Legislators discuss funding, full-day kindergarten with Jeffco School Board

Jeffco School Board members and Superintendent Jason Glass met with Jeffco state legislators on Feb. 12 to discuss the 2019-20 Jeffco Schools budget and current and upcoming bills. The meeting included Sens. Tammy Story, Jessie Danielson, and Rachel Zenzinger, as well as Reps. Colin Larson and Lisa Cutter.

Governor Jared Polis has targeted funding full-day kindergarten as his top priority this year. However, the Joint Budget Committee has been struggling with the best way to do this, Zenzinger said.  The concern legislators have, she explained, is how to fund it so there aren’t negative implications for K-12 funding as a whole in case of budget shortfalls in the future.

Zenzinger said she is concerned that fully funding full-day kindergarten this and every future year will lead to increases in the Budget Stabilization Factor (BSF, formerly known as the “negative factor”) — meaning less money for schools overall.

Zenzinger added that the economy is leveling off and that there will be a TABOR refund this year, which decreases the amount of funding available for schools. She suggested there is a possibility that marijuana revenue could provide additional education funding in the future. However, she also noted that 104 Colorado school districts are operating on a 4-day school week due to funding shortfalls.

The group also discussed a push by Rep. Bob Rankin for a Uniform Mill Levy across the state. Today mill levies vary greatly from school district to school district. Currently, levies vary from 10 mills in rural school districts to 27 mills in urban and suburban districts. A uniform mill levy would result in rural school districts receiving more local funding.

Story told school board members about SB19-039, Interdistrict Transportation of Students, which was signed into law March 7.  SB19-039 specifies that interdistrict transportation will only occur between adjacent school districts if both school districts agree.

Story also sponsored SB19-057, Employee Information Loan Repayment Programs, which was signed into law on March 15.  SB19-057 mandates that state employees receive information about federal student loan forgiveness programs available to them. This could benefit many teachers who have outstanding federal student loan debt.

Story also mentioned that she was working with the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) and Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) to sponsor a bill to slightly modify teacher evaluation requirements that were introduced in 2010 with SB191. The bill has not been introduced yet but has been backed by the Colorado Education Association (CEA).

Larson asked about the possibility of targeting education funding to areas other than full-day kindergarten, such as earlier testing for dyslexia.

Larson also told the group about a bill he is sponsoring: HB19-1008, Include Career and Technical Education in Building Excellent Schools.  HB19-1008 allows the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Board to provide grants to support career and technical education capital construction. It was signed into law on March 7.

Larson is also sponsoring HB19-1194, School Discipline for Preschool Through Second Grade.  The bill aims to lower the number of suspensions among children in preschool and grades K-2. The bill would limit out-of-school suspensions or expulsions for preschoolers and K-2 students to a set of specified circumstances. If an out-of-school suspension is issued, the suspension must be limited to the time required to resolve the safety threat, but no longer than three school days. The bill would apply to all state-funded preschool program, school districts, and public charter schools.

Cutter told board members and fellow legislators about her efforts to increase the state’s General Fund Reserves from 7.2% to 8%.  No bill has been introduced yet. Cutter has introduced HB19-1110, Media Literacy, which would create a media literacy advisory committee to research and make recommendations to implement media literacy in elementary and secondary education.

Mary Parker