Helping rural schools

We are a third of the way through our time in the Legislature this year, and I anticipate the next two thirds will consist of long nights, in-depth debate, dozens of meetings and some good legislation for Colorado.

Several of the bills I am sponsoring are starting in the House, or have already passed through the Senate and are headed my way. The flow is steadily increasing, as is the work load.

In the House Business committee last week, I presented HB 24-1160 to continue a successful program that increases the capacity building of small businesses. The Economic Development Organization Action Grant provides grants to Colorado-based economic development organizations (EDO) that attract, retain, promote and expand local businesses. 

In the two years the program has been going, 55 organizations in 34 counties received money, helping businesses continue to support and guide local economic activity.

The fund created 33 new businesses, and 612 businesses received assistance. Some 268 jobs were created, and 19 more were sustained. The EDOs added 414 new members to their rosters, 669 relationships were maintained between EDOs and businesses, and 2,847 entrepreneurs started and maintained their businesses.

We had testimony from business leaders from around the state, and the bill passed unanimously. I am proud to not only promote the benefits of shopping locally but am doing something about it. 

In the Education Committee next week, I am presenting a bill modeling the successful partnership between traditional and charter schools in Durango. The legislation, HB 24-1154, does not mandate but opens the opportunity for other districts to run bonds with their Charter School Institute schools for capital construction, land or facility needs.

As they do in Durango, the bond funds are split proportionately between the schools. As District 9-R discovered, asking voters for money for both charters and traditional schools helps all public school students. Rep. Ron Weinberg and I are getting an encouraging response as we head to our first public forum, and we’re hoping that continues. 

On March 14, I am running a bill to help address recruitment and retention of teachers. It seemed like the Colorado Department of Education website was too confusing if all a person wanted to know was how to become a teacher, so we devised a one-stop-shopping model.

The CDE and I have been working on a website for all potential teachers, whether they are in college, exploring options in high school, employed and ready to switch jobs, or working at one school, looking at what is available at others. The website will be shared on the sites of all school district sites, which will be able to post job openings for everyone, not just those in their geographical area. This makes finding relevant information a lot easier. 

Another bill I am running concerns principal and superintendent PERA retirees who may want to fill an open position in a rural district. Two years after they retire, they may return to a school to work, without hurting their current PERA benefits. They will still pay into the system, as will the districts, so PERA will not lose money.

When talking with district superintendents last fall, I heard about the necessity of this bill as rural schools, in particular, are affected most by the administrative shortage. I am happy to respond.

– Rep. Barbara McLachlan,  D-Durango