Great Education Colorado wants to make 2013 Year of the Student

Categories: Education

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Big photo below.
When District Judge Sheila Rappaport handed down her (now appealed) decision in Lobato vs. Colorado, the word she used to describe Colorado's education-finance system was "unconscionable." That harsh description is backed by stats provided by Great Education Colorado, a nonprofit that describes itself as "a statewide, nonpartisan, grassroots organization that is focused on improving education in Colorado through wise, increased investment in our schools, colleges and universities."

When adjusted for regional cost differences, according to Lisa Weil, director of policy and communications for the organization, Colorado is $2,500 below the national average per person in K-12 education funding. That puts the state in the bottom three for higher education funding.

In the past, one-third of the total education cost fell on the family. Now, it's two-thirds -- and Colorado also ranks in the bottom ten in class size and classroom technology. The state identifies the fewest students with special needs and reimburses schools the least for these students' special education. And across the state, schools are cutting down on science labs, foreign languages and other critical skills, as well as electives -- the classes that get students excited about their education.

In order to address these problems, seven-year-old Great Education Colorado is working with more than eighty organizations in the Colorado community in a push to quit passing the education buck and instead make 2013 the Year of the Student -- the year the state finally commits to funding education. The Year of the Student initiative was announced at a student-run press conference led by Hayley Stromberg in June. A wide range of groups already supports the cause -- everything from the Autism Society of Colorado to the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented, Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives and the Colorado Council of Churches. Weil says their efforts have been indispensible, but more help is needed.

"Every year, a few thousand new kids come into our system and too many of them didn't get preschool," explains an impassioned Weil. "Every year, students get their one chance at that grade level and every year that we delay is hurting them. And that's why we decided to create a backstop, a deadline. It's time to do right by our kids. We can't kick this down the road anymore, and it's not going to get any easier."

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Students launching 2013: Year of the Student
As Weil sees it, the problem is not the schools themselves, but the politicians whose job is to make sure schools get the resources they need. "I think that schools have been doing a remarkable job, in the colleges and early childhood, with the resources that have been made available," she says, "but we've got teachers who are having students added to their classes every year. They're having coursework added to their classes. They're getting very frustrated because they know what they could do if they had one-on-one time with kids, and they just don't have it."

According to Weil, many of Colorado's education funding problems stem from one poor policy direction: a 2009 reinterpretation of Amendment 23 that reallocates state money guaranteed by the amendment to fund education based on several "factors." But Amendment 23's provisions also get tangled up in TABOR and Gallagher provisions, which complicate the issue and make a solution difficult to find.

Voters passed Amendment 23 in 2000 with a goal of reversing budget cuts imposed on Colorado school districts throughout the '90s. The amendment requires the state legislature to annually increase K-12 funding by "inflation +1 percent," and also requires funding for special education and transportation to increase by the same percentage. The amendment reserves 33 percent of Colorado's income tax for the State Education Fund, which is exempt from TABOR limits that had restricted spending increases in the past. But the way the Colorado Legislature reinterpreted Amendment 23 three years ago was to acknowledge the increases in base per-pupil funding, but ignore the "factors," variables such as school district size, local cost-of-living and the number of at-risk students in a district. "It's an absurd argument," Weil says. "It absolutely flies in the face of the voters' intent, but they have a legal interpretation [and] there has not been a lawsuit about it yet.... I would say they didn't want to reinterpret it, but what happened was the recession.... At the same time the revenues plummeted, the number of people who were eligible for Medicaid skyrocketed. You imagine the pie shrunk, [but] Medicaid expanded."

At the same time, the Gallagher Amendment stipulates that there must be a constant ratio between the property tax revenue that comes from residential property and from business property. But since Gallagher passed decades ago, increases in residential property values have significantly outpaced the increases in the value of commercial property. Because property tax is one of the primary sources of funding for education, this, coupled with the problems of 23 and TABOR, creates a perfect storm for education funding.

For a small, rural, poor school district with an at-risk population -- such as the San Luis Valley districts from which the Lobato case emerged -- this has had disastrous effects that provide strong evidence against the state in the Lobato case, Weil argues, because legislators are not supporting schools in the way our state constitution requires.

