Whether or not we want to invest in public education is one of the most significant questions we need to answer as a state.
Under the current school finance formula our schools receive a base amount of per pupil funding, which is then adjusted based on a school district's size, cost of living, the number of at-risk students, and a personnel factor.
In addition, districts receive a bump in funding for what are known as categoricals: English language learners, special education, gifted and talented, transportation, and career and technical programs.
Moreover, Amendment 23, mandates that the total amount of money the state spends be adjusted each year for inflation and growth (the number of students enrolled in Colorado schools). Yet, even with all of this, Colorado still ranks, depending on how it's calculated, between 43rd and 49th in the nation in education spending.
Over the past five years, our state has passed significant, substantive education reforms, which provide more accountability and transparency and which attempt to more positively impact the delivery of education for all of Colorado's students. Yet, not one of these reforms has been paid for by the state.
Implementation has been left to local schools and communities, which during this same period in time experienced drastic cuts in funding. In fact, in each of the past three budget cycles, the decline in state revenue caused the Legislature to reduce the amount of state funding that goes to school districts by $1.2 billion below what is required by the current school finance formula. This is unacceptable and unsustainable.
Colorado's children deserve better, and Amendment 66 could be the first step on the path to education investment. With Amendment 66 people have the opportunity to send a clear message: We value our children; we believe in the system of public education we have here in Colorado; and it is time to move forward and provide the resources needed to educate every child in this state.
We know the effects Amendment 66 and its companion statute SB 213 will have on school districts will be different in each community. There will be winners. There will be losers, and not every school district in the state will see an increase in funding if Amendment 66 passes. But our small, rural communities are struggling to survive and the recession had a disproportionate impact on our communities, as many people moved away and resettled on the Front Range. We get it. We live it. The status quo isn't working.
While Amendment 66 may not be our ideal solution, it could bring much-needed resources to schools and communities and immediately bring real benefits to thousands of Colorado children. And that is what we need to remember.
Amendment 66 is about children, and the children of Colorado deserve more than what we are currently providing. This is a value statement that the Rural Caucus supports and that we believe the majority of voters in Colorado share.
It's time, Colorado. Amendment 66 is the option we have before us on the ballot this fall, and it's time we step up as a state and start investing in those things we hold near and dear.
Our rural schools and students are amazingly successful, but our small communities can no longer bear the burden of backfilling the constitutional obligations of the state.
We know schools and students need an adequate level of funding to succeed, and on this issue we must put our differences aside and come together for the future of our children and the future of our state.
Paula Stephenson is executive director of Colorado Rural Schools Caucus based in Steamboat Springs. Reach her at email@example.com.