Improving Colorado’s public education system is important for realizing our children’s full potential. Cultivating a high-quality education system benefits all Coloradans by creating better problem-solvers, better communicators, and a more skilled workforce, increasing economic growth in our communities. To ensure that every child graduates prepared for success in college, their career, and life, we must guarantee all students access to high-quality programs and schools that are safe, supportive, inclusive, and that meet their individual needs. In addition, we must invest in youth-focused programs that go beyond our education system, providing holistic support to our kids not just as students, but as people.
Research shows that students master academic content most effectively when they experience trusting and affirming relationships with their peers and adults, and when they feel emotionally and physically safe. We also know that students, families, and communities care about aspects of the school experience and learning environment beyond academic performance, which is where a lot of the current emphasis in our data systems lies. We envision an education system in which every student in Colorado receives targeted support and learns in a positive, safe, inclusive environment.
Where Colorado Stands
The COVID-19 pandemic created many new challenges for our public school students, who experienced massive disruptions in their social, emotional, and academic learning. Through the height of the pandemic, 69% of Colorado youth in public middle and high schools experienced poor mental health and 40% reported feeling so sad or hopeless that they stopped doing their usual activities for two weeks or more. Recent survey results demonstrate that these negative impacts on youth well-being and health are even more pronounced across lines of race, ethnicity, gender identity, and more.
In recent CMAS assessments (spring 2021), academic disruptions are reflected in declining test scores. While the CMAS tests were administered on a limited basis, they suggest the growth of concerning inequities in our system, as students and families of color have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. English Language Arts (ELA) assessments were given to participating students in grades 3, 5 and 7, while Math assessments were given to students in grades 4, 6 and 8. In comparison to 2019, student performance in 2021 generally declined across grade levels and subject areas, particularly seen in lower shares of students meeting or exceeding expectations in Math.
These results also indicate that Hispanic/Latino students, students identifying as English Language Learners, and students from low-income households who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (FRL) saw some of the strongest negative impacts on their learning. These inequitable impacts are due to both a history of policies and practices that disadvantage students of color and students from low-income households in the classroom, as well as a disproportionate lack of access to remote learning and essential supports during the pandemic.
What the Children’s Campaign is Doing
Colorado has been putting in place education policy aimed at creating the excellent schools needed to create the outcomes of success we want for Colorado’s kids. There is still much to do in response to the pandemic to ensure students and educators are supported. To reach these goals, the Children’s Campaign is focused on protecting and advancing:
- A modernized, equitable school finance formula that targets investments to meet the needs of all students and improve outcomes for those who have historically faced the most barriers to opportunity;
- Increased public investment for access to affordable, culturally-responsive, and high-quality behavioral health care services and professionals throughout the state, in both school and community settings;
- Heightened focus around youth and young adult suicide factors, prevention programming, and promising policies; and
- Access to safe, healthy, and inclusive learning environments, shared understandings of the value of social emotional learning (SEL) programs, and publicly available information about student well-being and school climate in Colorado districts.
To reach these goals, the Children’s Campaign is focused on protecting and advancing:
The opportunity to overhaul our state’s school funding system presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine the potential of our education system.
Youth Mental & Behavioral Health
It is essential that we take action to increase implementation of effective school- and community-based mental health care models and effective social emotional learning programs.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for youth in Colorado. Even before the COVID crisis, data pointed to troubling trends in child and youth mental health.
Research indicates that students are better able to learn when they feel safe and supported by peers and adults, and that connection also acts as a protective factor against youth and adolescent school-based violence and suicide.