While the defeat of Amendment 66 was a big disappointment, I remain committed to finding a solution for Colorado’s underfunded public schools. There was broad-based support for the education reforms we passed in the 2013 legislative session, even among critics of Amendment 66, which would have funded those reforms.
I want to thank those who worked so hard to get Amendment 66 on the ballot and to gain public support for our schools. I also appreciate the message sent by my constituents in House District 61 and voters throughout Colorado who voted against the measure. Though there are differences of opinion about how to get there, I know we all want a strong education system for our children and that our graduates’ success in the 21st century depends on it.
In the days following last Tuesday’s election, we have already started hearing about aspects of Amendment 66 that will be introduced next session. After Tuesday’s vote, the Republicans announced that they want to adopt major components of the Democratic school reform bill we passed over their opposition in the 2013 legislative session. To them I say, welcome to the conversation! Their support should allow us to find common ground and common-sense solutions for our schools.
I’ll take the GOP at its word and say I’m happy they are finally on board with some of the common-sense solutions that Democrats have championed for a long time. However, without additional funding, many of the changes we all want to see in our schools will not be possible, and I hope my Republican colleagues agree that implementing inadequately financed reforms would be a disservice to our schools.
Critical reforms including enhanced teacher training, increased access to early childhood education and expanded programs for special-needs students can only be implemented with additional funding. If we could have effectively implemented these programs without spending any more money, believe me, we would have.
I will work hard to make sure that our schools get their fair share of funding in the 2014 budget and that any changes proposed will have adequate resources to assure their success.
It is important to remember that our schools have faced drastic budget cuts over the last four years and that not all school districts have been able to compensate for these reductions. As a result, we have glaring inequities among our school districts. I look forward to working toward a method for supporting all of our school districts and in achieving the goal of equity among our districts. It is important to me that the quality of the educational experience provided in rural and Western Slope schools is equal to the quality of the education experience provided to children on the Front Range.
I know that we all want to see progress in student achievement and growth throughout our public schools in Colorado and that we are more likely to invest in our schools when we know that we are making a good investment. It is important to remember that many of our school districts are faced with increasingly complex challenges with more English language learners, more students with special needs, and more students who live in poverty. These schools need our support to assure that every child, regardless of his or her situation, has a shot at a good education.
I am open to hearing ideas about how to address our schools’ educational and financial challenges in the wake of the defeat of Amendment 66. And I look forward to taking these ideas into my fourth year as a state representative when we reconvene in January.
Millie Hamner represents House District 61 and is chairwoman of the House Education Committee.