Colorado

As part of a growing, grassroots effort to take back the agenda on education policy in Colorado, I created some talking points for our community to share with elected officials.  The document can be accessed here (Talking Points on Education Policy) and the full text is also presented below.  I hope this contributes to the growing movement in our state about the direction of our schools.

Talking Points on Colorado Education Policy for 2014

Context

Today, it is incredibly important that the voices of educators, parents, students, and community supporters of public education are heard in policy deliberations by our legislators and elected officials.

For too long, the education policy agenda in our state has been driven by out-of-state groups, out-of-state money, mandates from Washington D.C., and individuals with little to no practical knowledge of what happens in our schools.

As a result, public schools are under siege with a barrage of disconnected laws and unfunded mandates which have questionable (at best) evidence to support them.  In many cases, these policies are distractions and disruptions that are actually detrimental to efforts within schools to improve outcomes for students.

At the same time, Colorado schools have experienced devastating budget cuts.  From pre-recession levels, revenues for schools have fallen nearly 20%.  At this time, there appears to be no plan or commitment from the statehouse to confront this issue, which has had the practical effect of massive layoffs, larger classes, cutting important services like counseling, the elimination of art, music, and physical education, and pay cuts for school employees.

During the recession, the state gutted education spending as a cost-saving measure to get spending in line with lower state revenue.  State officials used a controversial mechanism called the “negative factor” to effectively give, and then take away, money from schools which was supposed to be guaranteed under Amendment 23 to the Colorado state constitution.

Today, the legislature sits on an “education fund” totaling over $1,000,000,000.  Bills already introduced this session are aimed at draining this for pet and pork projects, rather than addressing the negative factor.

As a community of people who love our schools and our children, we have a responsibility to stand up.  It is immoral to allow this go unchecked.

What Our Elected Officials Need

Our legislators and elected officials need to hear from the people deeply connected and dedicated to our schools that the decisions made in the statehouse have an impact on our community and our children.  They need to understand that the only “experts” they need to listen to when it comes to education policy are the people who live in their communities; not those from a policy think-tank or political careerists.

Our elected officials need to understand that the best decisions for kids happen locally, determined by those who know and care most about students; not from a big government and “Washington D.C. style” top-down mandates.

Our elected officials also need to understand that our schools are starved for resources and that the restoration of adequate education funding is the most urgent education policy priority.

Now that the state’s budget has improved, our elected officials need to understand that continuation of the “negative factor” also represents the continuation of a failed promise and broken commitment to the state’s children.

General Pointers for Interactions with Elected Officials

Our legislators, governor, and other elected officials deserve our respect for their service.  All of them went through the difficult process of getting elected because they want to do good for their communities and our state.

It is also important that we are respectful in interactions with these individuals.  Elected officials are people just like us – and we should always strive to treat them with dignity and kindness.

With that said, it is equally important that we are direct and clear with our elected officials about what our schools need, what educational priorities we need them to be focused on, and that we (as the people) intend to hold them accountable for their decisions and votes.  Remember, they work for us.

General Education Policy Priorities

  • We will no longer tolerate unfunded mandates being piled on our schools.  If there is not a sufficient appropriation to pay for any policy, it must not be passed.
  • Top-down, Washington D.C. style, big government policies have no place in our schools.  The best decisions for schools are made in communities and closest to the students.  We respect our legislators and CDE, but committee rooms and state bureaucracies are far removed from what happens in classrooms.
  • We must be suspicious of outside groups, outside money, political careerists, and their ideologically-driven political agendas.  The education “experts” that elected officials need to pay the most attention to are the people in their own communities.
  • An abundance of quality, peer-reviewed, scientific evidence must back all education policy.  Making a mistake with education policy means (over time) hundreds of thousands of educators and millions of children can be negatively affected.
  • Public schools are vital to our country’s commitment to equity and the American Dream – where everyone has the chance to succeed.  Damage and disruption to public schools is damage and disruption to the American dream.
  • Public schools are vital to our economy and are the hearts of our communities.  We need our elected officials to work to build schools up and be of support to the people in them.

 

Specific Education Policy Matters

  • Restoration of the negative factor is the most urgent education priority.  Our state needs to make good on its promise in Amendment 23 to adequately fund schools.
  • A key education policy being considered this session is increased financial reporting to the state in the interests of financial “transparency” for schools.  Our schools already publish some 200 pages of budget documentation annually.  Further burdening schools with reporting requirements to satisfy curiosity (or to feed the interests of those who seek to destroy public education by twisting data) will not lead us to being a high-performing education system.
  • Another key policy being considered is a changing the student “count date” from October 1st to instead count students every day of the school year.  Yet, there is absolutely no evidence that this either improves attendance or achievement.  In fact, some of the best performing states in the country have single-day counts.  This proposal is built on the belief that educators need an “incentive” to serve students after October 1st.  This is professionally insulting and wrong-headed.