After defeat of Amendment 66, where do we go now?

The Greeley Tribune posed the question: "In the wake of the defeat of Amendment 66, where do we go now on education funding?" The paper asked the Bell, a supporter of the amendment, to answer the question from that perspective. An opponent of the amendment wrote a companion piece (link below).

Buchanan: We must build 21st century
education system that serves all

By Wade Buchanan

It's less than four weeks since voters said "no" to Amendment 66, a broad proposal to change the funding formula for educating our kids and updating our tax system to pay for it.

The voters were clear about what they didn't want. Less clear is where they want the state to go in the future. It will take more time to figure that out. Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely pushing a pre-conceived (and largely ideological) agenda.

Now is the time for careful analysis and thoughtful reflection involving Coloradans from every part of the state.

We can't rush this. But we can't take too long, either. Kids are kids only once. We get one shot at educating them. We need to teach them to read and write, train them in math and science and other subjects, prepare them for post-secondary education or the workforce, and put them on a path to become solid citizens.

The Bell Policy Center will be a part of this important conversation, joining with other individuals and organizations to find the path forward. Here are some facts and principles that will guide us – and we hope the rest of the state:

  • Colorado's public schools must serve all students well – rich and poor, rural and urban, regardless of external circumstances. We're all in this together.
  • Critical changes are essential to ensure long-term economic opportunity. These include closing the achievement gap, increasing graduation rates and making sure a high school diploma means a student is ready to succeed.
  • We have passed a number of important reforms in recent years, but we haven't funded them adequately. These include major commitments to ensuring children are proficient readers by the third grade and high school graduates are post-secondary or work-force ready.
  • As important as these reforms are, without additional state resources they amount to unfunded mandates imposed on already strapped school districts. It's hard to argue for more reform when we haven't paid for what we've already done.
  • Colorado's preschool program for at-risk students is a great success. But we can't afford to cover all who need it. Almost 25,000 eligible children cannot participate because of funding shortfalls.
  • Our education funding formula is 20 years old and underfunds our schools by about $1 billion each year.
  • Meanwhile, our tax system is creaky and out of date, both statewide and at the local level. As a percentage of our economy, Colorado collects significantly less in taxes than other states – and less than it did back when many of us were in school.
  • This affects more than P-12 education. It is a major contributor to sky-rocketing tuition rates in public colleges and universities, deteriorating roads, a public health care system that is ill-prepared for the needs of our aging population, and much more.
  • These problems are exacerbated by conflicting provisions in our state Constitution that make the budgeting far more complicated than it needs to be and tie the hands of our elected representatives.

The vote against Amendment 66 was decisive. But it did not change any of these facts. We believe Coloradans want a strong, 21st Century education system – one that will produce skilled workers and solid citizens who can build a prosperous and durable economy.

This is an urgent matter for Colorado. If it takes five more years to make fundamental changes that will prepare all students to succeed, today's kindergartner will be ready for middle school and today's middle-schooler will be preparing to graduate.

We owe them our best efforts. And we need to start now.

Wade Buchanan is president of the Bell Policy Center, a Denver-based non-partisan policy research center that advocates public policies that reflect progressive values.

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(This column was paired with a counterpoint written by Steve Hall. Subscription required.)

 


Article posted on December 2, 2013