House Works to Address Shortage of Critical School Staff in Rural Areas

DENVER, CO– The House today passed HB20-1127, bipartisan legislation to address the special education service provider shortage in rural areas, by a vote of 50-13. The bill is sponsored by Representatives Julie McCluskie, a former school district official, and Barbara McLachlan, a former teacher. 

“We’re facing a shortage of critical professionals in our schools, such as nurses, psychologists and school counselors, that is especially acute in rural areas,” said Rep. McCluskie, D-Dillon. “There are special education service providers who have retired and who would come back and help fill this need, but PERA’s rules make it difficult for them to do so. We’re grateful to PERA for their work with us on this important bill.”

“This bill is a commonsense fix to help rural school districts attract nurses, psychologists and social workers, who are badly needed across our state,” said Rep. McLachlan, D-Durango. “Special education service providers who have retired shouldn’t see their benefits reduced if they want to go back to work and help address our rural teacher shortage.” 

Boards of Cooperative Services (BOCES) supply educational services to two or more school districts that, alone, wouldn’t be able to afford the services. It allows districts to share costs in order to provide special education services to more Colorado children. BOCES primarily serve rural school districts and have faced significant challenges attracting and hiring new special education teachers. In the 2018-2019 academic year, Districts and BOCES reported having 1,177 special services provider positions to hire for, nearly 18.9 percent of all SSP positions in the state. 

BOCES would like to hire people who are willing to work and have retired from school districts, but PERA’s rules put a limit on the number of days a retiree can work before requiring a reduction in benefits. HB20-1127 would adjust these rules so that retirees can come back to work at BOCES without seeing a reduction in their retirement benefits. The bill would allow BOCES to hire 40 retired special education service providers without any reduction in PERA benefits. It would apply to school psychologists, social workers, early childhood special education teachers, school counselors, nurses, and other critical positions.