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January is well underway, but I still want to wish you a very happy new year. The new year has been exciting here at the Colorado Department of Education as we kicked off the legislative session with 30 new state lawmakers and, of course, our new governor, who is making education a top priority.
Unlike most of my counterparts who lead state agencies, I am not appointed by the governor. The Colorado Constitution gives the elected representatives of the State Board of Education the authority to appoint the commissioner of education. This governance system at CDE gives the education sector needed continuity in times of transition, and it also gives us the opportunity to provide nonpartisan, evidence-based advice to lawmakers and the governor as we work together on behalf of Colorado’s students.
I’ve been so pleased to see the governor’s proposal to fund free, full-day kindergarten for all students. This would give our schools and teachers more opportunities to ensure that students build strong foundation for success throughout their school years. The proposal is not a mandate for full-day kindergarten, but it gives districts the opportunity to pull down funding for full-day programs if they desire.
The governor’s budget also expands funding for the Colorado Preschool Program and allocates new dollars for dropout prevention. All of these proposals will add up to increased opportunities and access for our students, which is our core focus at the department as we work toward ensuring all students graduate ready for living-wage jobs and postsecondary programs.
I look forward to working with the governor and lawmakers as they give full consideration to these ideas and weigh them against other important priorities for our state.
I hope that 2019 brings you many opportunities for personal and professional growth as well as a strong sense of satisfaction as you watch your students grow under your instruction and support. Keep reading the SPARK for CDE’s resources to help you grow and support your students.
The first regular session of the 72ND General Assembly began on Jan. 4 and is scheduled to adjourn on May 3. Over the next several weeks, education issues are expected to be a high priority, especially after newly inaugurated Gov. Jared Polis’ budget request prominently featured education as his top issue.
Lawmakers have also introduced their own education-related bills, which will go through the typical legislative process that would include approval by the House and Senate Education Committees.
One of the best ways to track education bills is through Chalkbeat’s Colorado Bill Tracker.
Here are some education-related issues the legislature is expected to work on this year:
Implementing full-day kindergarten throughout the state is the most high-profile education matter in the governor’s budget request.
The State Board of Education has expressed its support for this proposal with a resolution adopted on Jan. 17. In its resolution, the state board said it believes that having high quality kindergarten programs can help close opportunity and achievement gaps for all students.
Currently, the state reimburses districts for half-day kindergarten instruction. Many districts offer full-day kindergarten either by allocating other resources or charging tuition. The governor has said he wants the state to spend an estimated $227 million to cover the plan that he says could be funded through an improved forecast of property tax collection.
Following on the heels of several bills last year intended to entice teachers to work in rural areas, including House Bill 18-1002, the Rural School District Teaching Fellowship Programs, and Senate Bill 18-085, the Financial Incentives for Education in Rural Areas, legislators continue to show interest in supporting educators. HB 19-1002, Leadership Professional Development for School Principals, passed its first hearing in the House Education Committee. And Senate Bill 19-009 Financial Incentives for Rural Educators, which would expand upon last year’s legislation, is also winding through the state house.
Other education-related legislation:
- SB 19-22 - Providing bonuses for highly effective teachers.
- HB 19-1008 - Expanding the BEST program to meet capital needs for career and technical education.
- HB 19-1053 - Tracking computer science course offerings.
- SB 19-39 - Interdistrict transportation for students.
- HB 19-1120 - Schoolwide mental and behavioral health support.
Brianna Buentello, a special education teacher at Pueblo’s East High School, was elected in November to the legislature to represent House District 47. She is the only current teacher in the State House. We contacted Rep. Buentello to ask her about her teaching career and what she can bring to the legislature from a teacher’s perspective.
The Spark - Please tell us about your teaching career, where you teach, what you teach and how long you have been in the profession?
I have been a public school teacher for eight years, the last three of which have been spent at East High School in Pueblo City Schools District 60. For the majority of my career, I taught social studies at a high school level. For the last three years, I’ve worked primarily with students with Specific Learning Disabilities, as well as co-teaching Algebra, and English Language Arts at the ninth- through 11th-grade levels.
Why did you become a teacher?
I became a special education teacher because of my son Noel. When Noel was 3, doctors diagnosed him with Autism Spectrum Disorder to the extent that I was informed that Noel would never speak or button his own shirt, and for my sake, I should check him into a group home run by the state. Instead, I went back to school to study special education and worked with Noel.
Noel now speaks, has graduated kindergarten from Morton Elementary in Pueblo and very much lives at home with my husband Nick, our two dogs; Opie and Simo, and myself.
Tell us about what makes your teaching job rewarding?
Teaching is rewarding because I love seeing a child realize their potential. That means different things for different students. I knew Noel was so much more than a diagnosis from a couple of doctors, and today I have no idea what the world has in store for him. But I am certain he has the tools to succeed. Being a special education teacher allows me to impart that realization on children each and every day.
Are you taking a break from teaching while you are in the legislature?
I am taking a break from teaching while I am at the legislature. I was sent to Denver to do a full-time job for the people of HD47 and especially the children and families of Southern Colorado. I was raised by Marines and that means you focus on the job you’re given until it’s
done and done well. You don’t split your effort between two tasks and end up doing a mediocre job at both.
Do you think being a teacher will give you any special perspective as a legislator? If so, how?
I do think being a teacher gives me a special perspective as a legislator. As teachers, we always have the long-term interests of our students in mind. Foresight and compassion are invaluable skills for lawmakers, and I have honed them in the classroom and look forward to using them here in Denver.
Was it difficult to run for election while still being a teacher? How did you do this?
Yes and no. The day-to-day time constraints and logistics were grueling. I take pride in the fact that I don’t do jobs by half measures and on the campaign trail that meant a lot of late nights and early mornings. However, teaching did provide me with clear and constant motivation.
Every day, I stepped into the classroom and looked in the eye the reason I was running. At
East High, our air conditioning doesn’t work, the books are out of date and many of the students are on free and reduced lunch. The focus that this provided was invaluable and allowed me to campaign hard after school.
What do you hope to accomplish this year in the legislature?
My legislative agenda is ambitious. My main focus is, of course, special education. I want to make it easier for special education teachers to do their job. This, of course, means that teachers and students both have the resources to succeed in the classroom.
If teachers want their voices heard at the legislative level, what are the best ways to do that?
I would recommend that Colorado teachers reach out to my office! I ran for office because the state government in Colorado lacked the voice of educators, which I saw first hand while I was on strike with my union at the Capitol last spring. I will always be a strong advocate for Colorado educators and am here to listen to teachers from all corners of our state.
Elementary school teachers interested in computer science training should let their districts know they want to participate in the free professional development opportunity offered by the state. Participating teachers will qualify for up to a $250 stipend.
School districts, BOCES and charter schools may now apply for the Computer Science Teacher Education Grant to receive free professional development for elementary-level teachers. District must apply online on behalf of their teachers by Thursday, Feb. 28.
For more information on the Computer Science in Education Grant, visit the Computer Science Grants for Teachers webpage.
Registration is open for teacher training about Nuu~ciu Strong - a Colorado Fourth Grade Resource Guide about the Ute People of Colorado. The sessions will be 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday, March 8, at the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose; or 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday, April 5, at the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum in Ignacio.
To register or for more information, visit the Title VI webpage.
- Colorado Parent - Meet Meg Cypress, 2019 Teacher of the Year
- Colorado Sun - Colorado’s first female education commissioner in 65 years pushes for a return to “respectful discourse”
- Boulder Daily Camera - BVSD teachers using Impact grants for innovative classroom projects