Across the state, Coloradans are signing petitions for a ballot measure that will give voters a choice to reinvest in our kids' future. The outlook is good for the initiative to qualify for the state's November ballot. I want to explain why I proposed Initiative 25 and why it's necessary to pass it this year.
The story began in February, when a budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2011-12 included a $332 million cut to Colorado schools and $36 million to our public colleges and universities. Lawmakers had already cut $260 million from kindergarten through 12th-grade education in 2010-11. We were already funding K-12 at $1,781 per pupil less than the national average, and we already ranked near the bottom of the nation in state support for higher education. Along with many Coloradans, I was saddened and angered by those shortsighted and devastating cuts.
Education is how our kids gain the building blocks of skills they'll need to prosper. It's where our future leaders hone social skills and literacy. It's the key to economic development and job creation, especially in today's knowledge-based economy.
We needed to stop cutting from public education, but cutting was the only option being proposed, so I decided to take action by proposing Initiative 25.
Initiative 25 is a simple proposal: temporarily restore the tax rates we had throughout the 1990s and ensure all of the new revenue goes directly to public education: K-12, higher education and pre-school. For five years, the state income tax rate for individuals and corporations would increase from 4.63 percent to 5 percent, and the state sales and use tax rate would increase from 2.9 percent to 3 percent.
Long before proposing Initiative 25, I had been hearing stories about the impact of education funding cuts.
Programs are being eliminated. Fees are being boosted. More rural schools are going to four-day weeks. Class sizes are growing. I just talked with a teacher who had 42 students in an 8th-grade science class. Students are considering attending college in neighboring states to save money. Schools are cutting jobs, and some can't offer classes such as advanced math.
I've spent much of my time in the Colorado Senate wrestling with one key question: "What kind of state do we want?" Having lived in Colorado for 40 years, I think I can safely say it's full of people who want to compete for the best this world has to offer. Still, our recent record of substandard funding for education doesn't match who we are, or who we want to be.
Won't you join us in our drive to turn the tide? We can give Coloradans the choice to reinvest in public schools only if we collect enough signatures to get Initiative 25 on the ballot. Visit www.greatedaction.org to find where supporters will have petitions to sign. Better yet, visit www.brightcolorado.com to get your own petition form and help gather signatures. Our kids can't wait for the education they deserve. Funding education is the best investment in Colorado's future we can make.
State Sen. Rollie Heath (D-Boulder) is a member of the Senate Education Committee.