Dylan Roberts: Legislative support for our schools, students and teachers
It is back to school for our region’s students and a great time to reflect on some of the legislature’s investments into our K-12 education system that are taking effect. While there is still so much more to do to support our teachers, students and schools, the 2022 legislative session was marked with significant steps in the right direction for public education in Colorado.
Our kids hold the keys to our future and we need to ensure they have the skills and tools necessary to work toward a better life for us all. From grounding all students with a solid basis of writing, reading and math to preparing future employees for the challenges they will face in the 21st century economy, schools are one of the few great unifying forces in our country.
It is critical that we make sure our schools here in Colorado are the absolute best that they can be, and why at the legislature, building better schools was a top priority this year. Our largest — and most impactful — investment came via the 2022 Public School Finance Act, which boosts funding for K-12 public schools by nearly $550 per student on average, or nearly $13,600 for a classroom of 25 students. It also brought down the “budget stabilization” factor to the lowest level it has been in over a decade with a pathway toward zero by next year.
That extra support will put more resources directly into classrooms and let school districts prioritize things like hiring more teachers, raising teacher pay, reducing class sizes and providing more individualized attention to students, especially those who need more one-on-one support.
But all those resources won’t do much good if there are not dedicated, hard-working professionals ready to guide the next generation. Right now on the Western Slope and across rural Colorado, there simply are not enough teachers. In fact, during the 2020-2021 school year, nearly 13 percent of teacher positions were filled through a shortage mechanism and more than 200 positions went unfilled statewide. For this reason, we directed millions of dollars to help get more qualified teachers into the classroom.
Our bipartisan bill, HB22-1220, created two educator preparation stipend programs and a temporary educator loan forgiveness program in the Department of Higher Education to reduce financial barriers to entering the workforce and help teachers pay off their student loans.
We also extended policies to make it easier for rural school districts to address shortages by allowing retired public employees to return to full-time work in a rural school district without sacrificing their retirement benefits, and we waived limitations on the number of days retired teachers can substitute teach during a critical substitute teacher shortage.
Our kids deserve nothing but the best, and these policies will make sure Colorado schools are filled with teachers who have the training and experience needed to deliver a high-quality education for all.
But as we know, schools are not just for learning — they often serve as important community and family resource hubs, and are where children learn what it takes to become young, functioning, contributing members of our communities.
That process can be tough — which is why it’s critical we provide more than just educational support in our schools but also look out for our students’ mental health.
To do that, we’re providing more help for students struggling with their mental health. SB22-147 helps pediatricians better identify and treat behavioral health conditions and provide school-based support for kids and their families. And HB22-1243 invests an additional $14 million to improve school safety and support behavioral health in public schools.
We also extended the popular “I Matter” program beyond its scheduled repeal in June 2022, paving the way to serve every Colorado youth who needs it with free counseling sessions for at least another two years.
Teachers, and the students they serve, represent the best Colorado has to offer. Our future depends on how well these students do today, and we must give them every opportunity to succeed. At the state legislature, I and my colleagues have been laser-focused on ensuring Colorado’s schools are fully-equipped to deliver on that promise. We made great strides this year and it is exciting to see these investments become a reality as this school year starts. However, I know that there is still so much more to do and am hopeful that this year’s direction is significant momentum in the right direction.
As always, I welcome input and questions at Dylan.Roberts.House@state.co.us or on my cell, 970-846-3054.
Rep. Dylan Roberts serves Routt & Eagle Counties in the Colorado House of Representatives
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