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Routt County’s schools are some of the best performing and highest achieving in Colorado. However, that is about to change because the state is again proposing to balance its budget on the backs of Colorado’s students, cutting education funding by an additional $200 million to $500 million for fiscal year 2012-13. If nothing changes, this will be the fourth consecutive year of cuts our schools have experienced, and it will be the year that does long-term, permanent damage.
Proposition 103 seeks to stop the debilitating decline in education spending by providing a five-year timeout from school cuts. To do so, the state’s sales and income tax rates must be restored to 1999 levels (from 2.9 percent to 3 percent and from 4.63 percent to 5 percent). This will raise approximately $536 million per year for reinvestment in preschool, K-12 and higher education. After five years, rates will return to their current levels. For the average Coloradoan, Proposition 103 will cost one penny for every $10 spent on goods and less than 40 cents per day on earned income — a negligible but much-needed increase.
Throughout the past four years, Colorado has passed some of the broadest education reform in the nation. Yet during that same time, the state has reduced its education budget by more than $1.5 billion. The result is that our K-12 schools now have larger class sizes, fewer electives, fewer extracurricular activities and higher student fees. Our colleges and universities have lost professors and programs, no longer offer merit-based scholarships, provide limited need-based scholarships and have raised tuition by 43 percent.
Most people have heard that Colorado ranks 49th in the nation for education spending, but they don’t understand exactly what that means. It means that compared to the national average, Colorado’s education budget has been declining since 1988. It means our schools need an additional $1.3 billion annually to meet education standards and reforms mandated by state and federal law. It means Colorado already had a $17 billion education funding gap before three years of cuts. It means Colorado’s schools constantly are being asked to do more with less, and it means our schools now are struggling to retain the basics.
Without the infusion of Proposition 103 revenue to stop the divestment in our education system, our schools won’t be innovating, and they won’t be implementing any new reforms. Without Proposition 103, Routt County’s schools will be forced to continue to shave millions from their budgets, cut essential people and vital programs and limit the educational opportunities for our children.
The unforeseen interaction of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and the Gallagher Amendment has driven down local revenues, ratcheted down local mill levies and forced the state to bear an increasing share of the cost of K-12 education while limiting its ability to pay for schools and other core governmental functions. Colorado needs a big, broad fix or things will get exponentially worse. Proposition 103 is not that fix. It is our only current option.
Proposition 103 is not an increase in funding. It is the only way to preserve the educational opportunities our children currently have. It is the only opportunity you, the voters, have to prevent Colorado’s budget woes from further damaging education in Colorado.
Vote yes on Proposition 103. Choose to keep Colorado competitive by investing in the foundation of our democracy — our kids, our schools and our communities.
Executive director of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus