Since 1985, the Colorado Children’s Campaign has served as the leading voice for kids at the State Capitol. This year was no exception. During the 2014 legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly, our highest priorities were strengthening the Child Care Assistance Program, ensuring that new education financing targeted our most vulnerable students and fighting for healthier school and child care environments. We were pleased to see success in all three areas that will benefit children across the state.
NEW PROGRESS FOR KIDS
Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) Overhaul: HB 1317 (Duran/Nicholson & Kefalas) modernizes the CCCAP program and invests $9.9 million in expanding access to quality care so that families can rely on the affordable child care they need to work. The overhaul ensures that more of Colorado’s most vulnerable kids have access to stimulating experiences that let them discover, explore and grow.
Pediatric Dental: HB 1053 (McCann/Aguilar) ensures that kids have access to dental benefits regardless of whether their parents buy coverage in the traditional insurance marketplace or through Connect for Health Colorado.
Financing Colorado’s Public Schools through the School Finance Act: HB 1298 (Hamner & Buckner/Kerr & Steadman) and the Student Success Act: HB 1292 (Hamner & Murray/Johnston & Ulibarri). With improving fiscal conditions for the state, legislators reinvested in education in a way that balanced district flexibility with targeted support for our most at-risk students. Highlights include: $20 million additional dollars for English Language Learners (up from $7 million annually for a total of $27 million dollars annually); $18 million increase for kindergarten through third grade students struggling to read (up from $20 million last year, for a total of $38 million); $17 million new investment in 5,000 new high quality early learning slots for at-risk preschoolers or kindergarteners via the innovative Early Childhood At-Risk Enhancement Program (ECARE); $3 million new investment to build a budget transparency website; and $3 million increase for the Counselor Corps Grant program (up from $5 million annually for a total of $8 million.)
Budget Wins for Early Childhood: The 2014-15 budget includes: $2.2 million for quality improvement grants and technical assistance for early learning providers with a priority for those who enroll children subsidized by CCCAP; $1.3 million to support child care licensing staff to improve site monitoring frequency; $100,000 for literacy programs during well-child visits with pediatricians; and reimbursement rate increases for CDHS-contracted community-based providers, including $1.9 million for CCCAP providers.
Budget Wins for Child and Family Health: The 2014-15 budget includes: $6.2 million to implement removal of the five-year waiting period for legally residing immigrant pregnant women and children to access public health coverage; $40 million investment in modernizing the Colorado Benefits Management System; $5.3 million for strengthening the CHP+ oral health benefit; and Medicaid provider rate increases.
CCCAP Eligibility and Authorization Alignment: HB 1022 (Landgraf/Newell) minimizes disruptions in child care for low-income families by ensuring that, except in very limited cases, CCCAP-eligible families are authorized for child care assistance for at least 12 months.
CCCAP Cliff Effect Pilot: SB 003 (Nicholson/ Pettersen) provides $1.2 million to help counties launch pilot programs to mitigate the impact of the “cliff effect,” when families lose child care support due to a modest increase in salary.
Income Tax Credit for Child Care Expenses: HB 1072 (Pettersen & Exum/Kefalas) provides $5.4 million to ensure that working families earning less than $25,000 who have child care expenses are able to receive the same tax benefit that higher income families receive
Maintaining Quality in Health Care Access: SB 32 (Lundberg/Saine) was defeated. It would have stripped important safeguards in state law governing the types of health care providers who can treat young children.
Moving Critical Assessments Forward: SB 136 (Marble/Saine) was defeated. It would have delayed implementation of Colorado’s new assessments aligned with the Colorado Academic Standards. A delay would have caused confusion and a step backward for kids in Colorado.
Educator Effectiveness Flexibility: SB 165 (Johnston & Kerr/Murray & Peniston) was passed. It creates one year of flexibility during which school districts can decide to what degree they will weight student academic growth in educators’ annual performance evaluations. This flexibility is important to ensure that new teacher evaluation systems established under the Great Teachers and Leaders Act (Senate Bill 10-191) are implemented with integrity on day one.
LEGISLATIVE CHALLENGES AND WORK IN PROGRESS
Immunization Requirements for School Enrollment: HB 1288, (Pabon/Aguilar) requires child care centers and schools to release the percentage of children opting out of vaccine requirements. It also directs the State Board of Health to set rules on how frequently parents must submit exemptions. While these modest steps forward are important, we were disappointed that the central provision of the legislation requiring parents to demonstrate they were making a well-informed decision to exempt a child was stripped from the bill. The Children’s Campaign will continue advocating for sensible policies that protect child health and support healthy child care and school environments.
Assessment Study: HB 1202 (Scott/Todd) creates a task force to study the impact and timing of state and district assessments in public schools. While the Children’s Campaign supports the new end-of-year assessments due to the valuable student achievement data they yield, we are committed to ensuring the state strikes the right balance of state and local assessments without over burdening students.
Average Daily Membership: HB 1139 (Priola) was defeated. It would have moved Colorado’s education system from a single annual student count date system to an average daily membership system, which would give parents, advocates, educators and tax payers a more precise count of student populations throughout the year. The Children’s Campaign will continue to support future efforts to modernize Colorado’s obsolete and inefficient single count day system to ensure every student counts every day.
Opportunity Schools Initiative: SB 167 (Zenzinger/Fields), would have created a pilot program to provide additional funding and support for Alternative Education Campuses, which serve high-risk student populations to improve students’ postsecondary and career success. The Children’s Campaign supported this targeted and strategic initiative, however state funding was not authorized for the program this year.