We Can Still Save Colorado’s Schools

Published in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, November 14, 2018.

For the last three months, I have taken my column away from serious politics, unable or unwilling to deal with the deaf shouting match that is politics. Midterms came and went, with their crescendo of opinions. And I originally planned to write about the use of emojis this month, thinking no one would read another column about the real issues facing our state.

But with the failure of Amendment 73, I am bitterly regretting my decision to remain silent. I felt that I should hold my thoughts to myself, as voices with more weight would speak to its support. Many did, and quite eloquently. Yet, somehow, it was not enough to peel away the suffocating propaganda that is wrapped tightly around the subject of education in Colorado and the country.

America is a democracy that was built on the assumption of a highly educated population. And, while I am deeply glad that the population has expanded to include more than just landed white men, the country itself has forgotten the importance of education. It is vital not only for economic prosperity, but for the very continuation of our democratic institutions.

Never has it been more necessary for every citizen to read critically and think for themselves. When the wide world of internet propaganda, misinterpretation of data and biased manipulation of headlines beckons us, basic reasoning and the ability to question everything is the only defense.

Along with that, our filter bubbles continue to thicken. Algorithms beyond the comprehension of 98 percent of the population shield us from uncomfortable views, or potential arguments. We falsely convince ourselves that every right-minded human being already agrees with us.

We need thinkers who evaluate choices based on their personal values, and who can hear what is being said regardless of which party is speaking. Civic participation does not only include showing up at the polls on election day. It’s more than guessing your way or voting in mindless mimicry of a chosen party. It takes time to read, think, and yes, even debate, to vote in an informed manner.

Yet, to the joy of bought-and-paid-for politicians and super PACs, our best defense against widespread ignorance — public schools — struggle against impossible odds to engage students in the lessons vital to their participation in this still-young Great Experiment.

And Colorado is an embarrassment even within a country already struggling with its priorities.

I’m sure you heard in the lead-up to the vote how our state was 39th in per-pupil funding and 30th in teacher salaries. And that ranking, paired with the extremely high cost of living in the state, means that many teachers have second or third jobs.

Or they are forced to leave the state when they want to start a family. This leaves most classrooms with a lack of experience and depth of resources of a veteran teacher.

In Colorado, we have castrated the state Legislature from making reasonable adjustments to school funding. The Gallagher ratio has prevented the meteoric rise of property value across the state from filtering its wealth into school districts. And TABOR continues to place special districts such as fire, police, library and schools in direct competition with each other for scarce funds. Institutions vital to the health of our communities often only succeed at the expense of others we can’t afford to lose.

It was deeply disheartening to see the money that could have allowed, among other things, free, full-day kindergarten for all families, smugly withheld as though it was some great victory. This alone would have allowed so many more students to start on equal footing in both literacy and math, dramatically accelerating the learning of every classroom, and allowing less resources to be needed for remedial class programs.

For those who voted against 73, I know your party-line argument, comfortable and familiar like a well-loved blanket. You claimed that more funds with a lack of oversight would only harm the situation further. “You can’t just throw money at a problem,” you said.

Shame on you.

You have been using that ratty old blanket as a cover for under funding education for years. You choose to distrust schools and teachers without knowing many, if any. You react in fear and ignorance because classrooms and methods don’t “look like they used to,” instead of educating yourself on their real purpose and reasons for the change. You look at the few instances of top-heavy salaries, and claim that no teachers would ever even see the funds.

You repeatedly refuse to acknowledge the depth of harm being done to schools by the tag-team brutality of the Gallagher Amendment and TABOR.

Fortunately, despite the mid-term failure, there are still actions which all of us can take to prevent these mistakes from further eroding the foundation of our state and country.

Write to your new and shiny (or old and reliable) state representative to immediately request the reformation of both TABOR and the Gallagher amendment. Without these two brutes hamstringing education funding in the state, we can begin to catch up.

Fortunately, we will welcome a governor who has clearly said he values education and will support motions to re-evaluate those aspects of our state constitution.

Support your local mill levies until then. It will take years for teachers and school districts to repair the damage done by this sad misalignment of values in our state.

At the national level, vote for champions of education.

Without an educated population, forget international competition, we will not even sustain our domestic freedoms.

Lindsay DeFrates is a freelance writer living in Glenwood Springs. She can be reached at http://www.roaringforkwriter.com.


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