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New legislation impacts Colorado educational institutions

Lopez Elementary School fifth-graders get creative with duct tape.
Poudre School District
Lopez Elementary School fifth-graders get creative with duct tape.

Colorado’s 2022 legislative session proved positive for schools still struggling from the pandemic. Gov. Jared Polis signed bills into law that will have big impacts on education and educational institutions around the state, but it may take a while for these changes to be felt in classrooms.

KUNC’s Samantha Coetzee spoke to Erica Meltzer, bureau chief for Chalkbeat Colorado, to learn more.

Interview Highlights:

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Samantha Coetzee: The School Finance Act decides how money will be allocated to schools from the state budget. This year, there was a record investment from Colorado lawmakers. Can you talk about the changes and why they’re significant?

Erica Meltzer: Colorado has for a long time underfunded its schools, even compared to its own constitutional requirements. And this year, the legislature was able to get closer to funding its schools that it has at any point since the Great Recession. Schools feel like they really need more money to raise teacher pay and help with retention and to address a lot of the fallout from the pandemic. We also saw big increases in special education funding. This is an area that's been neglected for a very long time. And we also saw the creation of a small test program to try and improve some of the inequality that's created by differing property values around the state. So overall, school leaders are saying that they're really pleased with the funding that the legislature put into education.

There is also a new universal pre-K law. What does this new law mean for families? What educational impact could it have on young kids?

Colorado is committed to providing at least 10 hours a week of free preschool for any 4-year-old in the state. This would be in the year before kindergarten. This goes into effect in the fall 2023 school year, so not this school year. But leaders around the state are really hoping that this will allow children to come into school more prepared, get a head start on addressing some problems that some children have around language delays and learning disabilities. It's important to put this in the context that until 2019, Colorado didn't even have full-day kindergarten. And it's still not mandatory to send your kids to kindergarten. So this is a really big step forward to extend this preschool opportunity. But there's also still a lot of details to work out.

Another new law will impact educators. Can you talk about the changes to the teacher evaluation system? 

Colorado's teacher evaluation system hadn't had a change in more than a decade, and it's been a big source of frustration for both educators and administrators who feel like the system's overly burdensome and that it's too reliant on test scores. These changes reduce the weight that's given to test scores in teacher evaluations, and supporters say they hope it shifts the overall system more towards providing support for teachers that need more help to be successful and providing meaningful feedback that really helps teachers grow and improve. Instead of just being, on the one hand, a very burdensome bureaucratic system, but one that also has turned into one that just checks a box instead of providing meaningful feedback. So there's definitely people in the state that would like to see a bigger transformation and let go of the use of test scores entirely. A lot of states have done that, but a lot of teachers and administrators do feel like the changes this year were a good step forward.

Why were teachers pushing for this shift?

I think a lot of teachers feel that it's really unfair to use standardized test scores as such a large part of their evaluation because they feel like so many factors outside of the classroom affect how students do on standardized tests. You know, whether the kid eats breakfast that morning, whether maybe they lost their home that week and that it doesn't actually reflect the work they do in the classroom. And then, of course, many subjects are not tested at all. And so if you're the art teacher or the gym teacher, those teachers wanted their performance measured based on whether they were a good gym teacher, not on whether the reading scores in the school were going up.

As the host of Morning Edition at KUNC, I have the privilege of delivering you the news in two ways — from behind the mic and behind the scenes. In addition to hosting Morning Edition, I’ll report on pressing news of the day and arts and culture on the Front Range.