This would also remove marketing at the preschool level.
- Offer mental health first aid for teachers.
- Provide interoperability (radios) funding for school districts (previous legislation allotted $5 million to this cause).
- Hold accountable those who misuse the Safe2Tell program. There was some concern about making the program punitive which could cause some students to hold back reporting safety concerns.
- Conduct a feasibility study to look at opening up some psychiatric beds for residential treatment. The idea here is to address the bed shortage which has caused schools to address the gap as best they can because of the lack of access in the community.
- Renew the school safety disbursement program to make it an annual appropriation (received $30 million a few years ago but the program is out of money). Define the focus of it and ensure that a piece of it is going to rural schools.
- Excused absences for mental/behavioral health days for students.
- Extend the committee scope to meet quarterly.
- Take a deeper look at active shooter drills (which are very controversial) to determine if they are appropriate, or if there are better models out there.
- Develop resolution to coordinate with the I Love U Guys Foundation to support their work.
The School Safety Committee, which was created by the Executive Committee of the Legislative Council outside the normal process for setting up interim committees, is allowed to propose up to five bills. It is important to note that the committee must vote on these bills at their next hearing so these ideas could change and/or not be approved for introduction.