DENVER — The Covid-19 pandemic seriously impacted Colorado's schools, Challenges for students range from adapting to various forms of learning, whether at home or in the classroom, obtaining internet access, and an ongoing mental health crisis for students and teachers.
In his State of the State address Thursday, Governor Jared Polis outlined his key priorities in the state, including what he says is a record-breaking increase in education funding.
"There is nothing more important to the future of our state than educating Colorado children," Polis said in his remarks. He's proposing an increase in per-pupil funding which could equal between $12,0000 and $13,000 for classrooms of about 25 students.
For southern Colorado school districts like Cañon City Schools, it could mean a way to fund positions like school counselors.
District counselors Brian Vanlwarden and Stacey Andrews were among the Governor's guests introduced in Thursday's State of the State.
"One of the biggest challenges is having sustainable funding that allows those systems we've had in place to be long-term programs," Brian Vanlwarden, a counselor for the district said.
Cañon City is no exception to the staffing challenges in education. Vanlwarden and Andrews said in some cases counselors have stepped in to substitute for classes during the pandemic. Some counseling positions are currently funded through grants the district has received.
"I think sometimes when you tell someone we're hiring you, but you're under a grant, it feels a little different," Andrews said.
The grants have helped the district get by to tackle some mental health needs, but the added funding is something Andrews and Vanlwarden say will make a difference in being able to retain staff and sustain the programs the district already has in place.
"We're in a rural community, so it's kind of hard to attract them to the area," Vanlwarden said.
Polis is looking forward to seeing Cañon City schools utilize additional funding for behavioral efforts, but that doesn't mean state funding always goes to school counselors. Each district utilizes funding for their own needs.
"We have a system of local control. It's up to the school districts on what they want to do with this," Polis said, "some districts are reducing class sizes as well, some that have stripped out enrichment programs like the arts can add them back. So that's what this means on the ground."
This legislative session lawmakers will need to determine how to spend millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The additional money will create a lot of discussions on spending.
Polis adds ARPA funds won't be used in the increase for educational funding. Instead, Polis says the money is made possible by the cuts the legislature made ahead of the economic impacts of the pandemic.
The governor's plan is to "prepay" when it comes to education funding as a way to sustain the increases in education.