Initiative is key to a better system of public education

Jan Tanner Updated: August 11, 2013 at 1:26 pm • Published: August 11, 2013 | 12:00 am 0

If government should do anything, it should provide a strong system of public schools that gives every child the skills needed to be a productive, successful member of society.

Over the last few years, our state legislature passed key measures aimed at building that system. In 2010, they eliminated automatic tenure for educators in Colorado, and required teachers to be evaluated based on what their students learn. Last year, they passed the READ Act, which will ensure all children read proficiently by the third grade, one of the best predictors of lifelong success.

But at the same time, lawmakers have cut more than $1 billion from K-12 education. Our schools have made it work - as improving test scores demonstrate - but the progress isn't sustainable. Parents see this every day; class sizes are increasing, families are charged fees for transportation, books, and sports, and teachers can't provide individual attention to students.

The next step is overhauling the way we fund schools, a system that hasn't changed since 1994. The Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative will decrease class sizes, provide more individualized instruction for students, and will continue to ensure transparency and accountability for school funding.

Where school districts in Colorado Springs, notably District 11 and Academy 20, have historically seen some of the lowest funding in the state, Springs districts would see some of the largest funding increases.

Importantly, this initiative also remedies issues charter schools face in funding and ensures fair financing. Finally, this initiative creates a first-of-its kind taxpayer transparency website so spending can be tracked at the school level, and requires regular reports to determine whether taxpayers are getting promised returns on their investments.

Some argue that new money will be diverted to public pensions, that the state has sufficient revenues already, and that this will hurt Colorado's competitiveness. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Funds from the initiative will be deposited in a constitutionally protected fund that can only be spent in classrooms. In addition, existing P-12 funds will be deposited annually in a separate, constitutionally protected account, barring the kind of "bailout" State Treasurer Walker Stapleton has erroneously written about.

The state does not have sufficient revenues at present to fund SB 213. The state did receive an influx of cash as taxpayers sold off capital gains this year, but the nonpartisan Legislative Council does not expect these one-time revenues to happen again.

The key to a strong economy - and future - in Colorado is a strong system of public education. As our economy continues to improve, we cannot grow our businesses if our education system cannot provide prepared workers. Fortunately, the Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative would keep our state tax burden lower than competitor states - while better training the workforce of tomorrow.

Ultimately, the question before Colorado this fall is this: are you willing to commit to the promise of quality public education for every child? I hope your answer, like mine, will be yes.

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Jan Tanner is president of the Colorado Springs District 11 the school board. for

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