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Marijuana taxes and public education

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Since Colorado voters approved the sale of marijuana to adults 21 and older, a portion of the state tax revenue derived from those sales has been dedicated to education.

Delta County is currently the recipient of four marijuana-funded grants that were awarded through a competitive process.

The largest, to the tune of about $10 million, is the BEST grant that's covering much of the cost of the Delta Middle School addition/renovation.

The first $40 million in retail sales and excise taxes is reserved for school construction through Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grants. These funds are awarded annually and in most cases must be supplemented with local district matching funds. The program prioritizes health, safety and security issues such as asbestos removal, new roofs, building code violations, and poor indoor air quality.

Smaller grants come from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund (MTCF). The legislation that created this fund restricts allocation to programs that monitor the health effects of marijuana, health education, substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, and law enforcement.

This is the pool of money that funds school health professionals, early literacy programs, and dropout prevention in Delta County.

Connie Vincent, data and grants coordinator for Delta County School District #50, says the school health professional grant is funding a counselor for Garnet Mesa and Lincoln elementary schools, and a social worker for Garnet, Lincoln and Delta Middle School. "She also does some work with Delta High School and Garnet Mesa Choice Academy, but we don't want her to get too spread out," Vincent said.

Using the LifeSkills program, the school health professionals deliver substance abuse prevention lessons that incorporate self-esteem and good decision-making, and teach kids how to stand up for themselves and their values.

Kelso's Choice is a conflict resolution curriculum used with younger students to teach them the difference between big problems and little problems.

With high school students, the focus is on the adverse health effects of tobacco, alcohol and marijuana use.

The school health professionals are also available for individual or small group student counseling sessions, schedules permitting.

Vision Charter Academy uses its $80,000 annual grant to fund a licensed school counselor, for the LifeSkills curriculum, and to implement RULER, an evidence-based approach for integrating social and emotional learning into schools developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

Early Literacy

The goal of the early literacy competitive grants to ensure reading is embedded into K-3 curriculum.

Lincoln Elementary previously used this grant for training, curriculum and intervention. The school was recently notified that it will again receive funding to assist with the transition to a new reading program.

Cedaredge Elementary School and Hotchkiss K-8 are wrapping up year three of funding for early literacy programs.

Dropout
Prevention

A re-engagement grant, now in its fourth and final year, went to Grand Mesa Choice Academy. With these funds, GMCA is offering additional support to students who struggle with low attendance, insufficient credit accrual, and/or are disengaged from school. Specifically, the school has offered on-site project-focused learning activities pertaining, initially, to construction. This specific school programming grew each year with the addition of other job-related courses. Primary focus was placed in family engagement, community involvement, multiple pathways to graduation and mentoring.

Amelia Baldwin, dean of students, said the constructed use of the re-engagement grant has proven extremely effective. Graduation numbers and attendance rate both increased, while negative behavior incidents decreased.

Sustainability

Though the amount of tax revenue that comes from marijuana sales is minimal -- around 1 percent of the state's total education budget -- it is making an impact in Delta County. The question is one of sustainability.

"It's great to get those grants, but then they go away," Vincent said.

Either the grant cycle runs its course after three or four years, or the General Assembly moves the funding to other programs.

Baldwin said Grand Mesa Choice Academy has utilized its grant funds in a manner to create sustainability. Grant funds were used to purchase permanent supplies, while complementary materials can be covered by existing GMCA funding when the grant has reached its close.

"Grand Mesa Choice Academy staff and students are extremely grateful for this resource provided by the Colorado Department of Education as it enabled us to create a program that could maintain a lasting, positive impact for our students," she said.

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