By MATT SOPER

When the history of the COVID pandemic is written, there’s no doubt in my mind which group will be remembered as the one which suffered the most — our kids.

They’ve been forced to give up social events, sports and the activities they love. They’ve been isolated from their peer groups.

Worst of all, they’ve lost precious time in their own educational development. For millions of kids all around the country, the struggle is all too real — it’s a struggle to catch-up in school.

In Colorado there is a massive, bipartisan and game-changing effort to help our kids do exactly that — catch up from learning loss.

It is called Proposition 119, and you will vote on it this month. Proposition 119 provides financial aid directly to parents to get tutoring and other forms of out-of-school instructional support in core subjects like reading, writing and math. The financial aid is paid for by a tax on the marijuana industry.

I don’t like taxes, but the marijuana industry can afford to pay its fair share. Plus, the marijuana industry promised to fund education. Proposition 119 supports that promise made to voters.

And this extra support for kids — especially low and middle income kids who may not be able to afford the extra-instructional help — is vital.

Conservatives all across Colorado are voting YES on Proposition 119 — names conservatives know and trust like our last Republican Gov. Bill Owens, former state treasurer Mark Hillman, Colorado Springs conservatives Tim Geitner and Bill Cadman, and battle-tested conservatives like John Andrews and our own Janet Rowland.

So are respected Democrats — former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, former Gov. Bill Ritter, and former Denver Mayor Federico Pena.

Proposition 119 is an important bipartisan cause.

Even before COVID, this extra support was desperately needed for the tens of thousands of students who can’t read, write or perform math at grade level. A recent investigation by Colorado Public Radio tells the story.

“About 39% of the state’s third-graders are reading at or above grade level, down 2.2 percentage points from 2019, while in math, 24% of sixth graders met or exceeded expectations... Students of all races and ethnicities decreased in performance, with Black and Hispanic students scoring significantly lower than white and Asian students. In third-grade reading, for example, while 48.9% of white students are reading at or above grade level, just 22.1% of Hispanic students and 24.3% of Black students are. About 32% of white sixth-graders are meeting or exceeding expectations in math, while about 11% of Black students are and about 10% of Hispanic students are…There continues to be gaping achievement gaps between poor students and their wealthier peers — roughly 30 percentage points separate them in third-grade English and about 24 percentage points in sixth-grade math...”

These statistics are so bad they are almost hard to believe.

Proposition 119 won’t solve things overnight, but 119 does represent bold action to address the glaring gaps in educational achievement.

A study by the Common Sense Institute says Prop. 119 would fund tutoring for 98,000 students. The financial aid dollars would be administered by an independent board of education experts, not by the Legislature.

A board with arms-length distance from our dysfunctional political process is the best way to ensure these dollars get to the students who need them. Proposition 119 is accountable.

So exactly how will all this work?

When 119 is approved by voters, a new independent and nonpartisan board will certify tutors and other instructional providers all around Colorado. Groups like Firefly Autism and the Boys and Girls Club support Prop. 119 because they have the beginnings of infrastructure to support this type of programing. A local group in Grand Junction — STEM is My Future — has similar abilities and instructional offerings. All these education-minded groups and so many others back

Prop. 119.

Then, parents will select a tutor for their son or daughter. What types of instructional support qualifies?

Tutoring in reading, writing, and math; career and technical education, and training in the trades from certified experts; summer school or additional instruction with a teacher before or after school; outside instruction in the arts, music, or computer programming by certified local providers; learning and language support for special needs students.

Once parents pick the tutor, the tax on marijuana pays the bill.

The plan is common sense. It is essential and desperately needed for students who have been through so much. Leaders across the political spectrum are voting YES on Prop. 119. I urge voters across the Western Slope to do the same.

Matt Soper, R-Delta, represents District 54 in the Colorado House of Represents, which encompasses parts of Delta and Mesa counties.