Letter to the Editor: Proposition seeks to save our schools

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Dear Editor:
Two weeks ago the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budget announced that the state will need to cut $200-$500 million from its fiscal year 2012-2013 budget. Henry Sobanet, OSPB director, went on to say that the majority of the cuts will come out of education. If nothing changes, this will be the fifth year of cuts our schools have experienced and it will be the year that does long-term, permanent damage.
Proposition 103 seeks to stop the debilitating decline in education spending by providing a five-year time-out from school cuts. To do so, the state’s sales and income tax rates must be restored to their 1999 levels (from 2.9% to 3% and from 4.63% to 5%). This will raise approximately $536 million per year for reinvestment in preschool, K-12 and higher education. After five years, the rates will return to their current levels. For the average Colorado taxpayer this means Prop. 103 will cost one penny for every $10 dollars spent on goods and less than forty cents a day on earned income – a negligible but much needed increase.
For the past four years Colorado has passed some of the broadest education reforms in the nation. Yet during that same time, the state has reduced its education budget by more than $1.5 billion. The result is that our K-12 schools now have larger class sizes, fewer electives, less extracurricular activities and higher student fees. Our colleges and universities have lost professors and programs, no longer offer merit-based scholarships, provide limited need-based scholarships and have raised tuition by 43 percent.
Our schools are struggling to retain the basics, which are not so basic when compared to 30-40 years ago, and on top of that in Colorado we now have the added challenge of implementing CAP4K, ICAPS, new standards, a new student growth model, and a new tenure system all with no new money. So the perception that Prop 103 is asking for more money for education or is not specifically tied to education reform is simply incorrect. Prop 103 will have a huge effect on the education reforms happening throughout the state because without the infusion of money to stop the bleeding our only option will be to continue to limit educational opportunities for our children.
This is a wake up call. Colorado is broken. The unforeseen interaction of TABOR and Gallagher has driven down the revenues we collect and ratcheted down local mill levies, forcing the state to bear an increasing share of the cost of K-12 education while limiting its ability to pay for schools and other basic core governmental functions. Colorado needs a big, broad fix or things will get exponentially worse. Prop 103 is not that fix, but it is an option.
Proposition 103 is the only way to preserve the educational opportunities our children currently have and it is the only opportunity you, the voter, have to prevent Colorado’s budget woes from further damaging education in Colorado.
Vote yes on Proposition 103 and choose to keep Colorado competitive by investing in the foundation of our democracy – our kids, our schools, and our communities.
Paula Stephenson
Executive director
Colorado Rural School Caucus