Gov. Polis talks schools, housing, water on SLV visit

Photo by the Courier Colorado Gov. Jared Polis sat down last week with Valley Courier reporter Priscilla Waggoner.

SAN LUIS VALLEY — Colorado Governor Jared Polis stopped in Alamosa last week on his way to an event in Santa Fe. While in Alamosa, he attended a back porch gathering at the Purple Pig Pizzeria and Pub on Main Street where he took questions from members of the Alamosa County Democratic Party related to agriculture, mitigation in the pandemic, and housing. The question-and-answer session was followed by a longer conversation with the Valley Courier in its offices on State Avenue.

Polis opened the conversation with discussion of “an exciting innovation in education” centered in the San Luis Valley. He was specifically referring to Adams State University being awarded a Governor’s Response, Innovation and Student Equity (RISE) grant. 

“We’re investing one of the biggest state grants — $2.5 million — in a collaboration between Adams State, the Boys and Girls Club and all 14 school districts in the Valley,” he said. “We’ve invested in about 20 programs throughout the state, but this award is, by far, the largest.” 

Funding, in the amount of $2,581,747, was awarded to ASU which, in partnership with SLVBGC and Valley school districts, will "create a dynamic and robust program providing secondary students with the skills needed for success." Via both paid internships and apprenticeships, the program he described as “enormous” will create a skilled workforce and include an afterschool component. 

“It’s always great when the state can be directly involved in creating programs to meet rapidly change industry demands that fuel the region’s economic growth and vitality,” Polis said.

Gov. Polis then cited the recent expansion of Friday Health Plan as just one example of the impact a skilled workforce program can have on the local economy.

Funding in the amount of $851,369 was also awarded to Centennial School District R-1 which, in partnership with History Colorado, will integrate San Luis Valley history into curricula in social studies, civics, and history.  

The governor has long held education as a special priority, a passion that predates even assuming the governor’s office when he created two charter schools and served a term on the State Board of Education.

Against that backdrop, he mentioned his excitement with his administration’s ongoing work toward the implementation of state-funded universal preschool for every child in Colorado after voters overwhelming approved funding in 2020, allowing Polis to fulfill one of the top priorities in his campaign for office. Universal preschool is expected to kick off in 2023 and promises to deliver much-needed education during formative years and much-needed support to families that, prior to passage, were unable to provide that opportunity to their kids.

In another nod to rural communities, Gov. Polis mentioned signing SB21-229 which will provide an additional $3 million in funding for the Rural Jump-start Zone Grant Program, created to attract businesses and incentivize job creation in rural Colorado. 

Of key interest in the SLV, Polis discussed the 2021 session of the state legislature’s focused attention on addressing factors related to water and drought, including allocation of $50 million to support the implementation of the Colorado State Water Plan and fund Colorado Water Conservation Board grants supporting local projects. Proposals for these projects were the topic of several meetings of the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable in recent months, demonstrating the need for state funding of locally generated priorities. 

Predictably, the topic of housing came up in the conversation, which was anything but a surprise to Polis. 

“When we sat down with Republican and Democratic leaders, we asked how should we use the one-time American Rescue Plan resources we’ve been given," Polis said. "We’re given two years to spend the resources, but they are one-time resources. So, we held regional listening sessions all around the state, including the San Luis Valley, and overwhelmingly, in every part of our state, we heard about housing. 

“Working with legislators, we decided to devote $500 million to housing — which is a huge amount. But we’re also going to leverage that with private developers, with cities and counties to unlock several billion dollars worth of investment in housing. 

“There’s a bipartisan interim process where we’ll be finalizing over the next year to see how that will be done," Polis said. "It will be locally directed, innovative projects working with a wide variety of partners from both the local and private sector to maximize housing. It will be investing in houses and apartments and multi-family housing that people can enjoy and, in some cases, own. We prefer wealth creation, ownership, and families being able to access that with maybe some down payment help if they have good credit. A small part of it may be what we call ‘affordable’ housing or seasonal housing, but much of it will be other types of housing, as well.”