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Colorado schools get $975,000 in pot revenue for hiring health staff

After taking applications for about a month from school districts looking to hire health workers with funds from marijuana revenue, the state on Wednesday awarded more than $975,000 in grants.

The legislature set aside $2.5 million from marijuana tax revenue for schools to hire more health professionals including nurses, counselors, social workers and psychologists.

Of the 12 applications that were submitted, 11 were funded. To use the rest of the funds, the state opened a second application period, which closed last week.

Officials from some school districts told the state that the turnaround period to submit the grant application was too short.

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The Colorado Department of Education, which is overseeing the grants, received an additional 16 applications in the second round.

“We’re confident we will get very close to using the funds,” said Lynn Jenkins-Nygren, a school nurse and the department’s coordinator for the School Health Professional grant. “The second round has a lot of larger districts.”

Among the first round of grant winners were online and charter schools, including New America School, Hope Online Learning Academy and the GOAL Academy, as well as smaller districts like the Alamosa School District. Nearby, the St. Vrain School District was awarded a $96,650 grant.

David Rein, director of development at the New America School, said they will use the $169,232 grant to hire three full-time nurses or social workers — one for each campus — to focus on programs to prevent substance abuse.

Counselors at New America surveyed students in September, and results show that 32 percent reported marijuana use of more than 10 times in a month.

“Our student population is over 95 percent at-risk,” Rein said. “Given the population, I would say our counselors are overburdened with all these challenges. And if you add on the additional problems of substance abuse, there’s a great need for having this kind of additional staff.”

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In recent years, most schools have seen a decrease in health professionals because of budget constraints, and the ratios of students to available counselors or nurses often are far from the recommended guidelines.

The National Association of State Boards of Education compiles recommendations from each profession’s association, suggesting staffing ratios of 250 students to one counselor, 1,000 students for every psychologist and 400 students per every social worker.

John Simmons, director of student services for Denver Public Schools, said he wasn’t aware of this grant opportunity. He said it might have been too small for the district but said health care has been a recent focus.

Jenkins-Nygren said the department will track the work schools do with the grant, and the DOE intends to request additional funding from the legislature to continue awarding grants next year.

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Grant money for Colorado schools

Colorado’s state board of education on Wednesday approved these 11 grant awards:

Alamosa School District, $50,000

Archuleta School District No. 50 JT, $65,790

Center Consolidated Schools 26JT, $87,062

The New America School, $169,232

Atlas Preparatory School, $89,200

Cripple Creek School District, $108,024

HOPE Online Learning Academy, $131,900

GOAL Academy, $53,440

Mountain Valley School District RE-1, $64,000

South Routt School District RE-3, $60,360

St.Vrain Valley School District, $96,650

Yesenia Robles: 303-954-1372, yrobles@denverpost.com or twitter.com/yeseniarobles

This story was first published on DenverPost.com