Education tax hikes?

Colorado legislators have had two weeks to digest budget cuts proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, the bulk of which centered on the state’s public-education system.

The response has ranged from horrified to appalled.

Perhaps these difficult cutbacks, and the discussion around them, are better viewed as an opportunity, one that might ultimately make Colorado schools better and more responsive to the desires of parents, students, businesses and taxpayers alike.

Let’s start with the recognition that the proposal by Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder,  is a non-starter. Tax increases, however well-intentioned, are unlikely to fly in an environment of high unemployment and stagnant economic growth, which is precisely the backdrop that has brought the budget to its present pass. Even if Heath can win support in the Senate, the Republican-dominated House is likely to kill it outright. And Hickenlooper has said he doesn’t welcome the idea.

Perhaps it’s time to look more creatively at the relationship between the state and school districts.

The business of education isn’t what it once was. Local schools have some element of competition now and, in the era of the Internet, it’s not going to go away.

In Grand Junction, Caprock Academy is a thriving concern, and is building a new campus not far from its current temporary setup.

Caprock Academy brags, with some merit, about its students’ test scores, perhaps traceable to its relative freedom from the bureaucratic control of the district and a discernible philosophy. Headmaster Kristin Trezise describes the approach at Caprock as one that uses Socratic discussion to take students from the ancients to the modern era.

It probably goes without saying that Caprock operates in ways that require greater parental involvement and that, of course, is a strong indicator of student success.

It might be difficult to duplicate the Caprock experience in the overall education system, but the charter experience in general suggests that there are different approaches to schooling.

Rather than indulge in the kind of funding mechanism it has pursued for decades, perhaps Colorado could break ground with community education grants, much as the federal government distributed community development grants. School districts could use those grants as they wished, while honoring the requirement in the Colorado Constitution that education remain a local matter.

Charter schools such as Caprock, as well as traditional school districts, needn’t look too far over their shoulders to see that other educational programs are in the game. In addition to home schooling, online programs abound across the Web.

Now it might be that innovative approaches to dealing with the costs of education won’t close the gap between the amount of money available and what’s required of a modern-day education and the global challenges that await students.

Voters, however, are far more likely to be persuaded to part with their money if they’re convinced that in asking for more money the schools aren’t just cribbing from previous exams.


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