Republican state lawmakers call for special legislative session to address K-12 education

    BRIEF

    Legislators, staff and an onlooker wait for the Colorado House of Representatives to meet in the body's chamber on June 11, 2020. (Andy Bosselman for Colorado Newsline)

    Colorado House and Senate Republicans are calling on Gov. Jared Polis to convene a special legislative session to address K-12 education amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    In a letter sent to Polis’ office Tuesday, lawmakers proposed that money, which would otherwise go to schools, be given directly to parents to cover the costs of educating their children outside the standard school classroom.

    “Colorado’s parents are concerned both for their children’s health and their education. If we act quickly, we can provide parents with the resources to educate their children in home or in small groups arranged by them to ensure that their children don’t fall behind,” Sen. Bob Gardner, a Colorado Springs Republican, said in a statement.

    “The legislature needs to meet now to ensure that single parent families and our most economically challenged parents have the economic resources to provide for their children’s education,” Gardner said.

    The direct education support package for families, called “Safe Learning Choices,” would provide financial resources to parents who remain at home to teach their children or who wish to hire someone to help their children navigate remote learning. 

    “Many Colorado families — particularly single parent households — are facing an impossible choice: either work to put food on the table or stay at home to educate their child,” the letter stated. “If the state does not adapt education funding to recognize this obvious and undeniable reality, thousands of kids will be denied the quality education they deserve and need.”

    The letter was signed by 36 Republican lawmakers in the state House and Senate. 

    The letter lists a handful of alternative schooling solutions that families are exploring, including home schooling, small classroom schooling, in-person/online hybrids, and neighborhood “learning” cooperatives. But the letter stressed that these options are only available for more financially stable households.

    “The most affluent families will be able to ensure that these alternative programs are successful, but most Coloradans do not have the resources to access them,” the letter states.

    The proposal received push back from state Democratic leaders in the House and Senate who stressed that public schools need additional funding, not less.

    “Their plan cloaks in the guise of crisis-response, a long-sought and unpopular voucher plan that would defund public education in our state at the worst possible time,” Democratic leaders said in a joint statement. “Stripping away the funding schools need to protect students, their families and educators in the midst of a pandemic, is reckless and detrimental to the entire community.”

    In response to a question posed during a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis encouraged lawmakers to keep the dialogue going. But he didn’t explicitly say whether he would support a special legislative session.

    “If there is something constructive that can be done, where there’s a majority in the Legislature around something that can help our public schools in the time of need … maybe we can find a path to do that,” Polis said.

    On July 20, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in collaboration with the Colorado Department of Education, released new guidelines to help local public health agencies and schools navigate opening for fall 2020. Parents can submit feedback and ideas about local school reopening guidelines on the state’s website.

    “We know the importance of in-person learning and how critical school is to the health, well-being, and academic growth of our students,” Katy Anthes, Colorado education commissioner, said in a press release. “While our goal is to get students back into the classroom where they can be the  most supported, we need to prioritize the health and safety of students, their families and staff.”