One might call it a counter-revolution.
After nearly a decade of educational decisions being made under Denver’s “Golden Dome” by legislative committees who were heavily influenced by policy power brokers and ideologically driven special interest groups, communities in the Centennial state have collectively said “enough.”
The counter-revolution is comprised of teachers, parents, students, community leaders, school leaders, superintendents and local school board members. These are people who are the very fabric of Colorado communities, who have seen enough of top down, big-government, imperious state level mandates being crammed down the throats of our neighborhood schools.
The counter-revolution has grown angry at the historic billion-dollar gutting of Colorado education funding and even angrier at the lack of a moral commitment on the part of state leaders to confront it in the wake of the Amendment 66 debacle.
Community superintendents step up
Channeling the voices of the counter-revolution, 170 of Colorado’s 178 superintendents signed a letter demanding that the Colorado Legislature appropriate $275 million toward returning Colorado’s education spending levels to constitutionally directed levels.
Of note, the state’s school superintendents are not asking for a statewide tax increase, as Amendment 66 did — they are asking that as Colorado’s economy continues its aggressive recovery from the Great Recession, that the tax dollars the state already collects be directed to education and not toward pet legislative projects or entangled with big government strings.
Making a difference
At the beginning of this legislative session, hardly a representative could be found that would put his or her name on the line in committing to restore education funding to constitutional levels. Community schools were flatly told that it wasn’t going to happen.
Gov. Hickenlooper’s State of the State speech contained scant mention of education. Where he did discuss the topic, the governor touted an inflationary increase to schools that won’t even make a dent in the billion dollar hole in education spending. The governor also spoke in favor of adding two more top-down state bureaucratic mandates in a state financial website for education spending and a change to the way schools count students — neither of which will have any demonstrable impact on teaching and learning. In fact, the governor’s budget contained zero dollars to restore education spending to constitutionally mandated levels.
Today, important and real progress is being made. The Student Success Act is moving in the state House and contains $100 million (early versions of the bill started with $80 million) more for Colorado’s schools. While this is only one-tenth of what schools need to return to levels set in the Colorado constitution (and there are several other provisions in the bill that are problematic), the funding addition is a step in the right direction.
Also, through the grassroots efforts of community groups such as the Education Foundation of Eagle County, 35 legislators have signed on to the Great Education Colorado (a non-partisan advocate group for education) pledge to restore education funding. In Eagle County, we are grateful that Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush has signed on.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
We are definitely seeing progress made and the ice begin to crack in our collective work to restore Colorado education funding to constitutionally mandated levels. However, much work lies ahead.
The vehicle by which this restoration will occur is through the Student Success Act. I urge everyone who cares about education in Colorado to advocate with all legislators and with the governor that we must aggressively add to the current dollars in the bill to more fully restore education funding.
Eagle County’s Mitsch Bush has committed to this effort in the House, this effort needs to be carried through in the Senate as well. We must be clear with our elected officials that we demand serious action on adhering to Colorado’s constitution and that our community will no longer tolerate directives handed down to schools from committee chambers.
We must also be willing to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions. Hickenlooper is running for re-election this coming fall. I urge all Eagle County residents to watch closely the decisions made in this legislative session and to act accordingly in the voting booth this fall.
More directly, if our elected officials don’t support our schools, then they should have no expectation that our community will support them. Education is the investment society makes in its future by shaping and preparing the next generation of citizens — which is why voters acted to protect it in Amendment 23.
Everyone knows that the Great Recession caused terrible economic turmoil and pain all across the globe. No one expects for all that was lost to be restored in one fell swoop. But as Colorado’s economy recovers and as soon as is responsibly possible, our state should take strong steps to make good on our collective moral commitment to our community’s children. Gunnison Superintendent Doug Treadway perhaps said it best: “If the state has the means to fix this; they have the responsibility to fix this.”
Importantly, those opposed to education funding try to make the argument about cold, inanimate things such as “schools or administration.” Please don’t be fooled by this tactic; education funding is about your children and the next generation of children.
You can write or call the governor’s 0ffice to express your expectations: John W. Hickenlooper, Governor, 136 State Capitol, Denver, CO 80203-1792; phone: 303-866-2471; fax: 303-866-2003.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.