Every child deserves a high-quality school in their neighborhood. Education is the cornerstone of a just society and it is the fundamental building block for any community striving for greatness. It lifts families out of poverty; it keeps people out of jails and prisons; it helps strengthen our local economy and attract jobs. Education gives communities hope, inspires creativity and innovation and creates economic growth.
Colorado is home to over 883,000 public school students and 178 school districts. Our student population is amazingly diverse. We have students who are gifted and talented, students with disabilities, over 12% of our students have dominant languages other than English. Success for all our students is not optional; it's imperative.
Early Childhood Education.
The data is clear: early childhood education is a key to lifelong success, particularly for at-risk and lower-income children. Today, the achievement gap between low income and non-low income students is almost 40 percentage points across all subjects. This is unacceptable. Without adequate funding, evaluation and accountability, we will set our children up to fail in later years.
Leslie advocates for increased access to early childhood education and was a strong advocate for the Governor's push for universal Pre-K. Leslie continues to explore creative and innovative ways to make early childhood education a reality, and a success, for all Colorado kids.
Prioritizing K-12 Education.
Early investment will only pay dividends if we continue to help our students thrive as they proceed through elementary, middle and high school. Colorado is 40th in overall state spending per student for K-12 education. Chronically underfunding schools has taken resources out of our classrooms and away from our students. With most future jobs requiring education beyond high school, we must prepare every student for the post-secondary education that fits their futures.
Leslie has worked diligently with her colleagues to make further historic investments in education, altering the school finance formula for the first time since the original passage of the School Finance Act in 1994. The changes engrain equity into the ways in which funding is allocated -- focusing on low income students, students of color, and ESL students (HB21-1325 & SB21-268). COVID-19 forced widespread cuts to every department. While crafting the 2021 state budget, Leslie and other members of the Joint Budget Committee were able to not only restore funding to education, but increase it [SB21-208].
Leslie believes that investing in our classrooms and our teachers not only prepares our students for the jobs of tomorrow, but helps break the cycle of poverty and strengthens our economy. She will continue to prioritize the funding of K-12 education.
Investing In Our Future Through Higher Education.
High education is one of the best tools for economic mobility and has the power to open up countless opportunities. Our future quality of life is tied to Coloradans being employed and productive. And while college isn’t for everyone, too many are boxed out from contemplating a higher education because of limited financial resources.
Chronic disinvestment in public institutions has led to rising tuition costs, which disproportionately impacts students of color and low income students. Leslie has increased access to higher education by starting the College Kickstarter Program, which automatically opens a college savings account with $100 deposited for every child born or adopted in Colorado [HB19-1280]. Additionally, Leslie championed legislation that allocates over $100 million to Higher Education, changing the base funding formula to prioritize Pell-eligible students, underserved students, and first generation students as well as legislation to increase access to online teaching and learning tools, saving students money on textbooks [SB21-215].
Instead of burying students and their families under mountains of debt, Leslie believes that we need to change our perspective to one of public investment in Colorado’s future. She will continue to fight for increased funding for financial aid, community colleges, vocational schools, trade schools, and more.
Ending the School to Prison Pipeline.
In Colorado during the 2018-2019 academic year, Black students were 3.2 times more likely to be suspended than white students, and Hispanic students were 1.7 times more likely to be suspended than white students. In addition, in the 2017-2018 school year, over 4,000 students across Colorado were cited for or arrested for a non-violent misdemeanor on school property.
Students who are suspended or ticketed are more likely to repeat a grade or drop out than students who were not, as well as more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system -- often called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Longitudinal research shows that twelve years after suspension, suspended youth were less likely than matched non-suspended youth to have earned Bachelor’s degrees or high school diplomas, and were more likely to have been arrested and on probation, suggesting that suspension rather than selection bias explains negative outcomes.
Leslie believes that every school in the state should be centered around meeting the full range of students’ intellectual, social, emotional, physical, psychological, and moral development needs in a way that promotes community health, wellness, and equity. Divesting from law enforcement strategies in schools and reinvesting those resources into holistic systems of care for students will promote wellness and safety for all. Leslie will continue working with advocates, school districts, parents, and more to pass impactful politics to end the school to prison pipeline.