Young parents in the Grand Valley are carefully watching the school funding vote
My wife and I have two little girls: both born right here in Grand Junction. We are committed to putting our daughters into public schools. We want our kids — and ourselves — to be part of the local community. And so, like many other parents, we are apprehensively eyeing the upcoming vote on Measures 3A and 3B.
It’s been genuinely disappointing to see written opposition to the school funding measures flood across the pages of this paper and social media in recent weeks. Letters to the editor, the anonymous-anger-conduit You Said It section, and members of the community actively campaigning against the measures have utilized tired arguments: “More funding doesn’t mean better schools!” or “You can’t tax your way into prosperity!”
To the funding argument, I have a three-word reply: “Yes it does.” School buildings are literally falling down. Students are learning from almost 20-year-old textbooks. Our kids go to school 162 days a year — 18 under the national average. To borrow from Robin Brown’s column this past Sunday: There is absolutely a correlation between time spent in the classroom and achievement. There is also absolutely a correlation between safe facilities and achievement.
To the “taxing ourselves into prosperity” quip, I have a longer reply. As Americans, we’ve taxed ourselves into having the following “prosperous” things: armed services, highway system, police departments, fire departments, courts, street lighting, border patrol, libraries, postal service, bridges, trash collection, corrections facilities, intelligence community, snow removal, and parks. So, yes, you can pay $10 per month so Grand Junction High’s roof doesn’t cave in.
Critics of the funding increases are correct that per-student funding doesn’t tell the whole story about the success of schools, and that increasing funding won’t necessarily improve performance.
But in 2017, District 51 will spend $7,278 per student — 171st out of 178 districts statewide, $400 below the state average, and $2,000 below the national average.
And, per the 2017 Mesa County budget: The 392-bed county jail has a 2017 budget of $9,149,023. That’s $23,339 per year per jail inmate: more than three times the $7,278 spent on a District 51 student. (Read that again.)
Don’t those statistics tell at least part of the story? Isn’t it worth paying a little bit more per year — $10 per month for an average household, $36 for a small business — to fix the district’s facilities and increase per-student funding?
Voters approved Amendment 23 in 2000 to increase state-based school funding each year with the rate of inflation. But in 2010, the state Legislature began to utilize the so-called “negative factor” to set school funding at the state level. The effect? Nearly $4 billion in statewide education cuts since 2010, including the $30 million District 51 had to cut in 2010 and 2011. So, despite a voter-supported initiative to increase school funding, the state Legislature found a way to systematically decrease school funding. District 51 isn’t asking for “extra” money. It’s asking for the money taken from them when Denver politicians defied the will of voters and skimmed money off the top of our kids’ education fund.
So, Grand Valley: This is our chance to act locally. Support our kids on our terms, not on politicians’ terms. A similar proposal failed in 2011. Don’t make the same mistake twice.
My wife and I moved to Grand Junction six years ago this week. When we arrived, we made fast friends with a group of energetic young professionals, both local and imported, who made it easy to transition to our new life in the Grand Valley. We camped, bar-hopped, had barbecues, and went on ski trips together. As time has gone by, we’ve gone to each others’ engagement parties, danced at each other’s weddings, and brought over freezer meals each time a new baby arrives. Six years since that first September, my wife and I find ourselves raising our small kids alongside our friends’ small kids.
We have been told countless times by locals that the Grand Valley is “a great place to raise kids.” So we are all watching this vote closely, Grand Junctioners. Parents are wary of a community that won’t put its money where its mouth is about being a “great place to raise kids.”
I am anticipating the angry response to this column: “Well, if you don’t like the way we do things, you are welcome to leave!” Be careful what you wish for. I’m not sure how young parents will react when voters reject school funding in two consecutive votes.