But Weil stresses that the Year of the Student is not about Lobato. Whether or not the courts side with legislators, she says that 2013 must be a year focused on education. And the timing could be just right.

Page down to read more about the Year of the Student initiative.



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4 comments
Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

Before they say or do a damn thing,

PASS THE $450,000,000 SCHOOL BOND ISSUE !!!

These children in the Denver School Dist. don't even

have air-conditioning !

The arts are ALL being cancelled !

Yet we all want to brag on how great it is here.

Compared to where,

Iraq ???

RobertChase
RobertChase topcommenter

I support funding public education, as long as that is what it is accomplishing.  "We, the undersigned Coloradans, respectfully demand that the General Assembly make 2013 the Year of the Student, using the legislative session to create and find funding for a P-20 public education finance system that matches reforms, mandates and accountability measures with the resources necessary to ensure that every student is successful." -- creating conditions that improve students' chance of success is not the same as ensuring that every student succeeds.  Hyperbolic rhetoric such as that is challenged by data suggesting that the rate of competence of high school graduates in core subjects such as math and English may be less than 50% -- well before we could ever reach a point where every single student succeeds, it would become necessary to stop conferring diplomas on so very many who have not mastered those subjects at a twelfth-grade level.  I do not blame teachers per se, but the educational establishment as a whole wants public education to be funded without taking responsibility for or even acknowledging its failures.

 

In my judgment, restoring academic integrity to our system of secondary education is of paramount importance, because the inflation of grades and graduation rates is making a nonsense of academic standards.  It is contradictory to keep pumping the importance of graduation from high school when we a third of incoming freshment at Colorado colleges cannot function in introductory courses in math or English.  Public secondary education in Colorado is in crisis, and any campaign for the improvement of education in Colorado which ignores this elephant in the room is doomed to failure.

 

Colorado cannot grasp the enormity of our failure to educate -- far fewer than half of all students graduate, and people refuse to take in the fact that probably most of those being graduated shouldn't be.  We are paying much less than we should to educate kids, but lets demand accountability of everyone in the process, and facing up to the fact that only 10-20% of people who attend high school graduate with basic competencies is the very first step.  Supposed educators not even addressing the catastrophe of secondary education in Colorado because of their own complicity in it and through a desire to pander to the public have rendered many ears deaf to their entreaties for more money. 

 

If the teachers unions had any sense, they would have parted company with management a long time ago.  Teachers' acceptance of the absurd new scheme for rewarding "teaching-performace" is proof of how flaccid their representatives are, allowing political opportunists to impute undue responsibility for political and administrative failures to teachers.  Teachers and their unions should recast themselves in the guise of crusading whistleblowers -- expose more principals, by all means, but go after their supervisors and superintendents as well -- the public will not be happy to learn just how low students' competence really is, but it will be no great surprise, and the notion that some of the most likely people to blame first are those who have allowed academic standards to be degraded to the point that our colleges are now teaching high school courses should motivate teachers to speak up as fellow causalties -- instead, their acquiescense seem complicitous.

 

There is enough distrust in our educational system that barring a major improvement in our economy in the interim, the outcome of a statewide referendum on increased funding might be crushed almost as badly as Rollie Heath's Proposiiton 103 was last year.  It remains to be seen whether the General Assembly would refer an initiative to raise taxes for education to the ballot, but given its political cowardice and prevalence of rabidly anti-tax Republicans, the odds may be poor.  Given the regard that the electorate has for its putative representatives, their endorsement of an initiative for the ballot won't help.  Start any effort to garner electoral support for more money for education with a crusade to restore academic integrity to our schools -- everyone will wonder, since there has been no daylight to be seen between the educational establishment and those who want to support education, but better to deal with reality late rather than not at all.

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

 @RobertChase 

If you don't mid me asking friend,

what do you do for a living ?

I'm not by any means being smart,

just wondering...

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

 @RobertChase 

Part of your solution would be to eliminate scholarships.

Go to school where you live even if you have the opportunity

to make Logan's team another state winner.

A winner at what cost ???

 

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