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Vail Valley Voices: Education is the key to our economy

Millie Hamner
Vail, CO, Colorado

Everyone agrees that a good education system is key to a robust economy with trained workers ready to compete in a global economy.

It’s obvious that a quality public school system is key to preparing our kids for college, and the statistics show that people with college degrees have lower rates of unemployment and higher average incomes than those without.

We know this, but sadly the past three years have been especially challenging for our K-12 public schools.

Our schools rely on state appropriations to supplement local school financing to fund school and district operations. Nearly half of the state’s general fund budget is allocated to K-12 education, and when the economy started to suffer, so did the state’s ability to fund K-12.

In fact, our schools have faced a decrease of $1.1 billion over the last three years because of declining revenues as the state struggled to balance the budget and recover from the Great Recession.

As state revenues have declined, so have taxpayers’ willingness to give more resources to our schools.

In Lake County, a measure to provide matching funding for facility upgrades failed in November, and in Eagle County, a mill levy override for operations also went down. At the state level, Proposition 103, which would have added another $3 billion to our schools over five years, was also defeated by the voters.

Now, Colorado’s courts are weighing in on Colorado’s funding of schools, which ranks 49th among the 50 states. The judge in the Lobato case ruled that Colorado’s school funding is inadequate, not meeting the “thorough and uniform” standard prescribed by our state constitution.

This decision is now in the hands of the Court of Appeals, and it remains to be seen what the implications might be for Colorado.

Many of my constituents are contacting me with their frustrations about the budget cuts that are chipping away at their school district’s ability to offer a quality education for their children. I want to assure all of my constituents that as a former teacher and schools superintendent and now as your state representative, K-12 funding is a top priority for me.

The good news for next year’s budget is that state revenues are projected to be $200 million more than anticipated. Although the Legislature is currently debating the budget, it looks promising that further cuts to our classrooms will finally cease, as our economy recovers and we can begin to invest more in our children’s futures.

It is likely that we’ll be able to fund operating revenue for students at almost the same level as this year’s, and we’ll be able to account for Colorado’s growth in student enrollment.

We have a long way to go to make up for the three-year decline, but we are definitely on a more positive trajectory going into the 2012-13 school year.

If you have specific suggestions or questions about K-12 Education funding, I welcome them at millie.hamner.house@state.co.us.

Millie Hamner, D-Summit County, represents Eagle County in the state House of Representatives.


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