Yes on 66: Excellent education for an exceptional state

My friend’s son Michael is what they call “twice exceptional” – intellectually brilliant with several learning disabilities that interfere with his ability to plan, organize and finish assignments. Scary-smart with focused interests in economics, history and film, he perpetually underperforms when it comes to school. He needs a little extra attention from his middle school teachers to overcome his learning differences, but isn’t getting it because his school is overextended and under-resourced. While Michael spends two days a week after school with tutors, it’s really no substitute for the time he needs from his classroom teachers to thrive.

the fine print2Here’s the problem: Michael could be Colorado’s next big investor like Warren Buffett or an historian-filmmaker like Ken Burn — someone who could contribute mightily to the civic and economic strength of our state. But without the individualized attention he needs to overcome his learning challenges, he might just end up living in his parents’ basement instead. That not only would be a loss for him, but also a failure for Colorado.

The answer for Michael – and scores of other school kids struggling in Colorado schools – is a ballot initiative called Amendment 66. The measure asks voters to raise $950 million for our public schools, while keeping Colorado’s taxes among the lowest in the country. It’s a no-brainer. The Amendment will raise additional funds to pay for thousands of new teachers to reduce class sizes so they can provide the one-on-one support that students need to be successful.

We know that an excellent education is the key to earning enough to support a family. Amendment 66 will put Colorado’s kids on a path to future success. While it’s clear that students who attend college have a significant edge in future earnings, there also are well-paying jobs for high school graduates in growing sectors such as manufacturing in which employers are struggling to find workers with right schools. High school and college graduates contribute increased tax revenue and have less need for social services than those who never finish.

Amendment 66 is not only the smart choice for students, it’s also a wise investment in Colorado’s financial future. A recent analysis by the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado shows the measure would improve the job picture in our state. While our economy is most influenced by the national economy, our businesses can’t compete in the global marketplace without well-prepared employees, especially in our increasingly technologically advanced world. Amendment 66 will increase funding to build the exceptional workforce we need to drive the economy as both workers and consumers.

We need a public education system that works for all students, no matter their zip code. But the value of property varies so dramatically from school district to school district that it’s nearly impossible for some districts to fund the kind of education needed for their kids to thrive in today’s economy. It’s inherently unfair that a student in La Junta does not have the same educational opportunities as one in Cherry Creek. Amendment 66 will address those funding inequities.

Amendment 66’s two-tier income tax structure makes more sense because, for the last 10 years, almost all of Colorado’s economic growth has been concentrated among our richest residents, while middle class incomes have been stagnant or have declined. Right now, lower-income residents pay a higher percentage of their earnings in taxes than upper-income residents. In other words, those with the least ability to pay are contributing more of their income to support schools, health care and other public services than wealthier Coloradans. Amendment 66 will better balance the tax contributions of upper-income and lower-income Coloradans and make our taxes more productive.

Some critics say they’ll vote against Amendment 66 because their own, relatively well-resourced school district won’t benefit as much as others. To that, I say the health of the Colorado economy depends on the quality of all our high school and college graduates. The fact is our education system is a statewide asset. Broadly sharing the cost of education investment will allow us all to benefit from a stronger economy to be built by better-prepared high school and college graduates.

Colorado is an exceptional state to live, work and play. We need an excellent schools so students like Michael can thrive and help grow our civil life and economy. I believe most Coloradans agree, and I hope we all make sure our voices are heard when ballots are counted in November.