Children need an education to be successful and have bright futures, but in Colorado, it’s becoming harder for our kids to receive the quality education they deserve. There are two challenges in particular that need to be addressed to support students in our state again.
First, we are not providing our students with the resources and support they need to succeed. Imagine a firefighter showing up to your house in flames not having the skills to put out the fire or a traffic engineer not knowing how to measure the flow of traffic.
Coming from business, it’s scary for me to see Colorado’s talent pipeline shrinking. We’re not adequately developing our future employees or preparing them with the knowledge or skills they need for the workplace. In addition, the students we are neglecting are more likely to drop out and end up in jail or on food stamps. This negatively affects them and it affects our communities and our collective pocket books.
So, what’s a state to do?
We need to fund our schools appropriately. If you saw a potential investment that could bring in $17 for every dollar you spend, wouldn’t you invest? That’s the return on investment in early childhood spending. It’s well known that the earlier we begin educating the child, the greater the benefit to child, business, and society.
I believe we need to re-evaluate where we’re spending our dollars and shift our priorities. Most people don’t know that we’re spending a minimum of $32,000 annually for a prison inmate, yet less than $8,000 per student? If we moved those dollars to the beginning of the person’s life, we can prevent crime, save taxpayer money, and build a better workforce.
But knowing that we SHOULD do that and having the will and resources to actually carry it out is the real dilemma. Despite many odds this year in the state Legislature, we were able to stave off some of the cuts we thought were going to be necessary. Next session, we won’t be so lucky. After several years of near-the-bottom education spending, how much longer before our pipeline of workers runs dry and we can no longer attract or retain businesses?
The second challenge facing Colorado kids is also of our own making: zero-tolerance policies. Imagine sending your child to school with the lunch you packed. Later that day, you get a phone call telling you your child has been arrested and will be suspended for bringing a knife to school. You think, “Oh no!” You put a butter knife in your child’s lunch. What’s a parent to do? Take off work, go to court, possibly pay a fine, and find another school for your child? And the rest of us are paying for court backlogs, school administrators, legal staff, and law enforcement being pulled from more important priorities.
Just last year, Colorado students received more than 63,000 out-of-school suspensions and 2,238 expulsions. Behavior that once resulted in a trip to the principal’s office or a call home now results in an arrest or a trip to juvenile court.
So, what’s a state to do?
Well, right now, I am chairing the bipartisan Legislative Task Force to Study School Discipline. We’ve put together legislators and private citizens to study our challenges and possible solutions. We’re looking at how we overcome the unintended consequences of zero tolerance disciplinary policies. To see the work done so far, please visit the task force website: www.Colorado.gov/LCS/SchoolDisciplineTF
To solve these issues, we need your help to finish the job. We need community input to ensure we have identified all potential solutions. I’d love to hear your suggestions, and I look forward to hearing your input. Together, I know we can appropriately fund education, restore balance to discipline in our schools, and ensure every child has the opportunity to receive an education.
State Sen. Linda Newell serves District 26, which includes Littleton, Englewood, Sheridan, Cherry Hills Village, west Centennial, BowMar and Columbine Valley. She can be reached at Linda.Newell.firstname.lastname@example.org or at or (303) 866-4846.