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Focus on Education- February 2021

Focus on Education: CDE's update for legislators

Focus on Education is a monthly newsletter for Colorado legislators on critical issues affecting K-12 education and CDE’s progress implementing state and federal policies.

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Addressing COVID-19 Learning Impacts 

CDE and the State Board of Education are hard at work figuring out how to expand learning opportunities with high quality instruction for our students to address the learning impacts of COVID-19. Ideas under consideration include: 

  • Exploring an expansion of AmeriCorps to support workforce needs and create more capacity for expanded learning time; 

  • Providing financial resources and technical assistance for schools and districts to create high-quality expanded learning time opportunities (e.g. summer school) that meet the needs of their communities; and 

  • Expanding out-of-school time with schools, districts and community-based organizations including libraries. 

This work could be funded, at least in part, with the federal ESSER II dollars available for state-level activities. We will be looking for opportunities to engage with interested legislators as the plan becomes more detailed.


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Federal ESSER II Funding 

CDE is working to distribute $519.3 million in additional federal funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. The new funding will be distributed according to the same processes used for the March 2020 funds – with 90% of funding, or $467.4 million, flowing to local education agencies based on their Title I formula and 10%, or $51.9 million, reserved for state-level activities.

 Although the allowable uses for ESSER II funds are similar to those for ESSER I, there are important distinctions between the ESSER II and ESSER I program. These include the amount of time during which the funds may be spent, maintenance of effort, and a report on efforts to measure and address learning loss. Although the ESSER I program required school districts to offer equitable services to eligible nonprofit private schools, ESSER II does not require this. However, there is dedicated funding for private schools through the new Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund. States are instructed to use all remaining ESSER I funds before making use of the ESSER II funds, given the shorter remaining period of availability for ESSER I.

The law enables the use of ESSER II funds until Sept. 30, 2023. ESSER I funds must be used by Sept. 30, 2022.


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Finalized Pupil Count

CDE finalized the official 2020-21 count of the preschool through 12th grade public school student population, which confirms the state public school student population had its first decrease in year-to-year enrollment in over three decades due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Overall, Colorado schools posted an estimated 3.3% decrease in enrollment this fall compared to 2019 with 30,024 fewer students in preschool through 12th grade. The figures show the total statewide enrollment for preschool to 12th grade was 883,199 when students were counted in October. 

The enrollment count is different from the funded pupil count.  Each student is counted as 1 for enrollment, but is counted as 1.0, 0.5, or 0.0 for funding based upon eligibility criteria. Additionally, the funded pupil count incorporates an averaging provision outlined in the School Finance Act. Primarily due to the averaging provision, the funding pupil count only decreased by 4,930 or 0.6%. 

Legislators are now in the position of determining how best to use this information within the 20/21 (supplemental) and the 21/22 budget process.


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Statewide Graduation Rate Increases 


On Jan, 12, CDE released the latest graduation rate data for the Class of 2020. A total of 81.9% of the Class of 2020 graduated in four years last spring – the highest graduation rate in a decade. 

The Class of 2020 had 981 more graduates than the Class of 2019 – a 0.8 percentage point increase. Colorado’s four-year high school graduation rate has improved by 9.5 percentage points since 2010, when the state changed how the rate was reported.

Extended year rates for students taking five, six and seven years to graduate also have steadily improved.


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School Re-Opening Efforts 


CDE is partnering with the Governor’s Office and other state agencies to communicate and provide guidance on various school re-opening efforts. These initiatives include:

At-home COVID-19 tests. On Feb. 1, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment launched its Testing At Home program for Colorado schools. In partnership with Amazon and eMed, one of the nation’s leading digital health providers, Colorado purchased two million BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card test kits, which will be distributed to teachers, staff and selected students from hundreds of participating public and private schools across the state. School faculty, staff and selected students can use these kits as part of the ongoing effort to control and stop the spread of COVID-19. The tests can be used for symptomatic individuals, for those who have been exposed to COVID-19, and for screening asymptomatic individuals. Ongoing costs of the tests will be funded through either a cost-share agreement between schools and the state or may be reimbursed by the federal government. 

Mask deliveries. The Colorado State Emergency Operations Center is continuing to distribute surgical and KN95 masks through the rest of the school year for educators and other staff who work with students. Districts, BOCES, private schools and facility schools requesting masks will receive three masks per week for each staff person who works with students. For more information on the mask distributions, visit the Mask Guidance webpage on the CDE website.

Vaccines for educators. On January 29, Gov. Polis and CDPHE provided an update on the plan to make vaccines available to P-12 school staff beginning Feb. 8. More details about the plan are available in this memo from the governor to education leaders. Many school districts, public and private schools, child care providers, and BOCES have already begun planning with local health care partners, including hospital systems, clinics, and local public health agencies, to schedule vaccinations for school and child care staff no earlier than February 8. For up-to-date information on the vaccine roll-out plan for Colorado visit CDPHE's vaccine information webpage


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Refresher on the State Board of Education

The State Board of Education is composed of seven elected officials, each representing one of Colorado’s congressional districts. The Colorado Constitution vests the board with “general supervision” of the public schools of the state and with the authority to appoint and determine the powers and duties of a commissioner of education. Title 22 of the Colorado Revised Statutes outlines the role and responsibilities of the state board, including: overseeing the commissioner and Colorado Department of Education (CDE); adopting rules for education programs and grants; adopting state standards, assessments, and graduation guidelines; evaluating school and district performance; hearing charter school appeals; adopting educator performance standards and licensure requirements; and granting waivers from state education statutes. 

New State Board Members Sworn In. Prior to the start of the State Board of Education meeting on  Jan. 13, Dr. Lisa Escárcega, Dr. Karla Esser and Joyce Rankin were sworn in as members of the State Board of Education after winning their elections in November. State Board of Education members serve six-year terms. The board also unanimously re-elected Chairwoman Angelika Schroeder and Vice-Chairman Steve Durham to their leadership positions.


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