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Outside view of the Colorado capitol building

Colorado Spring 2021 Legislative Preview Highlights Funding, Mental Health, Vaccines

On Monday, Jan. 11, UNC convened a panel of state legislators and local leaders to preview the topics that will arise once the spring 2021 legislative session kicks off on Jan. 13.

On Monday, Jan. 11, the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) convened a panel of state legislators and local leaders to preview the topics that will arise once the spring 2021 legislative session kicks off on Jan. 13. Issues impacting UNC include the Joint Budget Committee's considerations of higher education and preschool through grade 12 (P-12) funding, as well as vaccine availability and administration.

This is the second annual Colorado legislative session preview, prompted by UNC President Andy Feinstein, as he continues to advocate for higher-education funding and support from the state. State Representative Mary Young, who's also a school counselor, joined this year's panel, and the group was joined in spirit by state Senator John Cooke. Other leaders present to answer questions included Aims Community College President Leah Bornstein, Ph.D.; Greeley-Evans District 6 Superintendent Deirdre Pilch, Ed.D.; Greeley Area Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Jaime Henning.

Watch the recording of the meeting:

Lobbyists for UNC, Aims, District 6 and the Chamber gave updates from their respective areas.

Sandra Hagan Solin, lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce, brought up the chamber's priority of supporting business owners and the local economy despite the negative effects of COVID-19 shutdowns.

District 6 Lobbyist Anne Barkis introduced the topic of sustaining P-12 school funding and discussed pandemic-related bills to provide "breathing room" for schools and address the achievement gap, wherever it may stand as students return to classrooms after months at home.

Aims Lobbyist Tonette Salazar praised Aims' agility this past year, matching dual enrollment instructional modalities to those of partner school districts. Aims used the first round of the CARES Act funding to provide resources, such as Wi-Fi hotspots and laptops to students when learning went virtual, and has worked with students to complete any in-person learning including welding or fire safety courses that they weren't able to finish in person last spring. Aims will seek funding to continue high levels of student support and course quality.

UNC Lobbyist Kayla Tibbals referenced UNC's work on the higher-education funding formula done prior to the pandemic with UNC's Chief Financial Officer Michelle Quinn playing a role. Tibbals pointed out that Colorado lags behind other states in financial support for higher education and will spend this session explaining how state support or lack thereof impacts students and thus Colorado's future workforce. She also emphasized UNC's role in addressing statewide (especially rural) teacher shortages. Bornstein and Feinstein affirmed their commitment to seek higher-education funding, acknowledging the additional complexities higher education faces in Colorado due to the pandemic.

Mental-health needs for all levels of educators and students are top-of-mind, as well, as the session kicks off, and funding-needs should be reflected in conversations and policy.

Vaccine availability is another top concern for both higher education and P-12 this session. School counselors and social workers have been added to the Colorado 1B category on the vaccine schedule, and Feinstein emphasized that he continues to advocate for higher-education faculty to be included in the same category as P-12 teachers and staff. At the same time, Young assured the panel that there will not be a state mandate for the vaccine, and Pilch said that there is no indication that the school board will mandate the vaccine as a condition of employment for District 6 staff.

—Written by Rebecca OBrien

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