No stone left unturned is the public education motto of recent legislature sessions. The first bill introduced in the House this year, HB12-1001, approved rules to implement SB10-191, the teacher evaluation law that fundamentally changes teacher performance review and tenure. The bill passed 98-1 in a bipartisan sweep.
Republicans and Democrats both love local mandates
Since then, Republicans have allied with some Democrats to eviscerate local school control, set public teaching priorities, create additional rules around parental involvement and permissions, insert new programs, loosen school disciplinary procedures, enforce public negotiation of employee contracts, deny unions automatic membership payroll deductions, and eliminate trans fats from kids' diets.
School districts get to cut budgets, and not much more
About the only duty left to school boards is budget cutting, as state funding for Colorado public school kids has declined about $700 per kid since 2009. Many school districts have cut millions of dollars from their budgets.
Jefferson County Schools, the state's largest district, has slashed over $50 million since 2010-11, and taken over $56 million out of its savings account to cover its costs. The total decrease equals $107,600,000 since 2010, with up to $40 million in cuts scheduled for 2013-14, depending on state funding and property tax revenues.
Costs to districts of mandates rarely calculated accurately, if at all
The legislature didn't calculate the cost to districts of implementing SB10-191 when the bill passed in 2010. Now we know. Large metropolitan districts will spend in the millions, with Jefferson County School District estimating $4 million.
No one knows how much HB12-1238, sponsored by Representative Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs) and Senator Michael Johnston (D-Denver), will cost either. This bill sets up processes for kids who aren't proficient readers by third grade, placing emphasis on retention rather than so-called “social promotion.”
Retention costs more than $6100 per student, which is what the state currently provides per student for a year in Colorado public schools. No one has proposed a bill to put $6100 per child for remediation starting in pre-k, a strategy that would probably do more to reduce reading deficiencies in kids.
Johnston likes taking the local out of local control
Johnston, always busy on school issues, also is sponsoring HB12-1149 that allows parents with kids in non-performing schools to go straight to the State Board of Education after two years of a district trying to turn those schools around. Opponents say the bill doesn't give districts enough time to show improvement and pits parents against each other.
Johnston's bill says that if local boards want to give its schools more time, they can be second-guessed by the State Board, again taking the local out of control and decision-making away from elected officials closest to problems.
Conti wants open budget negotiations - but not for the legislature
HB12-1118, a bill sponsored by State Representative Kathleen Conti (R-Centennial) tells districts how to conduct their employee contract negotiations by mandating public negotiations. Of course, school districts are unable to tell the legislators to do their budget negotiations in public, even though many decisions relating to the budget are handled behind the closed doors of the governor's office and Senate and House leadership.
School boards are at the foot of the elected officials' mountain in the state, so they have to live with the mandate stones from the feds and the state that avalanche down hill. Ironically, state legislators complain non-stop about federal mandates, many of them related to education. But once an avalanche starts, apparently, it can't be stopped, until it hits the bottom of the mountain, and that would be in the laps of local governments. PENCCW