BriefCASE - Legislative Wrap-Up

May 23, 2017


The 2017 legislative session adjourned on May 10, and with 91 bills that we lobbied and worked on, it was a very busy session for CASE. We are so appreciative of the hard work of CASE lobbyist Elisabeth Rosen, as well as the input and involvement of CASE members in our advocacy work. Your willingness to weigh in on the impact of legislation, testify before policymakers, and contact your local legislators made a significant positive impact on our effectiveness at the Capitol, and we thank you.

As always, thank you for your involvement in CASE.


- Lisa Escárcega, CASE Executive Director 


Top education issues of 2017: Funding, charters and testing


For public education, the 2017 legislative session was mostly about just three things – money, charter school funding and – briefly – testing.


CASE worked with key stakeholders and lawmakers to increase K-12 funding and hold the line on the negative factor, reached a hard-fought compromise on district sharing of override revenues with charters and stripped the last PARCC tests from high school.


Here’s a look at the major issues.


School Finance

The school finance bill (SB17-296) sets 2017-18 Total Program Funding at $6.63 billion, compared to the current $6.37 billion. Total program is the combination of state and local revenues used for basic school operating expenses.

  • The total negative factor remains at $828 million, this year’s level. The negative factor was a moving target during the months-long budget process, and at a couple of points it appeared it could top $900 million. But revised, higher estimates of local district revenue that came in near session’s end made it possible to hold the negative factor flat.
  • Base per-student funding, which all districts receive, is $6,546, a 2.8 percent increase based on inflation.
  • Average per-pupil funding, including adjustments for cost of living, district size and other factors, will be $7,662. That’s up from $7,420 this year.

The annual school finance bill is intended to be a technical measure to formally set school funding for the upcoming year, although that doesn’t prevent lawmakers from trying to add extra clauses, and a few slipped through this time.


One of the most interesting this year is removing the term “negative factor” from state statutes. Republicans led the push to replace it with “budget stabilization factor,” the original term that was used before it was later changed to negative factor.


Get district-by-district information in this Department of Education spreadsheet:


As always, school funding by district will be adjusted next February to reflect the actual enrollments recorded in October and expected local property tax collections calculated in December.


Rural and small rural districts will receive additional one-time funding through SB 267. You might remember that legislation as the kitchen sink bill that deals with issues as disparate as the Hospital Provider fee, Medicaid copays, transportation bonds and the business personal property tax.


One provision of that bill increases state taxes on marijuana, with the additional revenue split between education funding and the state general fund. Next year a total of $30 million will be allocated to rural districts on per-student basis.


Every session bills are introduced to increase state funding for full-day kindergarten. Two were proposed this year, and both died because of cost.


Charter override sharing

Some charter school advocates have complained for years that revenues from district mill levy overrides aren’t equally shared with charter schools statewide. It’s been a hot issue at the Capitol for a number of legislative sessions, sparking intense debates over funding equality and district decision-making powers and autonomy.


Despite the intensity of the debate, revenue sharing isn’t necessarily a statewide issue. Some 47 districts have charters, and 37 of them already have some form of revenue sharing, according to legislative analysts.


This year’s original sharing measure, SB 17-061, proposed a flat per-student sharing of override revenues, although there were some exceptions, and the sharing would have been phased in over three years. CASE was in a complete oppose position to this legislation.


That bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support but was held up by House Democratic leadership. The measure’s backers inserted the sharing requirements into the text of the school finance act, but that gambit failed in a dramatic vote on the Senate floor. When that effort stalled, the more nuanced compromise proposed in HB17-1375 surfaced with House Education Chair Representative Pettersen leading the effort. In broad terms here’s what it requires:

  • If they choose, districts could develop “equitable” plans for using override revenues for traditional, charter and innovation schools by July 1, 2018. Those plans would have to be fully implemented by 2019-20 school year.

  • If a district chooses not to create a plan, 95 percent of override revenues would be shared per-pupil with charters and innovation schools.

  • Schools could choose the 95 percent distribution instead of a district plan.

  • Beginning July 1, charters will have to post on their websites lists of and information about the waivers they have received from various state education laws. Charters also will have to post more information about their finances.

The bill also creates a special account that can be used to provide more funds for schools supervised by the state Charter School Institute. But the legislature didn’t put any money in that fund, and the bill stipulates that future legislatures also aren’t required to allocate money to the fund.



While student testing was the red-hot education issue during the 2014 and 2015 legislative sessions, it was practically a non-issue this year. In 2015 lawmakers substantially reduced state tests, especially in high school. While many lawmakers argued that was just a first step, the law really took the steam out of the testing debate, although high opt-out percentages remain an issue in some districts.


Only one significant assessment bill passed this session. HB17-1181 replaces ninth grade language arts and math tests with a version of the PSAT, and had unanimous support in both the House and Senate. Other bills to eliminate ninth grade tests entirely or let districts choose their own were politely heard and quickly killed.


Also of importance to note is HB17-1160. This measure generally will allow districts the choice of giving early literacy assessments to ELL students in English or Spanish. In some cases, students will have to take both English and Spanish tests. But it general the bill is considered a win for district flexibility, and CASE Executive Director Lisa Escárcega testified in support of the bill.


Don’t forget the small stuff


A lot of routine education bills kept low profiles during the 2017 session, but several that passed will create new duties and some new opportunities for districts, so they merit careful review by administrative teams. The charter bill will be the biggest paperwork challenge for districts that choose to craft sharing plans. But here is a quick look at some of the new laws you should pay attention to.

Buildings – Lawmakers approved a state grant program to help districts test water systems for lead (HB17-1306) and changed the Building Excellent Schools Today program to give a somewhat higher priority to grants for technology needs (HB17-1082). Both of these bills are complicated so should be reviewed carefully.

