Finding funding for education will be one of the major challenges facing state Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, in the next legislative session.
McLachlan, a former Durango High School teacher, was appointed chairwoman of the House Education Committee and a member of the Rural Affairs Committee on Sunday.
The newly created Rural Affairs Committee will tackle issues of particular importance to western Colorado, including agriculture, water, broadband and rural economic development. It will provide a forum for key rural issues to be discussed by rural lawmakers, she said.
As chairwoman of the education committee, McLachlan said she expects to examine funding priorities to see if money can be used more effectively for education.
“We need to dig deep and see if there is money out there,” she said.
Ultimately, she said, she wants to see educators make a living wage and education become a priority for the state.
Colorado ranks 39th for per-pupil spending among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
There was a call to increase spending for education with rallies and wear Red for Ed events earlier this year. But a ballot question that would have increased funding, Amendment 73, failed during the November election.
The question would have increased funding for Durango School District 9-R students by almost $300 in per-student funding.
In addition to general education issues, McLachlan said she expects to be working with Gov.-elect Jared Polis’ office on plans to make preschool and full-day kindergarten free.
“I think full-day kindergarten is really important; it gets all kids ready for the next 12 years of school,” she said.
Colorado Education Association President Amie Baca-Oehlert, who leads the state teacher’s union, said McLachlan’s appointment was welcome.
“We are really excited to have somebody like Rep. McLachlan chairing the education committee because that’s somebody that’s actually done the job,” she said.
In addition to working on funding, McLachlan also plans to reintroduce a bill that was inspired by a study into the statewide teacher shortage done in 2017.
The study found some teachers left the profession because they didn’t like the leadership at their schools, she said.
The bill she plans to reintroduce would pair principals who are doing well with principals who are struggling to help address the problem, she said.
While Democrats will control the governor’s office and the Legislature, McLachlan is hopeful her party will work with Republicans in the next session, she said.
“I am hoping we just tread carefully and thoughtfully,” she said.