Education and other state needs will benefit from Amendment 66
By Rachel Richards
From an on-the-ground view, I support a “Yes” vote on Amendment 66, the school-finance ballot measure. Why? Because full-day kindergarten for all of Colorado’s children will result in better educational outcomes, as will smaller class sizes, special education funding for kids with disabilities and restoring five-day school weeks.
From a 60,000-foot-level, I support a “Yes” vote on Amendment 66 because Colorado must begin tackling a host of well-documented infrastructure and operational funding shortfalls if we hope to attract new business investment, improve our economy and sustain the quality of life we currently enjoy.
If we fail to move forward on K-12 funding, investing in our children’s future with programs that would lead the nation in educational reforms, how are we supposed to tackle the need for increased transportation funding or higher education funding or water infrastructure? These items poll far behind K-12 needs when Colorado voters are asked their priorities, and will continue to languish unaddressed until we take care of our kids.
There are those who always oppose any new funding and repeat the same old refrains without regard to reality. Amendment 66 is “bad for business,” they say or, “There’s no proof throwing dollars at education will make a difference,” or “Our district doesn’t get enough money back,” or “If we could just get rid of the bad teachers and teachers’ union.”
There will always be slogans to justify “No” votes, yet an honest look shows how empty these claims are.
Businesses succeed when they have a well-educated workforce and choose to locate in states where their employees’ kids will get a quality education. New funding does make for smaller class sizes and allows five-day school weeks where they have been cut. Full-day kindergarten empirically tracks with higher academic achievement.
Supporting a base level of dedicated K-12 funding is about voting to support education for all of Colorado’s kids.
The structural reforms in Amendment 66 provide for complete transparency and accountability of how tax dollars will be spent, and they demand that teachers demonstrate successful class achievements to obtain or retain their tenure.
If we, as voters, can’t accept some compromise for the good of the whole and recognize that no single bill will provide 100 percent of what each of us prefer individually, then we are destined for the same gridlock that abounds at the national level.
I don’t believe the intent of Colorado’s TABOR Amendment was to transfer the bulk of K-12 funding from local school districts to the state’s general fund. However, with the confluence of the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23, that is what has happened, while investment in other state needs have fallen off the map.
It has been predicted by the University of Colorado’s Futures Study that by 2025 (even with economic growth) the state general fund will be entirely consumed by schools and prisons.
I don’t believe that the intent of TABOR was that we spend less on our roads in real dollars in 2013 than we did in 1991, despite population growth, but that has also been the outcome. I don’t believe you sustain a healthy economy, business investment or our quality of life by refusing to match the investments that previous generations of Coloradans made to create the institutions and infrastructure that we rely upon today.
Bear in mind that in Colorado, we made our TABOR refunds permanent when income taxes were cut to 4.63 percent a decade ago, regardless of whether the economy could support it. Amendment 66 honors TABOR by asking voters to bring Colorado back to a place where we can fund our schools without bankrupting every other state program.
We must come together to address the continuing crisis of failure to invest in our kids’ education. We’ve been fortunate to have had short-term Band-Aids from the state and federal government to stop the bleeding. But even with those fleeting fixes, Colorado is spending a billion dollars less on K-12 education than we did in the past, and we fall well below neighboring states and the national average.
Just as Coloradoans have come together to battle the crisis of wildfire and floods, it is time for Coloradans to step up to the plate, vote “Yes” on school funding and begin making permanent commitments to our own future.
Rachel Richards is a former City Council member and mayor of Aspen. She is currently in her second term as a Pitkin County commissioner. She has represented Pitkin County on the Club 20 board of directors since 1998.