My Side: Lack of support for funding of local schools is disappointing
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
It is disappointing to see the lack of support for our local school districts in recent letters to the editor. Many of the sentiments show extreme ignorance of the requested mill levy overrides. Some would have the districts adopt budgetary or program alternatives, which exposes crude short-sightedness.
First, we cannot expect public schools to begin charging tuition as a condition of enrollment. The fundamental nature of our system of government demands, at its heart, an educated electorate. Affording an education to only those students who have the ability to pay tuition is as backward as a poll tax.
Public education is a public good. It should be funded as one, just as we pay for road construction or fire protection service. Plus, tuition is not a guarantee of academic success. If it were, no one would ever flunk out of Harvard.
Second, it has been suggested that we aren’t getting our money’s worth from the current system and therefore, “why give them more money?” Adherents to this argument typically point to test scores and compare those results to academic scores of a different time with different standards, student demographics and technology needs, thereby never comparing apples to apples.
They cast a nostalgic eye to a bygone time when they were students and say, “I never had a computer in my classroom and that was good enough for me.” The propensity to lean on the sentiment of “good enough” is a degenerative epidemic in today’s society, revealing a cynical willingness to accept national decline.
Our education standards may have been good enough for the 1960s when American supremacy was only challenged by the Soviet Union. But even then, as students were asked to learn more math and science, resources were given to help them do so. It was a matter of national security and pride, and we rose to meet that challenge.
Our challenges may not be the space race of the 1960s or the tensions of the Cold War. Yet we must deal with issues today that are much more complex and more deadly. A crippling national debt, a global economic crisis, the rise of Asia, global climate change, access to natural resources, devising alternative energy solutions, crumbling national infrastructure, restructuring of entitlement programs and reform of almost every governmental service.
These are the challenges of the 21st Century. The solutions will come from children who are currently in our schools. They should not be expected to prepare with 20th Century means.
This brings me to my final point: cost.
Opponents of the mill levy overrides deride the proposals as “tax increases we can’t afford.”
Ballot Question 3C, the $3 million override for the Garfield Re-2 School District, would raise property taxes by $18 per year on every $100,000 of assessed property value. Assuming your house assesses at $300,000, your taxes would only increase $54 per year. That’s $4.50 per month, or less than 15 cents per day.
Re-2 has cut more than $2.9 million from its budget over the past two years. Test scores have not dropped and student enrollment has risen. They already are doing more with less.
This mill levy override does not reinstate programs that were cut; rather it replaces former state funding with local funding. The overrides will make us more self-sufficient and less dependent on state funding. The best part is our money stays right here. Every dime of the money raised will be spent in our schools, on our students, by our school boards.
The next time someone says “the schools can cut more,” ask them if they really know the 2012 operating budget. Can they name three school board members? Ask how many school board meetings they have attended.
We have the right and responsibility to demand accountability, but we must also demand it of ourselves. Attend school board meetings. Review the budgets.
But let’s not use political platitudes without considering the consequences as they are at the local level. We cannot expect our educational system to produce excellence if we choose to distance ourselves from participation and investment in it.
– Aron Diaz is a fourth generation Garfield County resident, a 1993 graduate of Rifle High School and treasurer for the Friends of Garfield Re-2.
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