Colorado ballot initiative seeks to increase out-of-school learning opportunities
It remains to be seen whether such a measure would have a positive impact on local families and providers
As the education community grapples to understand the impact of COVID-19 on students, a new citizen-proposed statewide ballot initiative is attempting to address this learning loss by improving out-of-school learning opportunities and outcomes for Colorado students.
Known as the Colorado Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress or LEAP initiative, the program would provide financial aid directly for families to spend on a variety of approved out-of-school learning providers. It could include programs like tutoring, career and technical education training programs, as well as summer camps, after-school and summer programming and more.
“Those things are very expensive, and so if you don’t have the resources or lack of information about where to find those items, longitudinally you’re at a disadvantage in terms of life outcomes for kids,” said Amy Anderson, executive director of ReSchool Colorado, one of the organizations that has endorsed the LEAP Initiative. “The initiative as it is written is pretty open to allowing people to pursue what they chose; it’s really driven by need, interest, aspirations of the families and the kids.”
As written, the LEAP program would be funded by a 5% increase on sales tax for recreational marijuana as well as by repurposing a portion of revenue derived from leases, rents and royalties paid for activities on state lands.
The initiative is designed to serve kids across Colorado between the ages of 5 and 17. The primary eligibility requirement for the program will be family income, with the lowest income receiving first priority, according to Anderson.
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The ballot initiative is still pending approval from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, as it reviews the 200,000 signatures that were submitted for the measure. The office must verify at least 124,632 valid signatures before the statutory initiative is approved for November’s ballot.
Would the initiative help local families?
There are certainly areas of need in Eagle County when it comes to out-of-school programming and child care. Access to affordable child care has long been a challenge for families in Eagle County, and with local staffing issues on the rise, even if families have access to these programs and services, local organizations may be unable to provide the necessary services.
While the LEAP program seeks to put the power in the hands of the families, Anderson noted that advocates of the initiative see the ability for it to be an economic driver for out-of-school programming.
“It’s infusing a new chunk of resources,” Anderson said. “If affordability is a problem or how much people can be compensated, having a new infusion of resources into the system to help cover some of those costs and needs will, I think, be super helpful.”
Outside of cost, low-income families in Eagle County often face barriers to access that include both a lack of availability and transportation. While families could potentially spend the funds accessed through LEAP on transportation, Anderson acknowledged that it would take further effort to fully address other barriers to access.
“The challenge is to get those transportation providers engaged with the program and what the mechanics are of making it work,” she said. “Alongside the implementation, ReSchool and other groups continue to support nonprofits and learning providers who operate in that out-of-school space in different ways to try and support and build that ecosystem of learning.”
Eagle County Schools currently partners with a wide array of providers and youth-serving nonprofits to create opportunities and provide supplemental programming to its students. This includes YouthPower365, Walking Mountains Science Center, SOS Outreach, Mountain Youth, Bright Future Foundation, Red Ribbon Project and many more.
“We believe our local groups provide a great variety of opportunities and are responsive to needs of our community,” said Matt Miano, the chief communications officer for Eagle County Schools. “The nonprofits in our community already implement a number of strategies to make the opportunities affordable to all who are interested. Tax dollars are already allocated to address COVID-19 related learning loss through (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund) and (American Rescue Plan) dollars.”
According to Miano, because these nonprofits align with the district and provide an array of opportunities to students, the district will maintain focus on other areas of need and programming, rather than support the focus of LEAP.
“The greater need in our community is for early childhood care and our focus will remain on that as opposed to this initiative,” Miano said. “We believe that there are a number of local nonprofits focused on out-of-school programming that are serving the needs of our community’s youth and we will continue to partner with them.”
Local state Rep. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat who, it’s worth noting, as a legislator had no part in crafting the citizen ballot initiative proposal and is not involved in the campaign to get it passed, doesn’t believe that this initiative is a “complete fix to our education funding issues in Colorado.”
“This initiative could definitely help some students in Eagle County, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to generate additional revenue for out-of-school education programs in Colorado,” Roberts wrote in an email to the Vail Daily. “However, since it is just a limited amount of money and directed solely to out-of-school programming, I am not counting on it to generate enough money to fully address the needs of all students, educators and educational organizations.”
Roberts said that while he has no official opinion in support or opposition to the LEAP initiative, it would only address a piece of school funding challenges in Colorado.
“We need to continue to prioritize school funding in our annual budget and look for ways to sustainably and adequately fund all aspects of P-12 and higher education in Colorado,” Roberts wrote.
It’s for this reason that, regardless of whether the LEAP initiative passes in November, Roberts wrote he would continue to support legislative efforts that “better fund our schools, buy-down on the budget stabilization factor and support teachers.”