With the second regular session of the 72nd General Assembly on the horizon and scheduled to convene on Jan. 8, 2020, legislative interim committees have settled on the bills they will introduce in January. Additionally, Gov. Jared Polis unveiled his proposed Fiscal Year 2020-21 state budget Nov. 1, kicking off the long process that will end with the passage of the long bill, which is the budget bill, next April. This is the first budget proposal that belongs entirely to the governor and his staff, given that the groundwork for the current 2019-20 budget was laid by the Hickenlooper administration before Polis was elected a year ago.
The Polis administration has committed additional state resources for K-12 education in the FY 2020-21 budget request. The two largest investments include a $52 million buy down of the budget stabilization factor. The budget stabilization factor allows lawmakers to set K-12 spending lower than it would be under the terms of the state school funding formula. It was created during the Great Recession to help the legislature balance the overall state budget.
Gov. Polis is also following through on a campaign promise to fund universal preschool throughout the state. His budget request includes $27.6 million to expand the Colorado Preschool Program. This funding would address the reported waitlist and provide funding for 50 percent of eligible children. Additionally, $10 million in grant funding will be provided through the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) Grant Program for preschool facilities. This funding is just the beginning for the Polis administration as they work to fully fund preschool for all eligible children in Colorado who are not currently being served.
Two interim committees have been meeting in advance of the legislative session. 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 the 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.
The School Safety Committee has completed its meeting schedule for the year and is proposing five pieces of legislation to address school safety and student behavioral health needs. The governor has committed $3.5 million in his budget to fund school safety legislation.
The committee will move forward with the following bill concepts for the 2020 legislative session:
- Excused School Absences for Behavioral Health Concerns – requires school districts to include excused absences for behavioral health concerns in their written policy on attendance requirements.
- Juvenile Residential Treatment - directs the school resource center to convene a working group to assess the needs of school districts with respect to the adequacy and availability of residential mental health treatment for children and youth who have been identified as having a severe behavioral health or mental health disorder and potential ways to resolve such needs. The group will also gather data on availability, needs and cost of residential treatment and make legislative recommendations.
- Expand Behavioral Health Training for K-12 Educators - the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) will be required to offer a train-the-trainer program designed to improve school culture, promote youth behavioral health, and prepare attendees to teach a youth behavioral and mental health training course.
- Enhance Safe2Tell - the bill requires the program to devise a process so that all calls/texts are routed to an operator who then routes non-crisis calls/texts appropriately. They must also align the process and procedures for tips received via all communication methods. And lastly, the program must conduct an annual marketing campaign regarding awareness, use and misuse of the program.
- Creation of Colorado Working Group on School Safety - this bill creates an interagency working group on school safety (10 members). The mission is to enhance school safety through the cost-effective use of public resources. The working group will be required to review the recent state audit on school safety and implement recommendations; facilitate interagency coordination and communication; facilitate and address data sharing; and address school safety program challenges in a coordinated way.