Richards: Our educational future rides on Amendment 66 | AspenTimes.com

Richards: Our educational future rides on Amendment 66

Rachel Richards
Guest Opinion

Rachel Richards

From an on-the-ground view, I fully support a "yes" vote on Amendment 66, the school finance ballot measure.

Why? Because full-day kindergarten for all of Colorado's children will result in better educational outcomes down the road, as will smaller class sizes, special-education funding for kids with disabilities and restoring five-day school weeks.

From a 60,000-foot level, I support a "yes" vote on Amendment 66 because Colorado must begin tackling a whole host of well-documented critical infrastructure and operational funding shortfalls if we hope to attract new business investment, improve our economy and sustain the quality of life we currently enjoy.

If we fail to move forward on K-12 funding, investing in our children's future with programs that would lead the nation in educational reforms, how are we supposed to tackle the very real need for increased transportation funding, higher-education funding or water infrastructure? These items poll far behind K-12 needs when Colorado voters are asked their priorities, and they will continue to languish unaddressed until we begin to take care of our kids.

There are those who always will oppose any new funding and thus chant the same old refrains without regard to reality, such as that 66 is "bad for business," "No proof throwing dollars at the problem will make a difference," "Our district doesn't get enough money from it" and "If we could just get rid of the bad teachers and teachers union." One always can find a slogan to justify "no" votes, yet an honest look shows how empty these claims are: Businesses succeed when they have a well-educated work force and choose to locate in states where their employees' kids will get a good education, new funding does make for smaller class sizes and five-day school weeks, and full-day kindergarten empirically tracks with higher academic achievement.

Supporting a base level of dedicated K-12 funding through Amendment 66 is about voting as a Coloradan to support all of Colorado's kids' educations and our state as a whole; local mill-levy votes will remain how a given school district raises dollars specifically to remain in the district. The structural reforms in Amendment 66 provide for complete transparency and accountability of how tax dollars are spent and demand that teachers demonstrate successful class achievements to obtain or retain their tenure. If we as voters can not accept some compromise for the good of the whole, that no one bill will be 100 percent of what each of us would prefer individually, then we are destined for the same gridlock and failure that abounds at the national level. We must be better than the "my way or the highway" approach that has led to our country's stagnation and decline in D.C.

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I don't believe the intent of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights was to transfer the bulk of K-12 funding from local school districts to the state's general fund, but with confluence of Gallagher and Amendment 23, that is what has happened, so much so that investments in other state needs have fallen off the map. It has been predicted by the University of Colorado's Futures Study that by 2025 (even with economic growth), the state general fund will be entirely eaten up by schools and prisons. I don't believe that the intent of TABOR was that we spend less on our roads in real dollars in 2013 than we did in 1991 despite population growth, but that also has been the outcome.

And I don't believe you sustain a healthy economy, business investment or quality of life by refusing to match the investments that previous generations of Coloradans made to create the institutions and infrastructure that we rely upon today.

Bear in mind that Colorado became so enamored with TABOR that we made our "refunds" permanent, when income taxes were cut to 4.63 percent a decade ago, regardless of whether the economy or our infrastructure could withstand it. Amendment 66 honors TABOR by asking voters to bring Colorado back to a place where we can afford to support our schools and kids without bankrupting every other state program.

We all have seen Colorado come together as a state to address the immediate crisis of wildfire and flood; we also must come together to address the continuing crisis of failure to invest in our kids' education. We have been fortunate to have had short-term Band-Aids stop the bleeding when voters passed Referendum C (the now-expired five-year timeout from TABOR) and that we had the state budget backfilled by the feds during the recession with hundreds of millions of dollars through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, otherwise known as the stimulus dollars.

It is time for Colorado to step up to the plate. Vote "yes" on school funding, and begin making permanent commitments to our own future. Be sure to get your mail ballots back to the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder's Office before Nov. 5!

Rachel Richards is in her second term as a Pitkin County commissioner. As an elected official for more than 20 years, she also was mayor of Aspen and a member of the Aspen City Council.

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