A couple education bills designed to help Coloradans return to work and complete degrees passed through the state General Assembly earlier this month.
Proponents of the measures say the legislation, which will allow funding for programs under the Colorado Department of Higher Education, is about economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic — when individuals lost jobs or were unable to continue post-secondary education.
“They’re investing in Coloradans to help them either get a degree or get credentialed post-secondary education and training,” said state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, who represents Weld County and was a prime sponsor of the bills. “They’re encouraging kids to finish high school because they see an opportunity to advance their education and get training for a career.”
Also passed during the 2021 regular legislative session were two bills relating to pre-kindergarten through 12th grade levels. With prime sponsorship from state Rep. Mary Young of Greeley, the bills address literacy curriculum transparency and bullying education and prevention.
The literacy curriculum transparency is Senate Bill 2021-151, and it amends the Colorado READ Act to require each school district to provide more detailed information on its website “to increase the visibility of its reading program,” Young said.
“This will allow parents to have a greater understanding on the curriculum they’re using, and it requires the district to report students who have READ plans. And it will also report how many accomplished the READ plans,” she added.
The Colorado Reading to Ensure Academic Development Act (Colorado READ Act) was passed by the Colorado legislature in 2012, giving the state structure and resources to have children reading at grade level by the time they enter the fourth grade, according to the Colorado Department of Education.
House Bill 2021-1221, know as Bullying Prevention and Education in Schools, requires the Department of Education to use a stakeholder process when updating the model bullying prevention and education policy (model policy). That process must include the parents of students who have been bullied, according to information on the bill.
“At a minimum, the model policy must clearly differentiate between a conflict and bullying and differentiate between harassment and bullying and clarify the role of cyber bullying during online instruction, which might occur on or off school property,” the bill states.
Young described the bill as “excellent policy” because when the CDE developed its bullying policy it used analysis and information from the U.S. Department of Education with 11 key components.
“We’re now requiring districts to include bullying reports in yearly discipline and conduct reports,” Young said. “We haven’t known where bullying was happening and if efforts were reducing bullying.”
Under the bills Kirkmeyer sponsored, more than $66 million is allocated to the department of higher education for Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI) programs. The objective of COSI “is to combine tuition assistance and support to see every Colorado student has affordable access to post-secondary opportunities, and can complete a degree or certificate to allow them to get into the workforce,” according to the program web page.
Officially, the bills are known as House Bill 2021-1330 and Senate Bill 2021-232.
HB21-1330, titled Higher Education Student Success, requires funding of $51.5 million is for programs “to incentivize students to re-enroll and complete postsecondary credentials and degrees, and for a grant program to assist students in completing applications for financial assistance,” according to the bill summary.
Senate Bill 2021-232 is known as the Displaced Workers Grant and this will appropriate $15 million for displaced worker grants through COSI. The program supports workers whose income has been negatively impacted by COVID-19, according to background on the bill. Support includes and can come in the form of scholarships, advising services, and connection and transition to the workforce.
Participating institutions of higher education include: Arapahoe Community College, Colorado Mountain College, Colorado Mesa University, Community College of Aurora, Community College of Denver and Metropolitan State University.
COSI Executive Director Shelley Banker said the Colorado Commission on Higher Education released a strategic plan in late 2017 to have 66% of Coloradans with a degree or credential by 2025. Banker said about 700,000 Coloradans now have some college work completed but lack a degree.
“I think especially when you look at HB-1330, in Colorado you have people with some college and no degree and typically it’s an adult population,” Banker said. “It might be an individual out there who’s completed post-secondary credential, and maybe they could move into another job that not’s eliminated and have a more stable job.”
Banker said on Senate Bill 232 the money for the Displaced Workers Grant will come from the more than $3.8 billion Colorado will receive from the American Rescue Plan, which is also known as the COVID-19 Stimulus Package.
The back-to-work focus and component of bill is aimed allowing individuals to return who started educational training or were on unemployment during the pandemic. Banker said the unemployment number during the pandemic was as high as 450,000.
“Those who are terminated or furloughed, it helps them re-skill, upskill and get back to whatever area they need,” Banker said.