This spring, Governor John Hickenlooper and his economic team toured the state listening to concerns from citizens and trying to assess Colorado’s economic needs. The Weld and Larimer county meeting showcased a major concern among employers in the state: poor education funding and poor performance by students.
By Matthew McGovern/The State Column
Governor Hickenlooper may have crafted an innovative and well-thought out economic plan, but as long as Colorado’s education system struggles, the state will decline economically and socially. Educational funding has taken a catastrophic hit from the restrictions imposed by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR). TABOR mandates that any tax increase must be approved by voters, and that any revenue collected that exceeds inflation and population growth must be returned to the citizens.
The mandate hit Colorado schools especially hard, as local governments could not continue to fund schools through new property taxes and the state was forced to bear the brunt of education spending.
Partly because of TABOR, Colorado schools rank 40th in spending per pupil and 48th in percentage of income applied to education spending according to a 2007 study by the US Census Bureau.
This problem may become further exacerbated due to Colorado’s projected budget shortfalls in the coming fiscal year. Because of the stagnant economy, Colorado’s budget deficit is projected to be 450 million dollars, and relatively few options exist other than slashing education funding.
Colorado’s balanced budget amendment will force legislators’ hands and lead to draconian cuts for K-12 education, and additional cuts to higher-education funding. This is not only detrimental to the children that will be put at a disadvantage in an increasingly-competitive global job market, but could be harmful to any future economic plans that Hickenlooper and Colorado harbor.
Colorado’s future job market is dependent on well-educated workers that are highly skilled in math and science. Renewable energy manufacturing and design, aerospace technology and computer sciences have a strong presence in Colorado, but if newer generations are not well-educated, the jobs will disappear to other markets that have a better supply of well-educated applicants.
TABOR is no longer compatible with Colorado’s needs, and in the state’s current fiscal crisis, TABOR will mandate cuts to areas like education that are already badly strained.