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New Colorado Program Will Unleash Innovation


• Karla Phillips


Earlier this month Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed SB19-216, creating the High School Innovative Learning Pilot Program. Thanks to the leadership of Senator Jeff Bridges and Representative Shannon Bird, and the work of Colorado Succeeds, this next generation learning program will expand innovative learning opportunities for high school students and remove seat-time funding barriers for participating schools.

Expanding Innovative Learning Opportunities

Colorado’s new pilot program will allow participating schools to design and promote innovative learning opportunities so students can develop the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully transition to college or career. While this effort begins as a pilot, the law declares the intent of the legislature is to increase annually the number of districts participating to achieve full participation over five years.

This means schools will be able to look beyond the classroom for new learning experiences. In fact, SB19-216 states that innovative learning opportunities may include work-based learning like apprenticeships, competency-based learning projects, capstone projects and other learning opportunities that are designed to support students in developing and demonstrating personal skills, entrepreneurial skills, civic and interpersonal skills as well as professional skills.

Building on 10 Years of Experience

Colorado has long been a leader in innovation, and the High School Innovative Learning Pilot Program is the perfect next step for the state.

In 2008, the state established the Innovation Schools Act which created districts and schools of innovation as well as innovation school zones. A decade later, Colorado had 98 innovation schools within its 15 districts of innovation plus eight innovation school zones, according to the Colorado Department of Education. These innovation schools serve 61,235 students, or 6.7% of the state’s overall PreK-12 student population.

A key feature of the innovation program is that school leaders can request waivers from policies that would hinder the implementation of their proposals.

And the most frequently requested waivers have been related to time. In the past decade, innovation schools have repeatedly requested the authority to make decisions about how they will meet statutory minimum requirements related to pupil-teacher contact hours and school calendar days.

Using years of feedback from innovation schools, lawmakers were able to thoughtfully craft the new High School Innovative Learning Pilot Program to address two crucial issues: seat-time requirements and funding.

Addressing Seat-Time Requirements and Funding

The Colorado school finance system is based on seat time, which is defined by instruction time and actual teacher-pupil contact hours. However, Colorado leaders recognized the difficulty schools have in trying to design creative and meaningful experiences for students while being constrained by the tracking and calculating of time.

So, the High School Innovative Learning Pilot Program allows districts in the pilot to receive full funding for high school students enrolled in high-quality experiential learning opportunities, regardless of the actual amount of instructional time or contact hours the student experiences.

Kelly Caufield, Vice President of Government Affairs for Colorado Succeeds, added, “We must advocate for system changes that give schools the flexibility to experiment with new models and approaches to learning. Seat time-based funding and the burdensome documentation requirements that districts must complete are frequently cited as a significant risk factor preventing local school systems from implementing large-scale innovations.”

Looking Forward

Colorado lawmakers, the State Board of Education and local educators have been steadily—and thoughtfully—pursuing next generation learning for years. Their experience offers incredible insights to other states interested in next generation learning, and their actions will impact the lives of thousands of students for years to come.


About the author


Karla Phillips

Karla@ExcelinEd.org

Karla is Policy Director for Next Generation Learning at ExcelinEd. Previously, she served as Special Assistant to the Deputy Superintendent of Policy and Programs at the Arizona Department of Education. Karla also served as the Education Policy Advisor for Governor Brewer and as the Vice-Chair of Arizona’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. Her experience includes serving as Director of State Government Relations for Arizona State University (ASU) and as a senior policy advisor for Arizona’s House of Representatives. Karla received her B.A. from Indiana University and an M.P.A from Arizona State University.