Chinese teacher Yu-Hsin Lien helps her 3rd grade students with classwork at the Denver Language School in November 2017 in Denver. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

$10 million in Colorado cannabis taxes targeted to address teacher shortage

State education officials are compiling a list of ideas on how best to spend $10 million in marijuana tax proceeds aimed at reversing Colorado’s teacher shortages.

The $10 million was earmarked to take on the problems of hiring and retaining teachers in Colorado by Gov. John Hickenlooper in his proposed 2018-19 budget released earlier this month.

A report requested by lawmakers will be released in December and is expected to include a plan for strategies that will help attract and retain more teachers. As many as 3,000 teaching jobs across Colorado are unfilled and rural areas are being hit especially hard, state officials say.

Some teaching posts in math, science and foreign languages have been empty for years.

We anticipate a significant focus on the challenges rural communities face in attracting, retaining and developing the qualified teachers needed to support positive student outcomes,” the budget proposal states.

The Colorado Department of Education is working with the governor’s staff on specific ideas for the potential funding, said education department spokeswoman Gladis Gee.

Many of those ideas came from a series of public hearings held throughout Colorado this summer hosted by the education department and the Colorado Department of Higher Education, Gee said. Town halls were held in Ridgway, Parachute, Leadville, Otis, Limon, Ignacio, Las Animas, Colorado Springs and Denver.

Teachers, administrators and other residents were invited to share their views on how to end the shortage. Suggestions included boosting salaries or implementing a statewide salary system, creating more efficient ways to license teachers, and increasing availability to classes and training that allow for career advancement.

“We are evaluating the specific needs and priorities we heard from the teacher shortage town halls conducted over the summer and looking to find programs where this infusion of dollars could create more systemic solutions for our rural schools,” Gee said.

The $10 million will come from Colorado’s Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, created in 2014 by lawmakers. State sales tax revenue collected on medical and retail marijuana sales is paid to the fund, along with 85 percent of special sales tax revenue and any excise tax revenue that exceeds $40 million each year.

Hickenlooper’s proposal was sent to the Joint Budget Committee for consideration. A final budget is usually approved in the spring.

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