Guest commentary: LEAP will close the ‘opportunity gap’ for all Colorado kids
Despite the tireless efforts of parents and educators, the COVID pandemic opened our eyes to educational disparities that have existed for decades in Colorado.
Our kids have fallen behind in reading, math, science and writing — particularly students of color or those from low-income families. On the most recent national tests, only about 40% of Colorado’s fourth-graders were proficient in reading, with only 22% of low-income students scoring proficient or higher.
We aren’t just picking on fourth-graders. When you look at Colorado students in grades three through eight, more than half fail to meet grade-level expectations in reading, writing or math on state tests. The one constant? Glaring disparities based on income, race and geography; we have to end this, those factors cannot be allowed to dictate success any longer.
This fall, we can do something about it. The Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress (LEAP) Program will close the “opportunity gap” — a widening disparity between students who have access to out-of-school learning options, including tutors, special education support and enrichment activities — and those who do not.
LEAP supporters have turned in more than 200,000 signatures to place the measure on November’s ballot and we are pleased to be among the early supporters urging a “yes” vote.
The LEAP program would be funded by a 5 percentage point sales-tax increase on recreational marijuana and by repurposing a portion of revenue derived from leases, rents and royalties paid for activities on state lands. In the details, the LEAP program enables parents to select as much as $1,500 of out-of-school learning opportunities from a menu of providers that are certified by a state authority.
These opportunities include tutoring for reading, math and science, as well as support for students with special needs and enrichment activities. All Colorado students would be eligible, though priority would be given to those from low-income families.
As students, teachers and families grapple with online learning, hybrid models and the slow return to in-person instruction because of the pandemic, the need to provide our students with tutoring, supplemental instruction and enrichment programming intensifies.
The LEAP Program won’t just benefit students, though that is without question the primary goal. It also will benefit our teachers, who can receive additional compensation providing supplemental services in non-school hours and will have more students ready to learn or able to seek help when needed; our employers, who will find a better-educated pool of prospective employers; and our state, which will finally be on the road to closing the achievement gap.
The “achievement gap” has been growing in Colorado for decades and has been exacerbated in the past 12 months as the COVID pandemic has upended our schools and communities. The educational future of our children transcends nearly every political, geographic, economic and racial group.
LEAP has been carefully crafted by experts from across the state to address some of the most pressing needs our students face. With LEAP in their future, Colorado students will have the equity and flexibility to sharpen their skills and add new ones.
Now is our chance to help students recover from learning losses caused by longstanding education inequities and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The LEAP program will offer out-of-school opportunities for Colorado students hit hardest by socioeconomic factors.
We must recognize this moment and seize the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our kids; they are the future. So, let’s make a difference and help our Colorado students close the opportunity gap.
Republican State Legislator Bob Rankin represents District 8, including Garfield, Grand Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Summit counties. Alex Sánchez is the founder and executive director of Voces Unidas Action Fund, a Latino-led advocacy organization based in Glenwood Springs.