Bills aimed at setting students up for success

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Rep. Barbara McLachlan’s report

We face two major issues in Colorado concerning public education: We need to pay off the $572 million negative factor debt we owe our school districts from 2008, and we need to address the teacher shortage.

Finding more money to pay that debt is a work in progress. On March 1, Gov. Jared Polis signed House Bill 22-1183 into law to pay $68 million owed to school districts. We have made historic investments in education, increased funding per student and are committed to prioritizing sustainable funding for our schools going forward. 

We are also tackling the teacher shortage head on with bills that will help boost our talented educator workforce.

Two of my bills passed through the House and Senate recently to help address Colorado’s educator shortage situation. The first, which I ran with Rep. Marc Catlin, addresses the issue in rural Colorado.

Rural schools don’t have access to as many teacher candidates as our urban counterparts. Our housing costs are high, distances are long and we don’t always have jobs available for family members. House Bill 22-1101 gives the teachers, bus drivers, nurses, cafeteria workers and paraprofessionals who have retired with the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) pension the opportunity to come back into the schools and work full time, without diminishing their benefits.

Normally, retirees cannot work more than 110 days a year without harming their PERA payments. Since that number does not cover a whole school year, districts are left with a continued need for teachers, but no one to fill the positions.

This bill stipulates that both schools and teachers pay into PERA, but they will not receive additional years of service benefits that would increase future payments. 

I ran this bill the first time as a pilot program in 2017; it was so successful, rural districts asked for it to be extended.

Urban schools, which are also experiencing a teacher shortage, wanted to jump on this bill; PERA, however, said it would be too expensive to include every district in Colorado. So, we came up with another bill to help.

House Bill 22-1057, that I ran with Rep. Mary Bradfield, does the same sort of thing for retired educators, but only if they want to substitute teach, anywhere in Colorado. 

It offers opportunities for educators to work as temporary employees in districts, again without hurting their PERA benefits. This bill has a time limit of three years, hoping that districts will be able to fill their substitute quota by then. 

Both bills have been supported by school districts throughout the state. They are getting highly qualified, experienced educators back into the classrooms, buses, cafeterias and schools, relieving the pressure points endured by a staffing shortage. 

Together, we are setting our students up for success.