Counseling – Grants from the Colorado Counselor Program now can be used for elementary school counselors (SB17-068), and counselors are supposed to include military opportunities when discussing individual career and academic plans with students (HB17-1041).

High school students – The legislature authorized district use of two diploma endorsements, one for STEM competency (HB17-1201) and one for bi-literacy (SB 17-123). Both of these are optional, but read the requirements before you go ahead. And HB17-1301 bans districts from withholding transcripts from students who haven’t paid fines or fees or returned school property, though the bill does allow districts to attempt to collect on the fines.

Paperwork – The Colorado Open Records Act was updated after significant debate to require that all government agencies provide some records in digital formats (SB17-040). There’s a long list of definitions and exceptions, so custodians of records will need to get up to speed on this. CASE worked closely with CALET to ensure this would not be overly burdensome for school districts and greatly appreciate the support of CU in helping to guide the stakeholders on this effort.

On a minor note, the School Finance Act contained a provision allowing teachers to sign the written oath to uphold the constitution. Oaths currently have to sworn in person.

State requirements – Lawmakers made several tweaks to state accountability law, including:

  • The measures of postsecondary and workforce readiness have been expanded to include successful student completion of classes that lead to career and technical credentials or to associate degrees in applied science (SB17-272).

  • If you’re thinking of filing an innovation plan with the State Board of Education, read HB17-1271, which has changed some of the standards for that process. 

  • Under HB17-1294, students who graduate from the ASCENT program now will be counted in your district’s graduation rate.

  • If your district is in one of the two lowest accreditation categories, CDE technical assistance now is supposed to include the availability and quality of ECE programs (SB17-103).

Finally, the legislature gave CDE some additional marching orders for the revision of academic content standards currently underway. Specifically, CDE and the State Board are required “to incorporate into the standards for each subject skills relating to the use of information and communications technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information.” 


The rest of the session


Finally, here’s a quick review of other education issues lawmakers dealt with – or didn’t act on – during the 2017 session.



The difficulty many districts face finding qualified teachers was on lawmakers’ minds, but they took only small steps on the problem. Here’s what they did:


Decided to study the problem – The Department of Higher Education was directed to work with CDE to study teacher recruitment, preparation and retention and come up with a strategic plan to address teacher shortages. The agencies have until Dec. 1 to develop that plan and weren’t given extra funding to do the study. (HB17-1003)


Made it easier to hire retirees – Lawmakers eased the current restrictions on use of PERA retirees and gave rural districts the ability to hire retirees as teachers, bus drivers and food service workers for longer periods of time without endangering the retirees’ benefits. Read the bill carefully, as there are several conditions. (HB17-1176)


But measures to give tax credits to graduates who got to rural districts (HB17-1324) and to allow rural districts to hire non-licensed teachers in certain circumstances (HB17-1178) didn’t make it.



Reforms in school discipline practices were a priority for some advocacy groups this session, but those efforts had mixed success.


The key measure in the effort was a bill that would have significantly limited the use of expulsions and out-of-school suspensions for students in preschool through second grade (HB17-1210). It passed the House but died in a Senate committee.


A companion measure intended to provide professional development for educators in appropriate discipline techniques (HB17-1211) did pass. It creates a state grant program for districts that are interested in doing such training – but it will have to be funded by gifts, grants and donations.


Lawmakers passed a bill to ban use of chemical, mechanical and prone restraints on students (HB17-1276), but the Senate killed a measure that would have banned paddling (HB17-1038).


Health & Safety

School health programs got a big boost with the addition of $9.6 million in marijuana tax revenues to CDE’s School Health Professionals Grant Program. That’s up from just $2.3 million in 2016-17. It’s estimated the funding will support 150 health professional positions.


Lawmakers also directed CDE to set up a resource bank of materials and curricula related to marijuana use and provide advice to districts on designing curricula on the subject (SB17-025).


Lawmakers rejected conservative efforts to pull funding from the Department of Public Health’s Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.


Lawmakers, at least in the Democratic-majority House, were in no mood to let guns on school grounds. They killed proposals to allow staff to carry concealed weapons (HB17-1036) and to allow districts to work with county sheriffs to train staff in gun use and safety (SB17-005).


A Democratic effort to increase the setback distance between school property lines and oil and gas facilities (HB17-1256) was killed in the Senate.


“Reform” & Studies

Proposals to make big changes in the education system didn’t get very far. Bills that were killed included proposals to reduce the weighting of student growth in educator evaluations (SB17-067), significantly change the accountability rating system for schools and districts (SB17-114), reform the authorization process for multi-district online schools (SB17-070) and create a mini-voucher system for parents of students in chronically low-performing schools (HB17-1089).


The most radical measure killed would have given bonus funding to the highest-performing districts, reducing funding for all other schools (SB17-200).


Then there was the proposal for a multi-year legislative study to create a “vision” and strategic plan for the future of all education in Colorado. The idea had heavyweight sponsorship and passed the House with a big bipartisan majority. But it died in a Senate committee (HB17-1287).


The legislature did approve a two-year study of the state’s school funding system (HB17-1340). That will be led by a bipartisan committee of the lawmakers with the help of a paid consultant (HB17-1340). Interestingly, the bill bans hiring any consultant who previously has done work the state. The bill sets a long list of specific issues that the study is supposed to consider so is worth a detailed read.


Statement bills

As usual in a legislature with split partisan control, ideological statement bills didn’t go anywhere. Among the measures that died were the annual GOP bill to create tax credits for private school tuition, a Democratic measure to promote multi-cultural content in civics and history classes and the usual PERA bills.



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