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Papa Dia and Rhonda Fields: Prop. 119 helps students recover from pandemic-driven learning loss

Editor’s note: The following piece was written by African Leadership Group Founder and executive Director Papa Dia and Democratic Senator Rhonda Fields, who  represents District 29 encompassing northern and central Aurora. aIt first appeared in the October 18 edition of the Aurora Sentinel and is republished here with the Sentinel’s permission.

When it comes to providing quality educational opportunities for our students, we have an opportunity before us right now. Vote yes on Prop. 119.

Prop. 119, otherwise known as the Learning Enrichment Academic Program (LEAP), will help our kids catch up from pandemic-fueled learning loss by providing financial aid for after-school learning, tutoring, STEM activities, summer camps, and more from government-certified providers in Arapahoe, Adams, Denver, and Douglas counties.

Affluent families have the financial resources to pay for tutoring, foreign-language classes, and after-school sports. Low-income families do not. That is where the opportunity gap begins between the haves and have nots.

Prop. 119 would provide $1,500 in annual financial aid per student for out-of-school instruction, with priority given to those whose family incomes are near or below the federal poverty level (about $26,000 for a family of four this year). We know additional education and tutoring services are an effective tool for closing the gap — but not everyone can afford or access them. Prop 119 helps take cost out of the picture.

Consider this: Kids spend 80% of their waking hours outside the classroom. By offering financial aid for extracurricular activities, we’re developing young minds through social and academic learning that happens after the bell rings.

Prop. 119 is a first-of-its-kind measure developed by education experts from every corner of Colorado and has overwhelming bipartisan support. To be clear, financial aid cannot be used for tuition, vouchers, or anything else that could undermine our public schools. Additionally, Prop 119 does not funnel away money from Aurora’s public schools, it creates an entirely new program dedicated to out-of-classroom education.

We come to you now with a special sense of urgency. Colorado students, of all ages and in all subjects, experienced significant learning loss as a result of the pandemic. Despite the best efforts of our educators and parents, Colorado’s kids are falling behind. They need Prop 119 to sharpen their skills and add new ones to their educational toolbelt.

What makes Prop. 119 unique is the community-based education opportunities. In addition to school districts being pre-approved providers, families can select from a menu of enrichment programs, including career readiness, STEM classes, and dance lessons. Prop. 119 gives back to the Aurora community in more ways than one.

In order to bring this all together, Prop. 119 would be funded by a 5 percentage point sales-tax increase on recreational marijuana and by repurposing a portion of revenues derived from leases, rents, and royalties paid for activities on state lands. At its core, Prop. 119 is a recreational marijuana tax to fund tutoring for Colorado’s K-12 students.

Prop. 119 has drawn support from a bipartisan coalition of political leaders including former Govs. Bill Ritter and Bill Owens; U.S. Senator Mark Udall; Senator Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs) Senator James Coleman (D-Denver); Steve Durham, Vice President of the Colorado State Board of Education, Gary Community Ventures CEO and former Senator Mike Johnston. The list goes on with support from educational organizations operating right in our communities including Servicios de la Raza, The African Leadership Group, Boys and Girls Clubs across Colorado, The Dayton Opportunity Center, RESCHOOL Colorado, and Firefly Autism.

Colorado kids can’t wait any longer for this type of educational support. We urge you to join us in voting yes on proposition 119 to help Aurora’s kids get back on track.

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