DeFrates column: After protests, radically prioritize education
We know that America is hurting, body and soul. Headlines remind us every day, every hour, that our country has deep, aching wounds from the impact of racism on families and communities. The short-term solution is to stop the damage from getting worse.
Protesters are standing against systemic racism and incidents of police brutality in cities across the country to get the message across. Black lives matter. Still. Today. Every day. The message is loud, and uncomfortable for many of us, but will continue to be broadcast despite the constant spin factor of politicians seeking to benefit from this upheaval.
Beyond this volatile moment in our history, our country will go on. There will be an America next year, and in five years, and in fifty years, and if we don’t want it to look like it does today, those of us who cannot be on the front lines right now need to start playing the long game. We cannot get so distracted by the drama of this crucial moment of change that we forget to continue to build a better foundation for the future. I hope the protests are successful. I hope that it sticks this time. I know how short our memories are once the headlines fade and the Facebook livestreams end.
In my belief, after these crucial short term goals are met, the long term solution to racism and hatred is hope, and it is empathy. Hope given to those who have grown up under the burden of a system built, literally, on their backs, and buckets of empathy to cover those of us who have the privilege of not carrying that burden.
Equitable public education can offer both of those things for its students, but right now, its future is looking very, very dark.
The Colorado Senate, along with every other state legislature in the country, is currently debating how to make a budget work which has a hole in it the size of two solid months of tax revenue and thousands of dollars of extra assistance. To fill the hole, the Joint Budget Committee has sent a budget through the House and into the senate which carves away 10% of education funding from the state’s general fund. That amount in dollars removes $448 million from last year’s education spending. Last year when Colorado was already 40th in per pupil spending.
From another perspective, this amount will almost double the cuts made during the Great Recession, a decade ago, from which our per pupil funding and teacher salaries have only just recovered. Teachers who were already paying for classroom materials, taking extra unpaid trainings, and managing unreasonable class sizes will have to do more with less.
A 10% cut into education funding, combined with the continued financial strangulation from the Negative Factor and TABOR, the continued need to meet unfunded Federal mandates, new hybrid learning requirements, and an upcoming recession will likely permanently destroy public education as we know it. Unless we can stand for it now.
If you want to offer more equitable access to life’s opportunities, keep public schools funded.
If you want more people to learn how to listen to new information and think for themselves, keep public schools funded.
If you want to help communities stay strong and stand together for each other, keep public schools funded.
If you want teenagers to have productive activities and ways to feel like they belong so that their passion and need to test the world do not become misdirected, keep public schools funded.
If you want to find a long-term solution, one that doesn’t have the ‘flash bang’ of protest and public grandstanding, but begins to heal the heart of our country for the next generation, keep public schools funded.
So if you want to help more, or you can’t protest for whatever reason, and you feel like no one is listening, stand for public education in our state and our community. Call or email your state representatives, both House and Senate, and tell them to find another way. Tell them that you want to dismantle TABOR and remove the Negative Factor, or the budget stabilization factor from the Gallagher Amendment.
We need to radically prioritize public education if we want to give our children any of the same opportunities that we had growing up to learn about our world, our history and our neighbors, and prevent the spread of the cancer that is racism in America.
Lindsay DeFrates is a freelance writer living in Glenwood Springs. She can be reached at http://www.roaringforkwriter.com.
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