By Weld Commissioner Mike Freeman–
With regard to the formation of a 51st state, no issue is more important than education. A new state with new educational goals would provide our children with the schooling they deserve and a system that returns funds to classrooms and control to local school boards.
In fact, the state’s current failures regarding education can be traced to two things: unfunded mandates and the loss of local control.
Unfunded mandates from the federal and state government have forced schools to re-allocate resources from the classroom to administrative overhead. The one-size-fits-all legislation that continues to come from the state capitol, along with burdensome regulations and reporting requirements from the Colorado Department of Education, is difficult and expensive for 138 of the 178 school districts that have an enrollment of less than 3,000 kids. The bottom line: less money is being spent in the classroom while more money is required by school district administrators to collect, disseminate and then report the data to the state.
Furthermore, state lands revenue, which goes directly to the K-12 state education fund, is not fairly distributed to the school districts where the revenue is earned. In fact, Weld County produces 70 percent of the state lands revenue for Colorado (which last year totaled $115 million); the 11 counties voting on the 51st State Initiative this November produce 80 percent of the total state lands revenue. The majority of this money goes to Denver, which has no state lands within its boundaries, and then is distributed across the state rather than remaining in the school districts where the money was earned.
So even though our assessed value has gone up in Weld County, the state per-pupil funding formula has not. Our schools receive no additional funds nor see the benefits of increased property tax revenues with regard to education funding. Instead, our school districts are forced to go to the ballot box to ask for capital construction projects, additional teachers and improved safety measures for our students.
Since education funding in Colorado ($8,700 per pupil) falls well short of the national average ($10,600 per pupil), the children of Colorado are certainly at a disadvantage before they step foot into the classroom.
Our education system used to match the learning needs of children with future job opportunities. With the loss of local control, educators have now cheapened the skills of teachers by forcing them to train ALL children to take standardized tests. The result? Children with different learning styles and abilities are evaluated primarily on their ability to take standardized tests rather than on their individual strengths. In fact, the fatal flaw in our current education system is the teach-to-the-test mentality of educators and administrators due to standardized testing mandated by states and/or the federal government. While the standards (and standardized tests) may have been well-intentioned to start, the results have been nothing short of disastrous as American competitiveness has continued to slip over the past few decades.
A new state that fundamentally believes government operates best from the bottom up rather than the top down would dramatically change education outcomes for the better. By eliminating unfunded state mandates and unnecessary rules, regulations and reporting requirements coming out of the State Department of Education, K- 12 funding would be redistributed to the classroom. Local school boards would then have the control and the ability to empower teachers to provide the best education possible for the students in their district.
Mike Freeman is a Weld County commissioner who represents District 1.