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Don Coram: Let’s better fund public schools

Sen. Don Coram

When I wrote my last column, we had concluded the budget in the Senate and the House had concurred on several amendments.

The Joint Budget Committee kept some of those amendments but changed funding amounts. The Senate came within one vote of rejecting the conference committee’s version and starting over with another conference committee. Additional funding for body cameras for police and county sheriffs is much needed. They did add $1 million to the $3 million budgeted. I am thankful for that, but the actual cost will be more than the $6 million asked for.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. It is unfortunate that we just passed a budget but did not use funding to close the pay gap. It was called the “Negative Factor,” but is now referred to as the “Budget Stabilization Factor.” Call it what you will, but the fact is the Legislature and executive branch have not fulfilled our obligation to public education. Teachers might feel more appreciated if we had closed the gap rather than create new programs.

A major contribution to getting our kids back in school and parents back to work can easily be accomplished by using a very minute portion of the proposed $4 billion in federal stimulus funds soon to be heading our way.

When I see school buses running nearly empty and classrooms with few students, one must ask, how do we give parents and teachers the confidence to get our schools open again? I learned from our largest district in the state that school bus drivers are being asked to take on the extra burden of disinfecting the bus after each “mini-run” of students. A driver might have to go back and forth to pick up a handful of kids three to five times, each time having to spray and wipe it down using draconian disinfectants that are potentially harmful to students and staff and certainly harmful to the environment.

With a lot more research, I discovered a ready-to-use, hospital-grade, broad-spectrum disinfectant with an active ingredient called HOCl (hypochlorous acid) that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s List N of approved disinfectants for COVID-19. HOCl contains no harsh chemicals, no bleach or quaternary ammonia and basically costs the same as a ready-to-use green, clean choice instead of the ready-to-use poisons.

If a simple country legislator can find a product that is cost neutral, destroys more than 99.9% of bacteria, fungus and viruses and can be applied without wearing any PPEs, goggles and protective gloves and clothing, why aren’t people responsible for the health and safety of our children listening?

It is my intention to parlay a pilot program using the pending stimulus money to bring Colorado into the fold of protecting our children.

Last year, before COVID-19, I introduced the Colorado Smart Bus Safety Act, along with Westminster Democrat Sen. Rachel Zinzinger, Rep. Barbara McLachlan and Rep. Marc Catlin. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee and the Finance Committee, but lingered in Appropriations Committee because of the issue of having to cut our General Fund budget by 25%.

I cannot think of anything more important to spend the pending stimulus money on than moving the school safety agenda forward. A child is 70% less likely to be killed or injured on the way to and from school using our school buses. In addition to a safe, clean bus, training and communication systems will greatly enhance the safety of all children.

I will soon introduce a resolution outlining what we in Colorado and the rest of the nation must do to fulfill our obligation to protect children.

Sen. Don Coram is a Republican representing District 6 of the Colorado Legislature.