Discussion from Douglas County School Board members indicates they will underscore the importance of local control and school and parent choice in any upcoming legislation on education.
At the Nov. 1 board workshop, the school board went through its legislative priorities, which were last updated in 2020, to adjust them ahead of lawmakers returning to the statehouse next year.
Before getting into specific areas of possible legislation, the board’s priorities document includes language to express the importance of leaving decisions about schools to local school boards, per the state constitution.
Board member Mike Peterson said he wanted to re-emphasize local control of public schools and the district’s support for school choice and a variety of educational opportunities.
“I think school choice is something we can really pride ourselves on and then recommit to choice for parents and support local control and honoring school choice,” he said.
Peterson also advocated for legislation that reinforces the role of parents in their childrens’ education, giving examples of curriculum transparency and opt-outs.
“It would be around supporting legislation that respects and supports parents’ values, beliefs and making it clear that parents have a right to make decisions regarding their childrens’ education in accordance with their personal faith, family upbringing, things like that,” he said.
Board members David Ray and Elizabeth Hanson said they’d like the language to focus on the partnership between parents and schools.
“I would suggest that we expand the language in this because I think we need to talk about the partnership more than who has control of education because it really is a partnership,” Ray said. “A partnership should value that a parent should be able to raise their child in the way they want to. A partnership should value choice for how the child is being educated.”
Peterson agreed that the language could be combined to support parents' role in the partnership.
Another suggestion Peterson made during the discussion was to broaden one of the listed priorities about reducing gun violence, while also supporting legislation that would encourage partnerships between law enforcement agencies and school districts to respond to school shootings, including training, response preparedness and information sharing.
“When we talk about reducing gun violence in our schools, as one director, I might reword that to promoting a safe environment and not just looking at one specific issue,” he said.
The board agreed to encourage that any educational legislation up for consideration be fully funded, and also highlighted educational programs they supported, such as financial literacy and teen vaping prevention. Hanson also requested the board encourage legislators to fund educational programming around the dangers of fentanyl.
“I think it would be very beneficial to add fentanyl (education) in somewhere,” she said. “I think there will be opportunities for statewide education and I would like to advocate for a movement toward that at the state level.”
Another priority reiterates the recruitment and retention challenges the district sees trying to hire teachers and the need for more pathways to become an educator and expanding current opportunities.
“I think it would be very relevant, given the current national shortage of teachers, to include something that highlights the challenges we’re facing and somehow tie it neatly in to the state having high expectations for performance and it sure would be fantastic if they could pay our teachers to make those expectations more realistic,” Hanson said.
Board members encouraged legislation to support balanced testing requirements that allow for accountability, while not creating an overwhelming demand on instructional time, as well as acknowledging testing fatigue.
Other legislative priorities the board listed were support for opportunities and learning programs for all students, regardless of ability, as well as urging legislators to resolve issues with the Colorado School Finance Act. Peterson specifically called out the budget stabilization factor, which allows the state to withhold a portion of the required annual school funding.
The board will continue the discussion and vote on adopting the priorities at its Nov. 15 meeting. Once approved, the priorities are shared with state legislators.
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