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Barbara McLachlan outlines potential legislation in 2023

As a former teacher, the state representative has her eye set on changes to education
State Rep. Barbara McLachlan has plans to improve certain aspects of Colorado education in 2023. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Colorado law allows legislators to introduce a total of five bills to a committee every year, and state Rep. Barbara McLachlan has identified some areas for improvement for La Plata, Montezuma and Archuleta counties.

“I’m working on addressing issues in District 59,” McLachlan said, “and helping the people in my district.”

One of McLachlan’s biggest focuses for 2023 will be affordability for Colorado residents, and she understands the difficulties that lay ahead in that area.

“We’re trying to focus this year on making the state affordable,” she said. “Housing. Health care. Child care.”

One of McLachlan’s goal is to provide more preschool options to lower income families during a time when the cost of child care in Colorado can average $1,300 a month.

“We’re working to make low-cost preschools available for families,” she said. “We want good quality educational day care for kids.”

McLachlan, a Democrat, also wants to extend financial affordability to state educators during a time when schools across the country are finding themselves with a teacher shortage.

“That was my first bill out this year: Bill 1001,” she said. “Getting educators money by expanding eligibility for financial assistance and offering loan forgiveness. We have the money there. We can offer it to more people than we thought, so we can help with the challenges people face going into teaching. This will create a larger pull with educators and really help with the teacher shortage.”

Education has always been one of McLachlan’s biggest focuses, and low math scores at the state level is on her radar.

According to The Nation’s Report Card website, math and reading scores in both primary and secondary education in Colorado dropped by an average of nine percentage points from 2019 to 2022. The largest blame for the drop statewide and nationwide is the COVID-19 pandemic, and students moving from the classroom to online instruction.

McLachlan is looking to improve classroom instruction by using a “train-the-trainer model,” which would have math teachers educate each other on their best methods in the classroom, as well as training parents in helping their children with their math homework outside school hours.

“We must understand what both urban and rural schools require, and which math programs best meet every need,” McLachlan wrote in a column published last month in The Durango Herald.

McLachlan also wants to focus on water legislation and education this year. The Water ’22 campaign was created last year to educate Coloradans, especially young people, about the importance of the state’s water resources and to encourage conservation and protection, according to the Water ’22 website. The campaign was adopted into classroom lesson plans across the state, including Durango School District 9-R. Students learned the science behind drought and climate change and their impact on Colorado’s water systems.

“Water ‘22 was a great program,” McLachlan said, “and water education in our state is fabulous. Water is a huge issue; one of the top three issues for Colorado.”

McLachlan is currently working on the source of the funding for her projects ideas for water conservation and optional water programs and education.

“I don’t want to get money from the general fund to fund the optional programs,” she said. “I’m going to see if I can find people with water interests. There’s a lot of organizations in Colorado that focus on water, so I’m putting (the bill) on hold until I can get a better source of money.”

Another bill McLachlan is working on in education is to get full PERA benefits for administrators coming out of retirement and returning to their jobs in education to help with the statewide shortage in positions.

There were over 300 principal/assistant principal positions and over 2,000 paraprofessional positions open in the 2021-22 school year, according to the Colorado Department of Education. Rural Colorado school districts especially found administrators in short supply. McLachlan said one of the reasons for the shortage is the fact that administrators who retired and are being asked to come back to their old jobs cannot receive the PERA benefits they had before retirement.

“Last year, we gave rural teachers and other support staff permission to return to work to address the employee shortage, and also receive full PERA benefits,” McLachlan said. “We are investigating adding administrators to that permissive list as well.”

McLachlan also wants to extend the partial pay college professors receive when going on sabbatical to other staff members who run crucial programs for the college.

“This bill will allow the same privilege for the staff who head specific student-related divisions, like environment, counseling, diversity, and food security programs,” she wrote. “The schools decide if the sabbatical offer will be expanded.”

Whatever issues McLachlan focuses on in 2023 for the state of Colorado, education will remain one of her top priorities.

“With education, I’m more well-versed in that than other areas,” she said. “I don’t have to know everything, and when I don’t, I turn to the experts who do. There’s always room for improvement, but I think we’re doing the right thing.”

molsen@durangoherald.com

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