Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce | Denver, CO

Education

Issue and need:
There is a recognized need to:
  • Better address Colorado’s workforce needs by improving our entire educational pipeline (preschool to higher education) in Colorado.
    • Improve high school graduation rates and college readiness.
    • Reduce remediation college rates.
    • Increase technical and skills training.
  • Embrace and implement Common Core standards to hold schools, principals and teachers accountable and provide comparison of Colorado kids to the rest of the world.
  • Defend and aggressively implement teacher and school accountability through evaluations established in SB 191.
  • Provide more kids access to quality, early childhood education (full day kindergarten, statewide preschool programs)
  • Increased literacy before the age of 10 (third grade).
  • Attract and retain high quality teachers and principals.
  • Fund our state university system to ensure it is financially viable and provides accessible programs for Colorado students and continued research.
  • Improve collaboration between school districts, community colleges and businesses to ensure we are meeting the needs of business through our technical training efforts.
    • Communicate to youth that career options include trades, apprenticeships and certificate programs in addition to traditional higher education options.
    • Ensure interested youth are being served through programs like the Opportunity School and Manchester Bidwell.

Background:
For the past several years, the Chamber has recognized the role of public education in preparing our future workforce. The Chamber has a history of supporting education reforms that have demonstrated success. Our history of reform began in earnest in 2010, when the Chamber actively worked for the passage of SB 191, a landmark education bill that created a new level of accountability for principals and teachers. It significantly reformed teacher tenure, providing new criteria for gaining and losing tenure.

Subsequently, we have supported legislation to provide full day kindergarten, expand the availability of preschool, modernize the count day process for funding, enhance third grade literacy, and provide fiscal transparency. The Chamber has consistently supported reforms and increased performance as a condition to providing additional funding into the system.

The Chamber’s historical support for education reform legislation includes: 

  • SB 08-130, which permitted innovation schools outside of labor or district rules.
  • SB 10-191, which reformed teacher evaluations and established the performance standards under which a teacher can lose tenure.
  • HB 12-1238, which focused on K-3 literacy development, literacy assessment and individual plans for students with a significant reading deficiency.
  • SB 13-213, which would reform school funding [preschool expansion, full day kindergarten, expansion of count days for financial distributions, funding for charter schools, and more] once additional financial support is provided.

The Chamber supports the implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards—measures that focus on skills like problem-solving, critical thinking and communication. Curricula developed around these skills are necessary to prepare our children for the workplace of the future. Testing and evaluations of these skills will allow for comparison of our educational state’s achievement with other states and countries.

We also support efforts to prepare high school students for college and for career. We support technical training for construction, nursing, advanced manufacturing, and engineering skills that can be incorporated more broadly into our secondary curriculum and provide an incentive to finish high school.

Challenges:
Early Childhood:
The Colorado Preschool Program and the Denver Preschool Program provide funding for certified preschool care. The funding for Denver’s program is made possible through a .12 percent sales tax increment and is scheduled to expire in 2016. The Denver City Council recently voted to recommend voters approve an extension and an increase to .15 percent sales tax increment.

K-12:
The Chamber has supported various reforms for K-12 education. To date, the teachers’ union has challenged reforms in cases where teachers have lost their jobs or not been guaranteed placement in a classroom. School districts have opposed changes to count days (the current process for awarding per pupil funding) because their funding might be impacted even though the proposed change creates a fairer and more thoughtful funding approach. Some districts have resisted financial accountability and testing requirements, even when additional funding is being made available.

The Gallagher amendment (part of Colorado’s constitution) requires 55 percent of all property tax to be paid by commercial properties. Currently commercial property accounts for only 25 percent of all property in Colorado, yet it must pay 55 percent of the property tax burden. This formula disproportionately and inappropriately places the tax burden on business to meet educational funding needs in Colorado.

While the Chamber has strongly supported the implementation of Common Core standards in Colorado (Colorado Academic Standards), there is strong opposition to these standards. Opponents argue that education is too focused on testing and that the amount of testing adds cost to school districts without providing additional funding for test implementation. We believe Common Core / Colorado Academic Standards finally focus Colorado on measuring the right skills that are critical for success in today’s workplaces and global economy.

Higher Ed:
Colorado funding of higher education ranks 49th out of 50 states in the country. Tuition has grown at a rate of 9 percent per year over the past decade, while state funding for higher education over the same period has fallen by 50 percent. We have polling data that shows Coloradans value higher education but have very little appetite to increase tax dollars to help address the funding challenges.

Potential solutions and/or principles:
To overcome some of these challenges, we have collaborated with education reform groups and experts for guidance in identifying the most meaningful reforms and developing criteria for fairly measuring our progress.

There have been some efforts to obtain additional funding for education. In 2008, Governor Ritter proposed changes to the severance tax paid by oil and gas companies in Colorado to establish it as a source for funding scholarships for higher education. This ballot initiative failed, 58 percent to 42 percent.

In 2012, the Chamber developed four criteria that needed to be met to support additional funding for education:

  1. The additional money must fund reforms that can change the educational outcomes in Colorado.
  2. If the money is raised through income tax, the income tax must remain flat.
  3. There must be some effort to address Amendment 23 and the unsustainable rate of growth for education funding.
  4. There must be some effort to address the impact of Gallagher.

In 2013, Amendment 66, which would have increased personal income tax rates and introduced a two tiered structure in Colorado, was defeated by nearly two out of every three voters (64 percent voted against the tax increase). The Chamber did not support Amendment 66, given that it did not meet the second or fourth criteria outlined above. A tiered system disproportionately would have impacted small business in Colorado (S-Corps and LLCs).

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