THE PODIUM | Amendment 73 fell short on the ballot — but won a bigger audience

 

On Election Day, something momentous happened: Well over 1 million Coloradans voted for Amendment 73, a statewide increase in funding for schools, kids and teachers. That’s more than for any other tax proposal on the ballot, despite having a fraction of the resources and a well-funded opposition that used scare tactics to dissuade Coloradans from voting their values. It’s more than the marijuana tax received and more than twice the number of votes that the last statewide education funding measure received in 2013.

Amendment 73 was designed and promoted by the most inclusive and diverse education coalition this state has ever seen. That grassroots coalition, now known as the Great Schools. Thriving Communities coalition, was the “little engine” that built and elevated the voices of parents, teachers and school boards around the state. An overwhelming majority of school districts passed resolutions endorsing Amendment 73 — because they are out of places to cut. In Brush, the Amendment 73 money would have upgraded buses to get rural kids to school. Denver would have reduced class size and added resources to meet the individual needs of diverse learners. Greeley would have hired additional teachers to reduce the student-to-teacher ratio.

With our failure to pass Amendment 73, Colorado’s per-pupil funding remains far below the national average and even below Alabama and Mississippi. There is a growing teacher shortage statewide (currently 3,000 spots) that is hitting rural districts especially hard. This is one of the reasons the Grand Junction Sentinel, the Sterling Journal Advocate, and the Craig Daily Press all strongly endorsed Amendment 73.

There is no magic wand or wishful thinking that will make these shortfalls go away, and Coloradans realize it. We have to address them now, not keep kicking the can down the policy road. That’s what Amendment 73 was intended to do, and its mere existence on the ballot successfully vaulted the issue to the prominence it deserves; the urgency of increasing school funding and paying teachers better could be seen in the words and ads of candidates on both sides of the aisle. Indeed, even the opponents of Amendment 73 conceded the point.

Thanks to Amendment 73, the conversation has changed from whether Colorado schools are in a crisis to what we we are going to do about it. That’s why the 28-month collaborative process that created Amendment 73 isn’t over. It’s just moving into a new phase. The education community is stronger, more united, and better positioned than ever to make positive change happen for our schools, our students, our teachers and for every community in our great state.

When the legislative session begins in two months, this powerful, unprecedented education coalition will be there to remind policymakers that education funding is a top priority of their constituents and that re-dividing the existing K-12 budget is not an acceptable solution.

We welcome the opportunity to meet with policymakers to share what we’ve learned and heard from individuals from every community across Colorado and to partner on creative problem-solving to do right by every Colorado student.

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