Our View: Back to the drawing board for education reform

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There are important lessons to be learned from the resounding defeat of Amendment 66. Despite pollsters predicting passage, the measure was rejected by 65 percent of Colorado voters. In Routt County, local voters spoke more loudly than their statewide counterparts, downing Amendment 66 by nearly 70 percent with 5,009 votes cast against the measure and 2,166 cast in its favor.

Steamboat Today editorial board — June to December 2013

  • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • David Baldinger Jr., community representative
  • Lisa Brown, community representative

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Based on the lopsided nature of Amendment 66’s defeat, Colorado lawmakers should be questioning their approach to education reform and going back to the fundamental question of whether additional funding is really necessary.

It’s obvious that voters were not willing to saddle themselves with the largest tax increase in state history even though the stated purpose of Amendment 66 was an improved public education system for all Colorado students. Those promoting the amendment’s passage tried to characterize a vote against Amendment 66 as a vote against education; the implication was unfair and did not resonate well with voters. In the end, that approach backfired among Colorado’s educated electorate.

Voters also were not ready to throw

$1 billion of their money down a nebulous black hole labeled as education reform. It is clear taxpayers wanted more specifics on how that money would be spent and assurances that outcomes would be measured. It came down to a need for more accountability, and voters are not inclined to just trust state lawmakers with that amount of new tax revenue.

More than $10 million was spent on a slick advertising campaign that oversimplified the impact Amendment 66 would have on the state of Colorado. The measure was more complex than the tag line, “big change, small price,” and voters looked beyond the hype.

The implications of a shift from a flat income tax to a two-tiered progressive income tax system were more far-reaching than the claim that Amendment 66 would cost the average taxpayer only $131 per year. Taxpayers are smarter than ad agencies; they can do the math. And the people who would have paid the most taxes under Amendment 66 knew exactly how much they would be shelling out, and they knew that amount was much greater than $131 per year. A genuine grass-roots effort to convince voters of the actual need for new taxes and education reform would have been much more effective than a multimillion dollar ad campaign funded by teachers’ unions and out-of-state contributors like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In our opinion, legislators need to go back to the basics, and instead of looking to a $1 billion tax increase to back Senate Bill 213’s education reforms, they need to work within their means and evaluate the funding they currently have. It is quite possible that education reform can take place without raising an additional $1 billion in tax revenue. Some estimates show that current state education funding plus higher revenue forecasts could give lawmakers $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion with which to work.

If legislators think Colorado’s education money needs to be spent differently, then they need to be willing to make those tough budget decisions to support Senate Bill 213. And if new funding is truly necessary to achieve real education reform, our state lawmakers need to be prepared to make a stronger case for a tax increase with clear objectives, transparency and a plan for measuring how the money is spent and whether that infusion of new funding actually will produce measurable improvement in Colorado’s education system.

And lastly, we think Amendment 66’s defeat was another indication that Colorado voters don’t want more amendments made to the state constitution. People have witnessed the unintended consequences of passing constitutional amendments, which have hindered state lawmakers’ ability to legislate efficiently and effectively on behalf of their constituents.

In the end, the defeat of Amendment 66 was not a vote against education but against new taxes, reform without accountability and more constitutional amendments.

Comments

Scott Wedel 10 months, 3 weeks ago

It was way too much money without any reforms.

Reforms don't have to be charter or private schools, but it is well established that merely more money doesn't fix under performing schools. It is obvious that a district's political dynamics can leave academic achievement as a lower priority than other issues.

We can observe from Hayden how a school district can say all the right things about poor results that they are experiencing with high school math year after year and yet never take the steps that result in substantial improvements.

The increased funding could have come with requirements and verifications that under performing schools adopt the education programs of highly successful schools.

Also, it should be obvious that teacher performance cannot be pretty accurately determined using test scores and advanced statistics. Potential issues like one teacher being stuck with too many poor students can be corrected by looking at each student's prior performance and performance in other classes. Those methods also detect the teachers that, for whatever reasons, have their students do better in future and other classes. That sort of analysis scares the teacher's union because it would shatter the current model of teachers getting raises mainly by taking additional educational classes or getting a master's degree.

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George Danellis 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Thanks for this take.

I am reminded of the mid 1990's when local voters overwhelming denied a $40M-ish school bond effort that would have built a new high school, and more. After the 'defeat' a group came together to more directly address the intentions behind the original initiative, and a lower cost and seemingly effective one was drawn up in its stead. This one passed.

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John Fielding 10 months, 3 weeks ago

It is axiomatic that competition improves performance and monopoly inhibits it. Let's create a voucher system that does not have artificial barriers for establishment of charter schools or to schools that may have religious affiliations. In a very few years we would see just how much can be accomplished with the per pupil funding that currently exists.

The religious test is especially onerous as the current policy in public schools actually fits the definition of the practice of Atheism. Since Atheism has now been recognized as a religion, eligible for tax exemption and all other due regards, the banishment of all other practices is effectively supporting that Religion.

If all religions are allowed equal freedom of expression in the public schools, there will be far less attraction to parochial schools.

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Scott Wedel 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Schools have many aspects of a natural monopoly since there is such a high barrier to entry and the difficulties of operating a small school.

I'd argue what is missing is the equivalent of the PUC able to set standards and put a lot of pressure on poorly operated utility companies. If scoring more than a standard deviation below the state average on a test required the school district to present their plans for fixing the situation before an independent commission that could withhold part of their state funding then schools would be far less accepting of poor performance.

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Harvey Lyon 10 months, 3 weeks ago

When a proposal is good it can stand on its own two feet. Its merits are self evident and it doesn't need $10 million worth of (at best) yellow press and media. The Democrats are very good at selling a "pig in a poke"....all Hat on no Horse. Witness the issues with Obama care and our President having to do "Sham Wow" "But Wait" media infomercial speeches. Even now Obama has Kerry out there doing "infomercials" to sell us and The World on what a great deal we're making with the Iranians. For the first time in my life....THANK GOD FOR THE FRENCH!

I'm glad the Colorado electorate has awakened and decided to vote. Its time to politely send Governor Hick back to studying rocks and Mitsch Bush back to teaching socialogy. And it will be interesting to see if Obama goes back to Chicago where his buddy and former Chief of Staff, Mayor Immanuel has put the City almost $1 Billion deeper in debt thru the use of taxable bonds because he'd already exceeded federal limits on non-taxable bonds. Can you say Detroit?

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John Fielding 10 months, 3 weeks ago

The same PUC type standard Scott describes when applied without artificial obstacles is all that private schools need. There can be plenty of them thriving if the money currently restricted to be used by public schools is released.

Let us not forget the phone company was a "natural monopoly" too. As soon as competition was permitted we got phones in colors, and see where it went from there!

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