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Guest Commentary: Will Colorado Decide to Put Children First?

Colorado’s schools, colleges and universities are facing a funding crisis unlike any yet experienced in this state.

What will that look like in the next year or two?

Some kids will drop out of school, because there will be no counselor — or no art, music or athletic program — to prevent them from falling through the cracks. Frustration will overwhelm others when their learning disabilities or special talents cannot be recognized and addressed in an overcrowded classroom.

Some students will give up the dream of higher education when tuition increases make college impossible or when budget cuts eliminate the courses they need to graduate in a timely way. Some communities may even lose their colleges, their economic lifeblood.

For the Great Futures Colorado coalition, the severity and irreversibility of these cuts gave us no choice but to take action. Waiting might be convenient for adults, but our children don’t get do-overs. For them, educational opportunities delayed are opportunities lost.

That’s why we recently proposed a referred measure that we call DECIDE, for “Decide: Education Cuts or Invest in our Democracy and our Economy.” It would simply give voters the opportunity to decide whether to give our legislators tools to balance the budget without further slashing education.

DECIDE has been introduced in both the House and Senate by Rep. Debbie Benefield and Sens. Suzanne Williams and Chris Romer. As a result, our legislators finally have a chance to address the tradeoffs that have made Colorado 46th in state and local taxes, 42nd in K-12 per pupil funding, and 48th in state and local per capita contribution to higher education.

If placed before by the voters and passed, DECIDE would give the legislature the authority to increase revenues to prevent more cuts to education and to invest wisely in preschool, K-12 and higher education. New revenues could be used for school improvement, smaller class sizes, school safety, technology, high-quality teaching, early childhood education, career technical education, and more.

If our legislators fail to act, education will remain on the chopping block for the foreseeable future. Colorado will lag in its economic recovery as businesses seek locations with a strong commitment to public schools and colleges and universities, and a well-prepared workforce. Our communities will suffer when we cannot maintain the kind of thriving schools and colleges that attract and retain families and promote strong property values.

We know we face an uphill battle to secure the two-thirds vote necessary in the House and the Senate to put this issue before voters in November. We know it takes political courage to support DECIDE in an election year.

But we believe our legislators will do the right thing when confronted by $400 per student K-12 cuts statewide and the prospect of sending our higher education system off a funding cliff when federal stimulus dollars run out next year.

We also know that investing in the next generation is a moral imperative and an economic necessity — but most certainly is not a partisan issue.

For years, voters have accepted the refrain from state leaders that, because of constitutional constraints, there is nothing they can do to prevent crippling cuts — that their hands are tied.

Let’s be clear: There is something that the legislature can do right now. They can let us decide in November what kind of Colorado we are and what kind of Colorado we want to create for our children.

Unless they put DECIDE on the ballot, that decision will be made by default, and our children — and, ultimately, Colorado’s economy — will be the losers.

Ricardo Martinez is co-director of Padres Unidos and wrote this on behalf of Great Futures Colorado, a coalition of community organizations. Also signing were Andrew Bateman, legislative liaison for Associated Students of Colorado, and Kristi Hargrove, board member of the Colorado PTA and Great Education Colorado.

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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