May 27, 2022 - News

Colorado never funded its school safety task force — until now

A gun with school pencils

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Months after the deadly shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch in 2019, a state audit revealed that Colorado's $100 million, two-decade effort to improve school safety was haphazard and showed little evidence of making schools safer.

What happened: The next year, Colorado lawmakers created a new task force with public safety leaders to better coordinate the state's response, given its deadly history.

  • "We're in a scary time in society right now, and we have to take school safety incredibly seriously … to ensure we don't ever have [a shooting] here again," state Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a bill sponsor, told Axios Denver.

Yes, but: Gov. Jared Polis' administration never spent the money to create the task force — so the group never convened, Axios Denver has learned.

  • The next year, the administration recommended eliminating the task force altogether.

What's new: Growing impatient, Colorado lawmakers pushed back earlier this year and approved new legislation to make the working group permanent and require a meeting by the end of the year.

  • The bill allocates $160,000 to get the effort underway and increases spending to $225,000 in the second year.

What they're saying: The administration didn't launch the initial task force because it didn't have the money and the mission was redundant to ongoing work, Polis spokesperson Conor Cahill told Axios Denver.

  • Despite his view, Polis plans to sign the new bill "to continue state efforts to reduce gun violence," Cahill said.

Of note: Christine Harms, director of the state's School Safety Resource Center, doesn't think the task force is necessary. "I feel like we are all working very hard together already, so we feel like that might be a duplication," she told us.

The other side: The bill's advocates say it's needed to better coordinate high-level discussions and spending.

  • "I look at what we have done and what we've tried to do over the past several years at the legislature, and all I think is we've got to keep working," Michaelson Jenet (D-Commerce City) said. "There has to be a point where we come to say, 'Our children's lives matter most.'"

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