Brian T. Kelly: An open letter to Gov. Hickenlooper
March 9, 2011
I hope you are enjoying your visit to Steamboat Springs and Northwest Colorado. Today you will take part in a community forum consisting of community service organizations such as Rotary and Kiwanis, as well as the Routt County Board of Commissioners and the Steamboat Springs City Council. Strangely missing from this forum on economic development are representatives from the education community.
As 43 percent of the Colorado state budget, K-12 education is far more dependent on its relationship with the state government than any county or city within Colorado. But when I start looking back at your early track record, this really is no mystery at all. Quite simply, you are ducking the educational issue and the role it plays in the present and future of this great state. This started when you missed the Colorado Association of School Boards annual meeting in December as governor-elect; continued when you proposed an 8 percent cut to K-12 education in this year's budget; continued further when you missed the association's winter meeting less than two weeks ago; and continues to this day. Obviously, education must not be part of your idea of community or economic development.
Everyone knows we are in the midst of a great recession and budget cuts to state, local and federal budgets are widespread. However, Colorado is different than many of its neighboring states in that we are slashing funding for both primary and higher education. Nevada, Utah, California, Arizona and Montana are all slightly increasing funding for K-12 education despite budget shortfalls. Colorado is now ranked between 40th and 45th in state funding for K-12 education and headed for the bottom like a bullet. We are now competing in a world market. All of the economic pundits are saying that the best educated and trained work force will fare far better in the coming decade and beyond.
Colorado has an extremely well-educated populace. Routt County in particular is one of the most-educated counties in all of the country. The Steamboat Springs RE-2 School District is one of the top 14 districts in the state, and Steamboat Springs Middle School recently was selected as one of the top five schools in the state — and top 100 in the country — which is a source of considerable pride in this community.
Every great community values its children as one of its primary assets. Yet you are hosting a community forum on economic development without any feedback from one of the outstanding school districts in the state. Will this well-educated populace continue to be attracted to Colorado when the governor refuses to address the educational dilemma? Will future businesses want to come to Colorado when our workforce is not as well educated as other states due to lack of funding? What alternatives are you thinking of other than continuing to slash educational budgets? Has the business community been consulted about the impact of these funding cuts on the future work force? How can there be a discussion about economic development without including the education component? These and others are the questions that should be discussed in open public forums. And most important, these should be done with the future of our children and the economy in mind.
Brian T. Kelly
Steamboat Springs School Board member