31 August 2011: Is Colorado committed to public education?

Is Colorado committed to public education?

It’s the job of historians to name eras by identifying the period’s dominant social, cultural, or economical force: the Cold War, the Gilded Age, or the Age of Jackson, named for our 7th president.

Despite the hindsight necessity, I suspect we are in the midst of a defining moment, being engaged in an epic struggle for the American soul as we were during the Great Depression and New Deal.

At the national level, it is being played out as it did in the 1930s in context of the role of government; here in Colorado, through our schools.

The immediate issue before us is funding, for which there are two battlefields, one presently in court and the other upcoming at the ballot box.

The outcome of this battle for public education will define us as Coloradans. As I tried to get at in last week’s column, it’s about the role and even the survival of our public education system.

Like it is at the national level where anti-government militants do all within their power to sabotage the ability of government to do its job and then say, “See, we told you it cannot work,” so it is here in Colorado with those whose ultimate goal is to destroy public education by depriving it of funds and saying, “See, we told you it’s a failure.”

Colorado ranks 48th in terms of funding for K-12 education, despite our being one of the wealthier and well-educated states, which ironically is due to our college-grad population comprised in large part of immigrants like me.

This is by design. It’s called TABOR, the goal of which is to shrink government, along with public schools, so to be able to drown it/them in a bathtub, as they phrase it.

It’s being done by putting the schools in financial straightjackets and through incessant political attacks.

One, reduce the mission of education to rote learning only measurable through nonsensical robotic testing, thus setting schools, and with them teachers, up for failure.

Two, rob from Peter to pay Paul by substantially funding charter schools that all too often discriminate among applicants whose family situations are more likely to insure a more dedicated approach to their children’s learning and thus success.

Three, concoct strategies to take funds from the public treasury to support private and religious schools such as what happened in Douglas County.

Wrap those and more around a system of funding that not only ignores the mandate of our state constitution to provide a “thorough and uniform education for everyone between 6 and 21 years of age” but also has institutionalized another form of “separate but equal” education defined in the1896 Plessey v. Ferguson decision a subsequent U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in its Brown v. Topeka decision as “inherently unequal.”

Students in Center, CO have little chance to compete with students from Cherry Creek due to our funding scheme which allows for “unequalized local revenue” enhancement as the Legislative Council Staff, the nonpartisan research staff of the Colorado General Assembly, calls it.

Roget’s Thesaurus defines thorough as “exhaustive” with “all-inclusive, complete, comprehensive, in-depth, painstakingly, sweeping, and whole-hog” serving as synonyms.

Uniform means “consistent” with “equable, homogeneous, ordered, reliable, steady, systematic, undeviating, unvarying, and well-balanced” serving as synonyms.

Create a checklist of those descriptors and compare wealthier school districts with those with minimal resources, and you will have created an indictment of our public school financing mechanism.

It doesn’t work and is discriminatory favoring kids of wealthier parents or happenstance live in or near well-to-do communities. Let’s not forget that the purpose of a constitution is to protect the rights of minorities from majority oppression.

Currently, the case of Lobato v. Colorado is being heard by Denver District Court judge Sheila Rappaport. Lobato, et al are suing the state on the grounds its Public School Finance Act is unconstitutional and will almost certainly land before the Colorado Supreme Court.

On the November ballot will be Initiative 25, which if approved will raise the state sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3.0 percent and the personal and corporate income tax from 4.63 percent to 5.0 percent for five years.

According to the website Support Our Schools for a Bright Colorado— http://www.brightcolorado.com—all of the $536 million generated annually “will be dedicated to public education funding in Colorado” with “much of the funding used to prevent further cuts.”

The outcomes of the Lobato Case and Initiative 25 may well serve not only as a defining moment for public education but also as a loud-and-clear statement about our commitment to a democratic society that require an educated citizenry that succeeds on tests but thinks critically as well about the great issues affront us, like this one.

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