Marijuana money and education in Denver metro schools

Marijuana money accounts for one percent of the total state education funding

Posted 12/3/17

Jefferson County Public Schools is hiring six more social-emotional counselors for 14 elementary schools. Douglas County School District has one additional school counselor at each of its nine middle …

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Marijuana money and education in Denver metro schools

Marijuana money accounts for one percent of the total state education funding


Jefferson County Public Schools is hiring six more social-emotional counselors for 14 elementary schools.

Douglas County School District has one additional school counselor at each of its nine middle schools.

Littleton Public Schools can start a new program on substance abuse prevention.

And, in Adams 12 Five Star Schools, there’s a new bullying prevention program.

The school districts can thank state marijuana sales for the extra boost to mental health, counseling, dropout and other programs that help students socially and behaviorally.

School officials say they are glad to have the additional money — regardless of its source — for programs they otherwise couldn’t fund.

“Marijuana in Colorado is a done deal,” said Connie Bouwman, deputy superintendent of Littleton Public Schools. “The voters have clearly spoken. That being the case, we have a responsibility to continue to educate our students on the effects of alcohol and drugs. The dollars we receive from our portion of the marijuana tax fund two substance abuse specialists to help us further our educational efforts.”

In 2012, Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 that allowed adults 21 and older to consume or possess marijuana and required the state to set up a regulatory structure for the retail marijuana industry. That amendment, as well as later bills, also mandated a sales tax with money going to the Colorado Department of Education.

Since 2015, the Colorado Department of Education has received $230.8 million from marijuana revenue, comprising about 1 percent of the more than $5 billion the state gives to school districts. That money is divided into two main accounts — the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund and the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) fund.

Most of the school programs are supported by four grant programs in the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, which focus on bullying prevention, behavioral health, early literacy and drop out prevention.

The School Health Professional grant has awarded the most money from all Marijuana Tax Cash Fund grants, distributing $16.5 million during the life of the grant program.

Littleton was one of 36 school districts to receive money from the most recent distribution of this grant, which at $11.9 million accounted for the largest amount from the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund.

“These specialists provide training for school staff and help coordinate prevention activities,” said Diane Leiker, director of communications for Littleton Public Schools. “They also provide education, assessment, case management and treatment referrals for LPS students and families.”

Jeffco schools was also one of those recipients, receiving $825,164, an amount it will get annually for two more years depending on funding availability. Those grant dollars will pay for social-emotional counselors at 14 elementary schools that feed into Jefferson, Wheat Ridge and Lakewood high schools — the communities within the district that are closest to areas that allow retail sale of marijuana.

“Early, consistent intervention is critical to student physical and emotional health,” said Kevin Carroll, chief student success officer for Jeffco schools. “As educators we understand and value that the social and emotional well-being of our students, as well as their physical health, directly impacts their ability to fully access learning opportunities. We are very excited to have this additional support for Jeffco kids.”

The district’s Office of Student Services also was able to hire a student support coordinator to lead substance abuse prevention efforts.

“The goal is to really focus on prevention, building relationships with kids and practicing social-emotional skills early and often,” said Erin Sullivan, Jeffco schools’ social-emotional learning coordinator, who also wrote the grant.

The Douglas County School District was also awarded three-year funding totaling $2.44 million from the Health Professional Grant, which will add one full-time counselor for prevention at each of the district’s nine middle schools. These counselors will focus on substance use and mental health prevention.

“I think it’s wonderful to have someone dedicated to really getting ahead of the problems and doing prevention work,” said Zac Hess, director for health, wellness and prevention for DCSD. “We know from research that’s the best way to combat it. What we hope is that it’s less intervention, less putting out fires, because we’re preventing the fires from being started in the first place.”

Of all the districts applying for the Health Professional Grant funding, Denver Public Schools — the largest district in the state — has landed the most money, logging $2.78 million from 2016 to 2020.

Other districts, such as Cherry Creek Schools, Mapleton Public Schools —which includes parts of Denver, Westminster, Northglenn and Commerce City — and Adams 12 Five Star are also using money from the Marijuana Cash Fund to fight bullying, prevent at-risk kids from dropping out of school and bolster literacy.

The $74,000 that Adams 12 received from the Bullying Prevention and Education Grant will go to professional development, parent education nights and the purchase of a Buddy bench at Westgate Community School, a charter school.

“The CDE Bullying Prevention and Education Grant has given us a framework, structures and a toolbox to enact real, sustainable change in our school and larger community,” said Amanda Novak, dean of culture for Westgate Community School. “Our students feel empowered to speak out and stand up for themselves and others in the face of disrespect and bullying. Our community knows how to access support and resources, and there is an honest dedication to creating a positive and safe school.”

Jeffco will spend its three-year $607,447 grant from the Student Re-engagement fund — the largest amount awarded in the metro area —to focus on mentoring, social-emotional strategies, credit recovery and case management in five schools.

With money from the same program, School District 27J, which has schools in Thornton, Brighton and Commerce City, will focus on supporting students in its Career Readiness Certificate Program where students can acquire a National Career Readiness Certificate in combination with a GED diploma.

“The Career Readiness Certificate Program allows students who are significantly older and have so few credits accumulated that it would be challenging for them to earn a traditional high school diploma prior to turning 21,” said Innovations and Options Principal Kenlyn Newman, with School District 27J.

Mapleton Public Schools and Denver Public Schools are also addressing student re-engagement strategies with the grant money. By implementing programs at five schools that focus on improving academic intervention and improving attendance and behavior.

Jeffco and Englewood schools are the only two districts in the metro area using grant money for early literacy programs.

The Early Literacy Grant will bring more than a half million dollars into Clayton Elementary in Englewood over the next three years to specifically address literacy instruction.

“Our Early Literacy Grant has allowed our staff to engage students in rigorous learning aligned with the Colorado Academic Standards and 21st Century Skills,” said Jenny Buster, principal of Clayton Elementary. “Through the use of evidence-based instructional resources and pedagogy, we are able to target the needs of all learners.” 


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