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Colorado lawmakers ask governor for special session on education

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Derek Draplin | The Center Square

(The Center Square) — Colorado’s Republican lawmakers asked Governor Jared Polis to hold a special session to address “serious challenges facing” statewide K-12 education as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. 

Republican House and Senate members signed on to a letter sent to the governor on Tuesday. 

“The special session should be limited to developing innovative policies that ensure every child has access to a high-quality education, regardless of their unique health circumstances, age, or income level,” the letter, signed by 36 Republicans, read.

“Parents need concrete, actionable, and flexible options for the 2020-2021 school year. Kids get one chance to receive a quality education, so we urge you to take immediate action to prevent lifetime damage to Colorado’s children,” the letter continued.

Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said in a statement the legislature should act to “provide parents with the resources to educate their children in home or in small groups.”

“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. “We have solutions."

In the letter, lawmakers propose what they call a “Safe Learning Choices” program to provide “direct education support package for families.”  

“This support would be available to families whose children cannot attend public school full-time due to the virus – whether due to their own risk concerns or due to their local school deciding not to operate,” the letter said.

Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last week released reopening guidelines “designed to help local health agencies and districts make appropriate decisions on health and safety precautions based on the incidence of COVID-19 in their community.”

Democratic leadership from both chambers quashed the proposal in a statement released Tuesday saying it’s “not a serious effort to address” families’ concerns and would defund public schools.

“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,” the statement said. “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.”

Gov. Jared Polis also weighed in during a Tuesday news briefing where he reiterated that the minority party’s plan would “cut funding to our public schools.”

“I always appreciate when legislators want to work more and come back and while the logistics of a session during the pandemic are hard they’re certainly not impossible, but my understanding is the Senate Democrats have already responded that they don’t support that proposal to cut funding to our public schools,” Polis said.

“Frankly, that proposal would result in less choices for parents by forcing the closure of some schools and some of the online programs that already exist in our state,” the governor added, noting he’d be open to a statewide plan he thought would have majority support in the legislature.