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Our view: Legislative wrap-up

Lawmakers take action on cellphone use, education funding and Indian boarding schools
The gold-covered dome on the state Capitol. (Associated Press file)

We’ll very likely see fewer drivers with a cellphone in their hand thanks to legislative action taken during the session that ended in early May. “Distracted driving” it’s rightly called, and the careless driving that results that can expand to accidents minor and major. Notice the driver alongside you at a stop light is looking at his phone? That’s unsettling.

The law won’t be coming down hard on offenders – it will be considered a secondary offense with the $75 fine for the first occurrence able to be applied to the installation of a hands-free system – but that it exists puts partial cellphone use into the illegal category. That’s a deterrent and will be worthwhile.

Our choice would be to make both hand-held and hands-free a no-no, as studies show that even the latter diverts the driver’s focus, but that may be legislation too far.

One legislative action from the session that has merit is the effort to make it possible for more students from mid- and low-income families to study beyond high school. Students from families earning less than $90,000 annually will be able to receive a refundable income tax credit for two years at post-high school institutions, research, four year and junior colleges, and tech schools.

“Refundable” means that if the individual or family’s income tax bill is less than the cost of the education, the difference will be paid in cash.

Colorado lies within a group of states that does poorly in percent of high school graduates going on to further education, and this legislation ought to help. But it’s not revolutionary nor all encompassing. Numerous colleges in the state have low or no tuition programs for low income families, including Fort Lewis College. And covering college costs – if it’s for tuition there is room and board to cover that may be equally costly – can be only part of what’s needed. In some families, a working high school graduate contributes to family expenses. Attending college, which mostly brings long term benefits, may be something that a family cannot afford, short term.

But far more significant for Colorado’s future than reducing cellphone usage or assisting with a couple of years of college, is the rewrite of the PreK-12 school funding formula to tip funding away from large districts and administrators’ and teachers’ cost of living to smaller districts, and to those in low-income homes or with English language or special needs. It’s being described as putting students first, for a change, after three decades.

No district will lose money as a result of the rewrite (that would never be accepted), but an estimated additional $500 million over six years from the state’s general fund will go to smaller districts where limited enrollment drives up per student costs, and to students who either need language or special needs assistance.

This rewrite has been considered for years by more realistic education experts, but it required some extra money, and rebuffing the larger districts and the districts in high cost communities that had shaped the existing formula and feared losing out.

Rural Colorado students east and west of the Continental Divide will be the obvious beneficiaries of the new formula which launches with the 2025-26 school year. That’s good news.

A study into the impacts of the federal boarding schools in Colorado that took Native American children into their fold against their will continue with the collection of oral histories, tribal consultations and listening sessions during the next three years. A $1 million appropriation will make this possible, legislation that had state Rep Barbara McLachlan and state Sen. Cleve Simpson as two of its four sponsors.

This will continue research and reporting that was created in 2022, led by History Colorado. A preliminary recommendation for this second stage is due in Nov. 2025.

The initial report was insightful, and including additional Indigenous perspectives ought to greatly add to what is known about this painfully misguided effort to separate Indian children from their culture.

The Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School south of Hesperus was and is the main focus, although there also was a school in Grand Junction.