Daily Camera - September 6, 2009
By Bill Ritter and Barbara O'Brien
Education is the foundation of any strong economy and any competitive workforce. Colorado has one of the most educated workforces in the country, and that's one big reason why our economy remains in better shape than in many other states.
Investing in a child's education is far different than any other investment. The rate of return on a child's future is measured in productivity, earnings and overall quality of life. Education opens door after door of opportunity.
But for years, Colorado has consistently imported its brain-power instead of growing its own and historically under-funded K-12 education. Since taking office in 2007, we've made education funding and reform high priorities by:
Expanding pre-school and full-day kindergarten so that thousands more kids will get off to a smart start.
Modernizing classroom content standards and annual student assessments -- including developing a more effective test to replace the Colorado Student Assessment Program.
Advancing a nationally recognized reform agenda through the work of the P-20 Education Council and Jobs Cabinet to ensure that Coloradans obtain the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed in a highly competitive global economy.
Signing legislation to provide $1 billion to renovate old, unsafe schools and build new schools around the state through the Building Excellent Schools Today Act.
Working together with Education Commissioner Dwight Jones, State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, lawmakers and educators, we're making a difference. Colorado's reforms have been recognized nationally and put Colorado in a strong position to compete for significant new funding through the federal Race to the Top program.
In the face of the worst global recession in 80 years, we're more dedicated to Colorado's students and Colorado's future than ever before.
Over the past year, 24 states have decreased K-12 funding. South Carolina has actually cut its K-12 funding by 14 percent, and Georgia has become the first state to impose mandatory unpaid furlough days on school teachers.
In Colorado, we've now closed budget shortfalls totaling $1.8 billion because of declining revenues. We've cut overall spending by 10.4 percent and reduced or eliminated many human service and healthcare programs.
But thanks in large part to the federal Recovery Act and Colorado's Amendment 23, we've been able to protect K-12 education funding, which is now at historic levels following several years of 5 percent annual increases.
Total K-12 education funding now amounts to $5.7 billion a year and constitutes 43 percent of the state's General Fund budget, the single biggest slice of the pie.
While we are examining all possible options to avoid K-12 reductions, we have a responsibility to prepare. In January, the legislature is expected to rescind $110 million from K-12 education that had previously been put on hold for the current 2009-10 budget.
Even after this rescission, school funding will still be up 4.5 percent from the previous year.
Looking forward to FY10-11, additional K-12 cuts may also be needed. We will have a clearer sense later this month once we receive preliminary property assessments and new state revenue and inflation forecasts.
Any reduction to K-12 education, even a modest one, would be difficult. These are all tough decisions. We have approached each spending reduction with the same goal: to minimize pain to people, protect the safety net and maintain investments in our future. These decisions are being made carefully, surgically and compassionately.
Some argue that Amendment 23 prohibits K-12 funding from being reduced at all. The Governor's Office has come to a different legal conclusion. Regardless, we all must work together to balance the state budget in a way that preserves our values and positions Colorado for a strong, healthy and quick recovery.
We've been meeting regularly with education officials, elected leaders and others to explore all possible options. We will continue analyzing every alternative in the weeks and months ahead.
As children, teachers and parents settle in to the new school year, we remain committed to working closely with the education community to minimize any impact on our classrooms and our students.
Colorado's future depends on it.
Bill Ritter is governor of Colorado. Barbara O'Brien is lieutenant governor.