Claudette Konola
VOICE OF A PROGRESSIVE
Grand Junction Free Press Opinion Columnist

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May 19, 2011
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Education in Colorado and the achievement gap

Last weekend the Latin Anglo Alliance Foundation celebrated Cinco de Mayo, albeit a few days late.

Despite Mother Nature whipping up a rain and windstorm half way through the event, the organization did what it always does - raised money to give away for scholarships next year.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Latin Anglo Alliance Foundation, it has been in Grand Junction since 1956. Part of its mission is to celebrate the uniqueness of the Latino culture with food, music and dance. The biggest part of its mission is to encourage Latino kids to get a college education.

Their work is incredibly important.

Gov. Ritter appointed a bi-partisan taskforce to formulate a strategic plan for higher education in Colorado. The work of this commission culminated in a report released in late 2010 titled, "The Degree Dividend, Building Our Economy and Preserving Our Quality of Life, Colorado Must Decide." The report made several recommendations, including:

• Colorado needs to ensure that higher education is affordable.

• Colorado needs to reduce ethnic gaps in admission, retention, and completion.

• Colorado needs to better prepare students for college level work before they reach college.

• Colorado needs to maintain a system of higher education that includes trade schools, community colleges, and universities.

Other findings in the report: The fastest growing demographic in the state is Hispanic, projected to be 23% of the total population by 2035. By 2018 70% of the jobs in Colorado will require a higher education. The achievement gap between whites and Hispanics in Colorado is 31.2%, as compared with achievement gaps in other states between whites and minorities at 19.1%. Only 9% of Hispanic males will get a higher education. Everything that the Latin Anglo Alliance does is directed at bridging that achievement gap.

Yet, even the scholarships granted to young Latinos may not be enough. Increasingly, the full cost of education is falling on students and their families. Colorado used to fund higher education at a much higher level, but because of amendments to Colorado's constitutions, lawsuits, and other events the cost of higher education has increased, while the state support has decreased. The report lays out several ways to change the dynamic in higher education, one of which is to increase taxes to pay for it.

Toward that end, State Sen. Rollie Heath (D-Boulder) announced a petition drive to put a proposal reverting Colorado's sales and income taxes to 1999 levels. It would appear on the ballot in 2012. Essentially, this would raise taxes for a brief period of time - from January 2012 to December 2014. All funds would be earmarked for K-12 and higher education in Colorado.

I'm sure that the anti-tax Republicans are going to throw a temper tantrum at the thought of any increase in taxes. I'm equally sure there are enough reasonable Republicans, Independents, and Democrats to get the initiative on the ballot.

All Colorado families have been hurt by the education spending cuts over the past few years. The cuts were driven by decreases in revenue caused by the Great Recession and requirements that K-12 funding increase in an environment of decreased revenue.

Colorado families today pay almost as much for in-state tuition as they would pay for tuition in a high quality private college. Continually placing the burden on students and their families is not sustainable. We need to invest in the future of our kids. It is in our best interest to do so.

Without an education, kids won't be able to get a job. Without a job, they are drains on society. The money to fix roads, bridges, schools, and everything else in the state comes from workers' wages. If a kid can't find a job, they aren't paying the taxes to fund the infrastructure upon which we all depend.

If someone asks you to sign a petition to fund higher education, please do so. And if you have some spare change, consider a donation to the Latin Anglo Alliance Foundation, so that every kid in the Grand Valley has a chance at a future job.

Congratulations to all 2011 high school and college graduates!

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Claudette Konola holds a degree in finance from the University of Colorado, which she earned with the help of scholarships and student loans. She was the first member of her family to attend college. She can be reached at Konola@Bresnan.net, and blogs at www.Konola4Colorado.com.


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The Post Independent Updated May 19, 2011 09:05PM Published May 19, 2011 09:04PM Copyright 2011 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.