Colorado Will Use $173 Million Of Federal Dollars To Fund A COVID Testing Program For School Districts

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Kindergarteners Hayden (right to left), Mac and Nate build a space station out of magnetic blocks during Carson Elementary’s Discovery Link after-school program. March 17, 2021.

Colorado school districts can opt in for a new state program that will expand testing measures in order to keep classes in-person. Students and staff at participating schools can get tested for free, regardless of vaccination status or whether symptoms are present. 

By Tuesday, 447 schools from 22 districts had already opted into the program. CDPHE’s Sarah Hamma said some districts may not need the program due to other resources being offered. 

“We have some theories that there are other programs available within the state that aren't state-funded. And so school districts may be utilizing some of those programs,” Hamma said. “We also have distributed significant amount of supplies to schools, and so schools could be choosing to implement their own programs with supplies they have on hand.”

The state did not specify which districts have already joined the initiative. Several school districts, including Boulder Valley and Aurora, confirmed that they are sticking to existing partnerships. Some smaller districts, like Eagle County, will not participate in the program despite not having a testing partnership in place. 

The program will use $173 million of federal funds to contract private vendors who can provide testing resources and process results. School districts will not have to pay should they choose to participate. 

CDPHE officials outlined six steps schools need to take to participate. 

  • Superintendents need to approve the program for the whole district.
  • Participating superintendents can then decide whether to mandate it for the whole district or let individual schools decide whether to adopt the program.
  • Once those decisions are made, participating schools are matched with a testing vendor for implementation and logistics planning.
  • Schools must require students to get permission from parents before getting testing. Parents can exempt their students from getting tested at any time.
  • Starting Sept. 7, testing vendors will begin administering tests.
  • Weekly testing is provided for the remainder of the school year.

The state said consistent testing will help schools slow the spread of the Delta variant among student populations. Children under 12 are not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, leaving them vulnerable. State data shows a rapid rise in cases among people under 18 in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, schools are still split on whether or not to require masks for students. The conflict over masks comes as Gov. Jared Polis declines to implement a statewide requirement.

CPR’s Jenny Brundin contributed to this report.