Gov Signs $50M for Workforce Programs and Critical Education Bills

DENVER, CO — Governor Jared Polis today signed legislation to provide a $50 million boost to the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative to be allocated to institutions of higher education across the state. He also signed important education bills that will set Colorado on the path to creating a more equitable school finance formula, improve diversity in the educator workforce and protect borrowers with private higher education education loans.

“As a refugee, I’ve seen first-hand in our communities how we can foster economic opportunity and success by helping workers learn new skills and complete postsecondary education programs,” said Rep. Naquetta Ricks, D-Aurora. “This funding will offer more Coloradans the opportunity to enter or return to higher education initiatives. Colorado’s institutions of higher education and postsecondary degree programs have a critical role to play in our recovery to revitalize our workforce, support businesses looking for workers and help workers thrive. I’m also proud that Governor Polis signed my bill to help improve diversity in Colorado’s educator workforce so that more students have a teacher that reflects their background and experiences.”

“With the legislature significantly increasing school funding and boosting resources for schools with more at-risk and underserved students, this has truly been a historic year for school finance in Colorado,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver. “Colorado is going to take a thoughtful approach to make our school finance formula more equitable and really dig deep to see how we can better identify underserved students and students living in poverty and provide districts the funding they need to set every Colorado student up for success.”

HB21-1330, sponsored by Representative Julie McCluskie and Naquetta Ricks, uses federal funds to provide a $50 million boost to the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative to be allocated to institutions of higher education across the state. The funding will increase access to robust pathways for workers to obtain news skills, earn higher wages and be prepared for the in-demand careers of the future. The bill seeks to rebuild and revitalize the state’s workforce by supporting students to complete their postsecondary credentials. The funding boost will be used to reverse the significant decline in enrollment in public higher education institutions, high rates of job loss and continuing unemployment, and the overall disruption to the workforce caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill also provides $1.5 million in grant funding to school districts to increase the number of students who complete Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) student aid applications before graduating high school.

HB21-1325, sponsored by Representatives Julie McCluskie and Leslie Herod, creates a bipartisan interim committee to recommend changes to the school finance formula. The legislature set aside $90 million in the State Education Fund for the committee to use to implement the changes they recommend. Under the law, the committee shall consider how to modernize the formula to make it more transparent, equitable and student-centered. It must also look at improved methods of identifying students living in poverty and how to appropriately address small, remote and rural district funding. 

HB21-1010, sponsored by Representatives Naquetta Ricks and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, takes a significant step toward improving Colorado’s educator diversity by creating a workgroup that would research ways to recruit, prepare, and retain educators from diverse backgrounds and make further policy recommendations to the legislature. A diverse educator workforce that reflects the identities of the students they teach can have an important impact on learning. 

“Colorado students will be better prepared for success by having educators that identify with their personal experiences,” said Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez. “We know that there aren’t enough people of color teaching in Colorado, and this effort will help our state do better. I’m also excited that borrowers with private student loans will now have enhanced consumer protections that are equal to those for federal student loan borrowers.”

“Student loans are crushing far too many Coloradans with burdensome debt and payments that they are struggling to make every month,” said Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield. “Today, we are bringing new consumer protections to the private student loan market in Colorado to help level the playing field, make higher education more attainable and provide new recourse to borrowers harmed by predatory practices.”

SB21-057, sponsored by Representatives Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and Matt Gray, provides protections – similar to the protections granted for federal loans – to students who take out private loans for postsecondary education. Statewide, Colorado borrowers currently owe $9.1 billion in private student loan debt and that number is growing as the private student loan market grows. High rates of debt accumulation, especially as the cost of college has risen, widens an already large intergenerational debt and wealth gap between families of color and white families. 

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