Colorado students, families and educators are not in a favorable starting position in the annual race for state budget dollars, but Election 2016 could put the wind at their backs for a strong finish and a win for public education.
“Today’s budget proposal is the opening call for the serious discussions we’ll need to have in the 2017 Colorado Legislature,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association. “The ending budget figures will certainly need to do better by our students if we’re serious about doing what works for them. This means resourcing all schools so students have caring, qualified and committed educators, more one-on-one attention, inviting classrooms, and a well-rounded curriculum.”
The Governor’s 2017-18 state budget proposal, released Nov. 1, increases state funds to K-12 by more than $200 million but falls short of fully funding inflationary and enrollment growth by more than $45 million. This deficit reflects a real cut to schools, technically known as the “Negative Factor,” totaling $876 million across districts for next school year.
Dallman notes lawmakers have often improved upon the initial budget estimate in previous sessions, and is encouraged by the positive energy generated for public education in Election 2016. She is one of hundreds of educators walking in neighborhoods across the state, encouraging voters to pass local mill levy and bond measures to improve school funding. In a week, voters will decide the fate of more than 60 local ballot initiatives totaling nearly $5 billion.
“The scope of these local school funding measures is truly record-breaking, and the passion to win these elections in communities across Colorado has been phenomenal,” said Dallman. “Our legislators should interpret all this activity as a undeniable truth that too many schools are still suffering in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and as a clear mandate to improve education funding to the best of their ability.”
The election also offers opportunity to elect many new legislators who are campaigning on a platform of strong public education, and to return several others who have proven track records of supporting educators and students in the Capitol.
“I know many candidates on the campaign trail today who share our belief that a child’s chances for success should not depend upon living in the right ZIP code. They will be strong advocates for a state budget solution that sets every Colorado student off toward a great future,” said Dallman. “I’m excited to see how the new legislature comes together and works alongside educators to explore all options on the table so we can give our students the schools they deserve. I’m confident our lawmakers can find the additional $52.17 per student we need to hold the line on education funding.”
Dallman observed budget cuts will cause shortcomings in schools that can be nearly invisible to the public, especially with so many Colorado adults not having school-aged children. “Every driver can relate to a poorly-maintained highway that desperately needs repair or an extra lane, because that terrible drive is a shared experience. But not everyone can relate to a poorly-funded school, even though the impact on community is equally distressing.
“Our citizens, especially our lawmakers, need to talk with educators and get a sense of what it means to teach an increasing number of students, meeting more needs than ever before, with ever-dwindling resources,” Dallman added. “If every school had see-through walls, I guarantee school funding would become an extremely urgent matter for our elected officials to fix.”