We want to reopen our Colorado Springs schools this fall. Reopening our schools is essential to putting our economy back on track — but even more fundamentally, schools need to reopen to ensure that our children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, receive the quality education they deserve and that we as school board members swore to provide. In addition, we think it is absolutely essential to restore lost learning time to preserve the education our students deserve.
Before we can reopen our schools, parents must know their children are going to be safe. Safety in the context of COVID-19, unfortunately, necessitates additional costs. These costs include the need to retrofit buildings and to ensure the level of staff needed to make sure our students are well taken care of. We will also need large amounts of personal protective equipment, sanitizing supplies and the ability to create space for social distancing. Imagine just the single challenge of configuring school buses for social distancing when typical school buses are designed to fit three students on each seat replicated across every major area of a student’s daily routine.
We must also consider the need to provide infrastructure to support remote learning for students who might test positive, might be especially vulnerable to the illness, or even if yet another wave hits. We must also balance these needs with a commitment to sustainability and financial viability. Unfortunately, this challenge is set against a context of declining state school funding across Colorado has sent us back 10 years in funding levels while operational costs and needs grow. As a district, we are working to identify diverse funding sources, including an infusion of federal dollars, to address these critical reopening conditions. We also seek to ensure that we maintain a path toward financial stability and health.
My board of education colleagues and I have been careful stewards of the public purse as we work to advance an education system that empowers the whole student. As a fiscal conservative, it is not easy for me to call for a large temporary increase in Washington spending, especially against so many competing needs. But given the declining level of state funding, federal funding is what is needed to move through this crisis in a way that keeps our students on a path to success.
Economists from across the political spectrum project a need for $1 trillion in aid spread across all of America.
I am the first to say that this sounds and is a lot of money. Some of my friends in the business community are skeptical of the need for more funding, and we understand the concerns. But this time more than any in our lifetime highlights how interdependent we all are. The private and public sectors must work in tandem to minimize the short- and long-term impacts of this pandemic. As a business community, we must come together to address a common need to our community. We must see our interdependence, and ultimate need for an infusion of federal dollars for our local and state governments with a specific focus on school funding.
I call upon our two United States senators to work for passage of legislation to provide for critical and flexible funding for local governments. That funding must explicitly include substantial monetary support for our schools.
As a conservative, educator, and ultimately as a parent, it’s time for Congress to act so that are schools can again do their job of providing a great education to our children. The future of our country rests with our students, and we need them to sustain this great country
Shawn Gullixson is president of the Colorado Springs School District 11 school board.