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I feel very fortunate to serve on the Littleton Public Schools Board of Education. We are proud the State of Colorado has awarded our district its highest accreditation seven years in a row. This achievement is due to the phenomenal efforts of students, parents, teachers, staff and our broader community.
While everyone is committed to providing the best education possible, we are facing significant financial challenges. Colorado currently ranks 42nd in the nation in per-pupil spending, which has negatively affected critical student services like special education and mental health. In some Colorado school districts, these programs have disappeared altogether, and our students deserve better.
In Colorado, we are severely underfunding special-education services. Only Arizona and Oklahoma spend less for students with special needs. State and federal funds for students with disabilities aren’t keeping up with increased special education costs, leading school districts to put increasing amounts of their general fund toward those services. We want to provide the best special-education services we can, because we know our children deserve it. Our students deserve better.
In light of recent events in our district and nationwide, mental health funding has been garnering plenty of attention. More than 15 percent of Colorado kids have some form of mental health issue, and alarmingly, Littleton Public Schools performs hundreds of suicide interventions each year.
Principals describe mental health issues as one of the largest challenges they face. We know that meaningful connections with adults in our schools help identify and manage these risks. Yet our teachers’ student rosters continue to expand and include more students with special needs; this makes it harder for classroom teachers to be that “trusted adult.” And we do not have the resources to add enough counselors to meet the national recommended ratio of 1 for every 250 students. This has caused the counselor-to-student ratio to widen, leaving fewer resources for our kids at all levels of schooling. Our students deserve better.
And it’s not just these services that are suffering. Colorado also has a severe shortage of teachers resulting from a lack of support and training tools, as well as inadequate pay. Although teachers are continually being asked to do more, the average Colorado teacher’s salary is $7,000 below the national average. This makes it difficult to recruit talented teachers which hurts our competitiveness and our ability to provide students with a quality education. Over 4,500 openings need to be filled statewide for the coming school year alone. At the same time, Colorado’s teacher prep universities will graduate about half that number of newly-certified teachers. Our students deserve better.
Colorado’s growth should benefit all families and communities, and all students deserve the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential. Fortunately, as the state expects a budget surplus, we can do better. Lawmakers will soon be debating what to do with these resources.
That’s why we have launched the Kids Matter Too movement to connect Colorado students, parents, and teachers with lawmakers. Lawmakers need to hear from voters about the importance of funding our schools and that these are issues Colorado families care about.
There are always more needs than resources, but we need to prioritize our children’s future and remind lawmakers that kids matter too.
Jim Stephens is a member of the board of education for Littleton Public Schools.
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