Clayton Early Learning

Highlights from Colorado’s 2015 Legislative Wrap Up

Lauren Heintz

It’s not surprising that state midterm elections gain less attention and have lower voter participation than presidential election cycles. The campaigns are smaller, fewer town halls meetings are held, and voter turnout decreases. Yet despite there being less public interest in midterms, these elections tend to mean big changes on a state level as a large number of legislative seats and party control are up for grabs. In 2014, 46 states held elections for 36 governorships and over 6,000 of the 7,383 legislative seats. This resulted in 1,325 new state legislators being elected, 6 new governors, and 8 state governments switching party control.

Colorado was no exception to the midterm changes, as 83 of the 100 legislative seats and the state governorship were up in 2014. With the 24 new legislators elected, Republicans gained the majority of seats in the states Senate which created a split general assembly as Democrats control the state House of Representatives.

What does this mean for early childhood policy in Colorado?Crowd at Capitol SUFK15

First, it gives early childhood advocates the opportunity to create new champions for Colorado’s children and families in the legislature as new members and returning members in new leadership positions settle into their policymaking role. The midterm changes also mean that for any bill to be enacted into law in our state, it must have strong bipartisan support. With a split legislature a bill must successfully appeal to both the Democratic controlled House and the Republican controlled Senate, as well as be endorsed by the Democratic governor. While this does present some challenges, it also allows for a creative and thoughtful policymaking process.

Bills Impacting Early Childhood Issues

Policymakers considered a wide variety of bills that would affect Colorado’s youngest this session, ranging from assessment bills to maternal health to new funding strategies. Here are some of the bills that were considered this year on early childhood issues:

  • HB15-1001 would create and partially fund an early childhood educator development fund under the department of human services to help early childhood teachers get postsecondary credentials.
  • HB15-1020 and SB15-33 would provide funding to offer full day kindergarten to all Colorado kids. HB15-1020 would have used state general funds to support full day K while SB15-033 would have asked voters to approve retaining excess TABOR funds.
  • HB15-1024 would fund an additional 3,000 children as half-time or full-time preschool students through the Colorado Preschool Program, which currently allows over 20,000 children to attend preschool annually.
  • HB15-1079 would authorize general fund dollars to implement and administer the state teen pregnancy and dropout prevention program created in the department of health care policy and financing.
  • HB15-1111 would create the Colorado maternal mortality review committee to review maternal mortality cases that occur in Colorado, identify the leading causes of maternal mortality, and develop recommendations to prevent further deaths.
  • HB15-1194 would continue to expand access and funding for long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) and related services, particularly to low-income women statewide, as part of the department of health care policy and financing’s family planning efforts.
  • HB15-1221 would permanently extend the K-12 Parental Involvement Act which requires employers, except those of small businesses, to provide its employees a set amount of leave from work to attend their child’s academic activities.
  • HB15-1317 would establish the state pay for success contracts program, which is currently being modeled in Utah to support high quality preschool programming. Pay for success is a financing approach in which philanthropic or private investors provide the funding for a social program or intervention that has the potential to save the state money in the future. Investors are only paid back by the government if the program or interventions demonstrate success.
  • HB15-1323 and SB15-257 are two of over ten separate bills related to assessing students that were introduced during this legislative session, all of which varied widely in their structure and implications. These two bills are the main House and Senate education committee bills related to assessments and both versions continue the school readiness assessment as well as aim to lessen the burden on teachers by streamlining the tests.
  • HB15-1334 creates the legislative oversight committee on school finance to study tax policy issues relating to school finance and the components of a new school finance system. This year’s budget challenges highlighted the fact that education funding needs to be reexamined in Colorado to ensure that all students from preschool to higher education are receiving equitable and effective funding.
  • SB15-234 is this year’s legislative appropriations bill or the “Long Bill”. It includes greater investments in early childhood including increased funding for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP), school readiness quality improvement, ongoing access to health care for vulnerable children, and new grant and loan opportunities to increase access to child care in underserved communities across the state.

What’s next?

Though many of the bills did not make it into law this session, they did allow legislators to learn more about the issues facing early childhood in our state and helped to start future conversations.  As we look forward to next year’s legislative session it’s important to keep in mind the split nature of our state government and to seek out bipartisan policy solutions that will help support the healthy, safety, and well-being of Colorado children and families.

Lauren Heintz

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