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Colorado legislative roundup: Bills aimed at helping at-risk students advance

Under the dome, Colorado State Capitol
Under the dome, Colorado State Capitol
Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat

Many of the education bills wending their way through the Colorado General Assembly aim to provide students with more than academics.

They seek to offer help to students who face social and emotional challenges and to encourage schools to extend support to families.

Many such bills saw significant progress this week, though not always without opposition.

That opposition came through on the House floor Friday, where Republicans objected to a bill aimed at curbing youth suicide by allowing 12- and 13-year-olds to obtain counseling without parental permission. Suicide is a leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 24 in Colorado.

“Their brains are not fully developed,” said state Rep. Larry Liston, a Colorado Springs Republican. “To keep the parent out of the equation is a mistake.”

Numerous attempts to weaken the bill, including an attempt to rename it the “Replacing Parents with Psychotherapists Act of 2019,” failed.

“If this passes, I’d urge parents, get your kids out of public schools,” said state Rep. Mark Baisley, a Roxborough Park Republican.

Despite the objections, the bill passed Friday and will receive a final vote in the House Monday. From there it goes to the Senate, where in past year Republicans killed similar legislation. Now Democrats have the majority and are likely to be more receptive.

Along similar lines, a bill increasing grants for behavioral health services at schools by $3 million passed the House Education Committee Thursday. The program currently receives $11.9 million annually and helps districts hire counselors, social workers, psychologists, and more. It’s already passed the Senate, and next goes to to the House Appropriations Committee.

The House Education Committee also sent a bill aimed at helping at-risk ninth-graders stay in school to the House Appropriations Committee.

And Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill encouraging adoption of the community school model, which offers families and students services beyond academics. By including the concept in statute, supporters hope more schools will qualify for federal grants.

Meanwhile, one of the governor’s top priorities, universal full-day kindergarten, also received initial House approval Friday. It will move to the Senate after a final vote on Monday.

Also receiving initial House approval Friday, the same day they were funded by the House Appropriations Committee:

Other education-related updates:

With three weeks left to go, the School Finance Act is expected to be introduced any day now. But a leading lawmaker said a fix to the system many see as inequitable won’t be introduced this year.

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