Vail Daily letter: A fundamental question
October 29, 2013
I began this letter as a point-by-point refutation of Kaye Ferry's Oct. 23 letter to the editor.
But I realized that the discussion about public education that Amendment 66 has inspired is not actually about the fine points that comprise the debate: It is a fundamental question of what we collectively value in Colorado and how we should express our values as a community through our government.
Do some believe the government, given enough money, will solve all our problems? Of course not. They simply want to help the government do better by giving it the resources it needs.
Are others merely anarchists who believe any government is bad government? Again, no: They simply expect greater accountability and responsibility from their government.
In the heat of arguing over accountability versus funding, we can be forgiven for forgetting that the two are not opposed, but in fact are both essential.
Our public roadways, water systems, emergency services, and, yes, public education system are just some examples of government services that at one time or another have faltered in their execution, earned public criticism, have been reformed, and regained the public trust, often with the explicit endorsement of increased funding.
Local emergency services are a recent (and for Gypsum we hope, a current) example of the public's agreement that, even in hard economic times, a government service has earned our support for a tax increase.
We know that Colorado ranks in the bottom 10 (bottom five, by some measures) in per-student funding for public education. Yet we have asked teachers, administrators, and staff (and students!) to do more with less. They responded, and no other state school system now does as well as Colorado with the minimal funding we provide.
But while that efficiency with the resources we have means greater effectiveness, it does not mean great effectiveness. Colorado still ranks poorly in education within a nation that itself has fallen precipitously when measured against the rest of the world.
Just as our emergency services have said, "We have done all we can to be efficient and remain effective without further funding," so now our schools asking for that same support.
Those critical of government will (and should) remind us that more money is not the answer. But (just ask our local emergency services) it must be part of the answer. We have demanded our public schools be more efficient and effective. They have responded to the extent possible with the resources we have given them.
Amendment 66 enables legislation that reforms public education funding (how schools are funded, not just how much), local control (greater budget and administrative authority for principals), accountability and transparency (better reporting and performance measures).
Cutting funding for a poor system is often necessary for reform, but it is not a solution. We must ultimately provide a new strategy. Amendment 66 offers funding for our schools along with needed reform of the system.
A group opposed to Amendment 66 calls itself "Coloradans for Real Education Reform" but exists only to oppose this reform (and does so with false claims, some repeated in Kaye's letter). Will we, as a community, continue to merely oppose funding reforms, or will we invest in new strategies to begin transforming our education system to meet the needs of our students in an increasingly competitive and demanding global environment?
I am hopeful that we, as a community will say "yes, let's try."