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Colorado Republican lawmakers call for special session to address education

Republicans asked for a special session to get money to parents for at-home learning, but on that topic - how will school funding work with coronavirus?

DENVER — Republican lawmakers in Colorado are calling for a special session to address the pressing issue of education, after what they called "an overwhelming outcry" from parents regarding education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate and House Republicans penned a letter to Gov. Jared Polis (D) requesting the special session to tackle the "pressing issue."

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The letter, delivered to the governor Tuesday morning, was spearheaded by Senator Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs). It is signed by the entire Senate Republican Caucus and the majority of the House Republican Caucus.

“Colorado’s parents are concerned both for their children’s health and their education," Gardner said in a release. "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.

“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. We have solutions. We ask the governor to call a special session now so that we can provide parents with the resources they need.”

> Click/tap here to read the full letter.

In the letter, they suggest a plan that is similar to school vouchers, except the money that would normally go to the district, would go to parents.

"These families would be entitled to all or a portion of their child's per pupil revenue to access the educational resources they need to thrive during the pandemic. The funding would allow parents to remain at home, engage an educator, purchase quality curriculum and materials, and if necessary, the computers and broadband service to ensure access," the letter stated.

"The reality is we're in a crisis situation. We're in an emergency situation," Rep. Paul Lundeen (R-Monument) told Next with Kyle Clark on Tuesday. "Think of all the other aspects of society where we're doing things dramatically different than we've done it before. This simply says, hey, with regard to public education, we should be looking at an array of options that go beyond the normal box that we live and work inside," 

During his COVID-19 news conference on Tuesday, Polis was asked multiple times about the request to call lawmakers back to work.

"Any serious effort would involve negotiations and a thoughtful approach to figure out a way to improve our schools, and I don't think a proposal that would reduce options and force the closure of some schools and online programs, would in any way, help in this situation," Polis said.

Even without a pandemic, though, K-12 funding in Colorado is a math equation that is complicated for most matheticians. With the pandemic, the process is going to be complicated, regardless of the special session.

Colorado Legislative Council, the staff for state lawmakers, have put together a somewhat easy to understand chart of how school funding works (Go to page 6).

For 2020-2021, each district gets an average of $8,077 per student. Though, the smaller the district, the more money it will receive.

The equation to determine the amount requires each student to be counted on pupil enrollment count day on Oct. 1, except it's not really just one day.

A student must be counted present one day between the start of the school year and Oct. 1. Then, the student must be counted present for at least one day between Oct. 2-31.

For school districts that traditionally do in-person learning only, local school boards must make a policy change or risk losing funding.

"We've asked the local boards to define their educational process for the upcoming year to outline what their type of remote learning may include for that year, and what types of attendance would be appropriate for their district," said Jennifer Okes, Chief Operating Officer for the Colorado Department of Education (CDE).

CDE put out guidance to local school boards about this.

"Failure to have adopted local policy in place may impact a district’s funding if remote learning is used in any capacity," districts were warned in a memo.

"For example, in person attendance (counts) or attendance at a classroom at this type of Zoom environment, or maybe it could be logging into the district's online platform," said Okes.

Districts just need to make sure it has a remote learning attendance policy in place before school begins.

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