Cary Kennedy: Colorado education improvements start with reforming TABOR

Cary Kennedy
Guest column
Cary Kennedy

Good things are happening in schools across Colorado every day. Teachers are supporting the broad development of their students including social, personal and intellectual growth. Every child deserves a champion — an adult who never gives up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they can succeed.

But I hear from teachers in our state who say their students are not getting what they need to succeed. Teachers want to foster their students’ curiosity, allow them to explore and develop deeper thinking and problem-solving skills, but we aren’t giving teachers or students the support they need. They are required to follow narrow curriculums designed to get kids ready for standardized tests that don’t allow for deeper learning.

We can all agree that we need to hold all students to high standards and we need to measure their progress, but education is about a lot more than test preparation. We want our students to be powerful, engaged and interested learners who are prepared for the knowledge-based economy we are building in our state.

This requires us to make a renewed commitment to public schools, and must start by supporting our teachers. Good teachers are the single most important factor in a student’s academic success. But Colorado loses talented teachers every day because our state pays its teachers among the lowest salaries in the country. The average starting salary for teachers in Colorado is $32,126, and teachers in rural districts earn much less. Across our state, especially in mountain towns, teachers can’t afford to live in the communities they teach. Colorado’s teachers are waiting tables, driving rideshares, living with their parents and receiving public benefits just to get by.

As governor, I will raise teacher pay. We need to pay teachers a competitive, professional salary that allows them to live in the communities where they teach.

We also need to expand the teacher pipeline, develop a more diverse teaching workforce and support our teachers as leaders. We can do this by expanding teacher scholarships and apprenticeships, giving teachers a larger role in student, teacher and school evaluations and increasing opportunities for teachers’ professional advancement.

Colorado has the second largest achievement gap between students of color and their white classmates in the country. And the attainment gap between poor and affluent students is even greater. This is on us. We can do much more to ensure all of our children succeed, regardless of race, where they live or how much their family earns. We can support low-income parents with two-generation learning and engage them in their child’s education. We can provide universal access to preschool and full-day kindergarten, and ensure all students, regardless of income, can participate in after-school and summer activities.

Colorado has built one of the strongest economies in the country and it simply doesn’t make sense that our state’s investment in public education ranks at the bottom of states. We’ve been cutting education budgets in Colorado for nearly three decades, and half of Colorado’s school districts have cut back to a four-day school week.

For over two decades, the most restrictive spending limitation in the country (TABOR) has forced Colorado to cut school budgets. It has forced us to lose so much in our schools with the greatest losses in poor, rural communities. When I served as Colorado’s state treasurer, I visited Colorado’s rural schools, spread across farmlands and mountains. I saw collapsing buildings and classrooms with lead pipes, asbestos and leaking roofs because small communities couldn’t raise the capital to renovate or replace them. That is why I developed the Building Excellent Schools Today program that funded — and continues to fund — the renovation and replacement of schools across Colorado. To date, we have invested over $1 billion in 381 schools across Colorado. Kids in Center, Sangre De Cristo, Silverton, Salida, Glenwood Springs and dozens of other communities now have modern school facilities.

Colorado should have the best public education system in the country, one that matches our state’s great progress. As governor, I will lead a bipartisan coalition to permanently reform TABOR so we can invest in education and build back what we’ve lost. I also will work to make college affordable again and give students skills-based training starting in high school. Of the nearly 1 million new jobs that will be created in Colorado over the next decade, two-thirds will require postsecondary credentials. Kids can learn employable skills starting in high school and it’s time we give them the opportunity.

Cary Kennedy is the former Colorado state treasurer and is a candidate for governor and has been endorsed by the Colorado Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-Colorado.


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