Great Education Colorado wants to make 2013 Year of the Student
"I think there are some stars aligning," Weil says. "Education came up as a very high priority in TBD meetings" with civic leaders across Colorado. With the TBD campaign, Governor John Hickenlooper's administration has been conducting surveys across the state to determine what Colorado residents hope to accomplish in the coming years in areas ranging from tax reform to transportation. In Montrose, for example, more than 92 percent of respondents indicated that they were strongly in favor of "assessment and future modification of the Gallagher Amendment, TABOR and Amendment 23 and how they interact."
Weil also sees hope in the "Colorado School Finance Partnership "...where the business community and the education community had a handshake and said, 'We need reform and we need resources.'...Over the last ten to fifteen years we've done a lot of reforms to make sure all kids are being successful, that's what the law requires," she notes. "And at the same time that we've been increasing those mandates and really implementing some important reforms about teacher quality, we've been cutting the funding. So there's a complete mismatch." The Colorado School Finance Partnership just released "Financing Colorado's Future," a proposed redress of Colorado education finance in the face of budgetary woes, in which the group states, among other things, that "now is the time to create a system that is equitable, innovative and sufficiently funded."
The Year of the Student is less a map for change than a shot in the arm. There is no strict timetable and no rigid plan; Great Education Colorado does not back any specific politician or legislation, beyond the laws already on the books. The approach is to use both traditional and nontraditional (Twitter, Facebook) grassroots methods to raise public awareness about the problem and pressure the state legislature to take action.
"Let's create an expectation," Weil says. "Just like there's expectations created for schools, let's create an expectation that [politicians] are going to do their work, and this is what we believe their work should be.... We hope to use social media. We hope to use online tools. We're just going to keep pushing the information back through the folks who said they want to be a part of this and say, 'Here's who's doing it. Here's who's not.'
"This coalition is saying, 'Get in that room. [Education] is the priority for this legislative session. Get in that Capitol and work something out.' And each of our individual organizations can say where they stand on those particulars, but we're standing together in saying, 'The time is now.'"
The first step, she says, is to build support -- by encouraging people to come to 2013forstudents.org and sign this Call to Action: "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."
After you sign, Great Education urges you to get your friends to sign. Signers don't have to be eighteen, so this is a way for young students to become politically active in a way that directly affects them.
The Year of the Student organizers hope to have enough momentum to make a presentation in front of Colorado legislators in January -- that is step two. Step three is keeping the support base informed, excited and involved: "Write letters to the editor," Weil says. "Write letters to the legislature. Call them and say, 'Hey, we expect this to be the Year of the Student and we're not seeing enough progress.'"
With enough support, Weil says, the Year of the Student will accomplish its goal and put itself out of business before 2014. "I think it is reasonable to expect our legislators to make this a priority," she concludes, "to recognize that these issues are not going to fix themselves.... We recognize that it's not easy. If it was easy, it would have been done by now. And so the people have to be a part of that, and that's why we're trying to bring as many organizations in, as many individuals together to say, 'If you have the courage to stand up and say, we're gonna do this, we've got your back. If you're gonna provide leadership, we're there for you.'"
Follow Great Education on Twitter at @2013YOS.
Get additional information from this Great Education Colorado video.
More from our Education archive: "Iraqi Student Project sending first student to Colorado."