Tricked by the governor
Vail CO, Colorado
Gov. Ritter bamboozled me, I think. Or as other scholars might say, the governor just hoodwinked me! And as a proud Western Slope cowboy, I don’t take too well to bamboozlement.
The passing of Gov. Bill Ritter’s Colorado Children’s Amendment guarantees that some citizens will not be entitled to their deserved tax breaks, due to property tax rate freezing. It seems that some in Capitol Hill are celebrating the Children’s Amendment as one that will help alleviate the state budget in the coming years, as Amendment 23, passed in 2000, forces increases in education spending. In addition, many point to TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) as a piece of legislation that is choking our state budget, due to the fact that it caps government spending based upon growth and inflation.
Now, let’s diagnose the bamboozling that Gov. Ritter and various Republican and Democratic legislators seem to be practicing. Amendment 23 requires our state legislature to increase educational funding by inflation plus 1 percent, for the purpose of increasing per-pupil spending in K-12 education. So the voters of Colorado made it clear in 2000 that of all the government programs our state provides, the one that must continue to modestly grow is K-12 education. However, Gov. Ritter has gone on record saying that the majority of funds from the Children’s Amendment will go towards “expanding” preschool and full-day kindergarten programs. The funds largely ignore the rest of the K-12 system.
So here’s the problem ” it seems that our legislative leaders, in conjunction with the governor, are legitimizing the passing of the Colorado Children’s Amendment as a necessary function due to the supposed budget “crisis” that TABOR and Amendment 23 are creating. After all, Amendment 23 requires that per-pupil spending within public education must increase. However, most of the funds from the Colorado Children’s Amendment will not be used to address per-pupil spending within the K-12 school system. Instead, around $12.6 million will be used to expand preschool education, while $65 million will go towards the full-day kindergarten expansion, according to the Denver Post.
Amendment 23 was passed to address per-pupil spending across the board. Thus, high school, middle school, and kindergarten students should all be benefiting from the Children’s Amendment.
In reflection, Gov. Ritter campaigned on the idea to develop “early childhood education programs” in his policy handbook of 2006, where children would be prepared for learning well before entrance into kindergarten; basically, the beginnings of a universal preschool system. As of today, Illinois is the only state with universal preschool, as voters in California defeated a similar measure last year.
I agree that education should be improved drastically. As a former tyro public school teacher, who taught in an East Los Angeles school, I claim a deep passion for helping our children. And despite being a proud Republican, one has grown frustrated with my party too often hailing standardized testing as the great policy cure-all for education. My same frustrations extend to those Democrats who think that preschool is the ultimate solution.
What we need for our education system is a comprehensive plan that can address every shortcoming of our K-12 system, in addition to empowering the factors that are working. We cannot continue to throw money at a broken system and expand it, somehow expecting that such actions will solve problems.
Take the Arrupe Jesuit High School in Denver, for example, whose student body is more than 80 percent Latino. Despite low resources, limited funds, and a majority of students who are economically disadvantaged, the school boasts a 2007 class that will see 85 percent matriculating to college, in addition to around $2 million in scholarships being collectively won by the class.
Now what is Arrupe Jesuit High doing right that other schools in our barrios and ghettos are not? Surely, it is not the addition of preschool or the expansion of kindergarten?
The deep fear now is that the legislature will continue to seek additional funds for new government programs, due to the excuses they can make over TABOR and Amendment 23. When the Colorado Children’s Amendment fails to properly fund Amendment 23, will we see calls for additional tax increases?
As citizens of Colorado, we have given our legislature a great amount of capital. Many counties have reduced the controls of TABOR. Our good state passed Referendum C a year ago. And now we will be facing a property tax bamboozlement. I refuse to believe that our legislators lack the innovative thinking to solve state problems without having to resort to tax increases; after all, it took very innovative thinking to come up with a property tax freeze that selectively disenfranchises various counties within our state.
Lastly, the piece of legislation that our legislators most conveniently overlook is TABOR’s painless method of government program creation. If the legislature desires to create additional government programs, then TABOR gives them the right to put such ideas on the ballot and let us voters decide. Thus, rather than spending their collective times practicing legislative dramaqueening over TABOR, our elected leaders really ought to be putting proposed programs on the ballot for public vote.
However, I could be wrong. It seems that the Colorado Children’s Amendment can still be revised to address per-pupil spending.
One remains deeply concerned though, that future tax increases will be passed under the guise of alleviating the fiscal crisis that Amendment 23 and TABOR are creating. In reality, our legislature is actually raising taxes for new government programs that ought to be voted on by the general public.
Which begs the question ” Governor Ritter, has this cowboy been hoodwinked?
May peace and love be upon you all!
Muhammad Ali Hasan of Beaver Creek writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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