Restating D51’s case

By now, readers have heard arguments to support a bond measure and mill levy override for District 51 schools presented both as a moral imperative and an investment in the community’s future.

Those prone to resisting the message should consider that the same argument is unfolding along similar lines at the state level with regard to higher education.

“Higher education is a public good. Increasing our investment today will result in far greater gains to our communities and our economy, resulting in a larger pie for all.”

That’s a paragraph from “Colorado Rises,” a master plan released by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education last week. The goal of the plan is to increase educational attainment beyond high school for all Colorado residents, but the simple reality is that it can’t happen without more money.

That’s why the investment terminology is so apt. If the state Legislature can’t figure out a way to direct more money toward higher education, it won’t save the state money — it’ll just shift costs to deal with the consequences.

“The correlation between decreased educational attainment and unemployment, crime, poor health and an increased dependence on social services is indisputable,” the plan says. “The cost of education is high, but the cost of disinvesting is much higher and we believe too expensive a price for the state to bear.”

That where D51’s financial situation mirrors the state’s higher ed conundrum. To contend with shrinking budgets, the district has deferred maintenance to maximize instructional dollars. But those have been cut too, leaving the district with aging buildings in need of repair along with a shortage of instructional resources to make the most of its new performance-based learning model. Without more money to address these deficiencies, the school will weigh like an anchor on our economy instead of performing like an engine.

The CCHE paint a similar picture.

The state’s disinvestment in higher education has shifted more costs to students and their families. In 2000, the state funded two-thirds of a student’s cost of higher education, while the student was responsible for one-third. By 2016, that ratio had flipped and the state now funds only one-third.

The commission believes that students and families are now paying at their limit. “State-by-state comparisons and affordability studies suggest that we are very near the point of pricing many of our own students out of any opportunity for higher education,” the CCHE plan says. Increasing post-secondary attainment, erasing attainment gaps and improving student success are critical to maintaining a strong quality of life, meeting workforce demands and nurturing a vibrant economy,

Hopefully, our readers are connecting the dots. If the state is linking up educational outcomes with economic prosperity, how foolish would we be to dismiss the same argument?

Moreover, if the CCHE prevails in getting the Legislature to loosen its purse strings and pour more money into higher education opportunities, District 51 students won’t be in a position to take full advantage if they’re getting a subpar education.


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