Senate Ed wrestles with a brand-new idea

By Todd Engdahl

CHALKBEAT

It’s not often that a legislative committee is faced with a completely new idea or an issue that hasn’t come up before.

But that was the case Wednesday with the Senate Education Committee and Senate Bill 14-185, which proposes a creative new way to fund early learning programs.

The proposal is something that hasn’t come up before at the Capitol, unlike the usual run of education bills, which generally involve issues and subjects that most committee members have at least passing familiarity with.

SB 14-185 would create something called the Pay for Success Contracts for Early Childhood Education Services Program. The program would allow the Office of State Planning and Budgeting and school districts to contract with providers of early childhood development services – and then pay them later with savings realized from the program’s success.

The bill’s idea, based on what are called “social impact bonds” or “results-based financing,” is that service providers can attract private investors to invest in support programs such as high-quality preschool. The theory is that quality programs reduce costly interventions such as grade retention or special education once a child enters school. If the state and a school district realize savings from reduced need for interventions, then the program is paid and investors repaid with interest.

The concept is seen by supporters as a creative way to fund needed services such as early childhood education in a time of constrained government budgets. (The proposal is complicated – get details in this Chalkbeat Colorado story and in this legislative staff summary of the bill.)

The detailed – sometimes too detailed – explanations from the sponsors, Democratic Sens. Mike Johnston of Denver and Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada, gave committee members an awful lot to absorb in a short period of time.

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