There has been disagreement within the statewide business community about supporting Amendment 66. Certain chambers of commerce and small business leaders suggest that the graduated tax rate is unfair and will hurt business, while those in support suggest that we must better fund public education in Colorado to help improve our economy in the long term.
One measure of long-term economic growth is how well we are preparing our students for college or career, and the cost of failing to do so. Recent findings indicate Colorado’s high school graduation rate is only 74 percent, and 17,400 students dropped out in 2009. The lost lifetime earnings in Colorado for the 2009 class of dropouts alone will amount to over $4.5 billion. If Colorado’s high schools graduated all of their students fully prepared for college, the state would save almost $52.1 million a year in community college remediation costs and lost earnings. These dollar figures don’t even address the higher public tax bill for healthcare, social services and criminal justice when high school graduation rates go down. Failing to properly educate our students has significant long-term costs for our economy, much more significant than the increased taxes called for in Amendment 66.
Another measure of economic growth is our ability to educate our students for the current and future workforce, and our ability to attract businesses to Colorado. Colorado ranks ninth in the nation on the new economy index and boasts the second highest percentage of adults with college degrees, however, is 46th in the nation for high school graduates going to college. We are not adequately educating Colorado students for the employment opportunities that currently exist and need to attract educated individuals from out of state. It is far less expensive to educate our local students than to attract out of state workers. This is an additional drain on our economy and bad for business.
Beyond a great lifestyle, how do Colorado public schools rank in order to appeal to businesses, and the educated individuals that we are obliged to recruit? Colorado is 42nd in the nation for per pupil spending adjusted for regional cost differences, 41st in the nation for technology in our schools, and has the largest achievement gap in the country for postsecondary attainment between white and Hispanic students. We spend considerable less than our neighboring states, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and New Mexico. These rankings make it difficult to attract adequately skilled workers and new businesses, and business leaders and state officials acknowledge that our public school rankings are often a deal breaker for relocation and business growth. This lost economic potential is difficult to measure, however, another example of our current public school system being bad for business and our state’s economy.
Amendment 66 is currently the only viable solution to improve Colorado’s public education system. The amendment contains the right accountability measures to ensure that the funds are invested wisely. Colorado is already recognized for progressive educational reforms and how efficiently funds are spent relative to student achievement, and additional funding will make a substantial difference. If Amendment 66 fails, years from now we will regret a missed opportunity to do what is right for both our students and our economy. I strongly urge you to vote with your pocket book and vote yes on Amendment 66.