DENVER – Lawmakers Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, were named Rural Schools Champions on Monday evening by the Colorado Rural School Alliance during a reception at Fort Lewis College.
The alliance, a group representing rural superintendents and boards of education, gave the awards to McLachlan and Coram for their work during the 2017 legislative session.
That was highlighted by McLachlan’s signature bill, House Bill 1003, which tasks the departments of Education and Higher Education with conducting a study of the teacher shortage across the state and creating a strategic plan to correct the issue.
The shortage has been an issue for Colorado since 2011, when there was a downturn in enrollment and completion of teacher education programs in the state.
The numbers began to level off during the 2015-16 academic year but are down 24 percent since 2011 and have not rebounded to supply candidates to keep pace with growth and retirement of educators, according to the Department of Higher Education.
The impact on Colorado’s 178 districts varies with geographical location and population demographics, but rural areas seem to be the most heavily affected.
For example, urban areas like Denver are reporting issues recruiting a racially diverse workforce, but some rural district are having difficulty recruiting and retaining enough certified teachers.
Durango has been relatively immune to the shortage because of its standing as a destination location, which makes recruitment and retention of candidates easier.
McLachlan said she was honored to receive the award as it shows she was able to act on campaign promises to promote education and the Western Slope.
“You always hope for this when you become a politician,” McLachlan said.
In addition to his effort on HB 1003, Coram said he was recognized because of his vote against Senate Bill 61, which would have required a steady ramp up of mill levy revenue distribution to charter schools over a three-year period.
The vote put Coram at odds with his caucus, but he believed it was in the best interest of the rural schools in his district, as it allowed them, and voters, to make the decision about how to allocate additional funding raised locally.
“It certainly validates why you want to be there, and you want to work for them and you are just honored and humbled that they recognize that you are there on their behalf,” Coram said of receiving the award.