Written by Michael Johnston and Jared Polis
Published by the Denver Post on July 8, 2010
Last week, the U.S. House passed legislation with a provision that threatens the immense progress we have made under this president and Congress toward improving educational outcomes for all children. As every district in Colorado knows well, the next wave of budget cuts will have a deep impact on classrooms. The threat of widespread teacher layoffs is all too real, as many districts already have been forced to make painful cuts, including critical staff positions.
That is why we, along with Secretary Arne Duncan and bicameral leadership, strongly support a robust federal education jobs fund. Unfortunately, some viewed the "edujobs" bill as an opportunity to gut the administration's ambitious and successful education agenda. The chairman of the Appropriations Committee, David Obey, targeted three programs that are the cornerstone of the education reform efforts to bear disproportionately large cuts: $500 million from Race to the Top, $200 million from the Teacher Incentive Fund, and $100 million from the Charter Schools Program.
While we strongly support federal efforts to keep teachers in classrooms, robbing effective reform programs to do so is wrongheaded, counterproductive and will lead to consigning far too many members of another generation of children to failure.
President Obama is right to threaten a veto of such efforts to undermine reform by slashing the latter two programs by up to 50 percent and cutting 15 percent of the remaining Race to the Top. Secretary Duncan has offered to work with congressional leaders to find other cuts, and we encourage the Senate to take him up on that offer. We applaud Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall of Colorado for working hard to save education jobs in the Senate and opposing cuts to reform.
On the campaign trail, President Obama frequently talked about the false choices in our education debate, debunking the myth that we had to choose between funding and reform.
Race to the Top has inspired more education-reform legislation in the past 18 months than most states saw in the last 20 years. Colorado is in an excellent position to receive much-needed resources to implement its strong proposal. These cuts will shrink the pool of available funds for Colorado.
The Teacher Incentive Fund is a program that provides grants to offer teachers and principals extra compensation for demonstrating proven results. This program has already brought tremendous rewards to Colorado educators and students through the EPIC program and the Eagle County program, which have helped urban schools such as Montclair Elementary and Bruce Randolph High School. This focus on identifying and rewarding best practices is at the heart of many successful reforms across Colorado. By slashing funding by half, these cuts will severely limit progress in this critical area of reform.
As a result of the successes that high-performing charter schools have had in closing the achievement gap and serving the educational needs of underserved communities, the number of public charter schools has increased dramatically; but parental demand still outpaces supply. Nationally, charter schools report waiting lists of an estimated 365,000 students. The Obey proposal would lead to approximately 200 fewer charter school start-ups, depriving many at-risk families with a route out of poverty.
It is essential to keep teachers in the classroom amidst this budget crunch in order to avoid losing ground on all the good work Colorado has done over the last decade. That is why we support the Education Jobs Fund, which will avert job losses for educators in Colorado and across the country. But our country should not be forced to choose between saving teachers' jobs and enacting meaningful education reforms. We need both.
We must rethink and reinvent our approach to education by moving forward with bold reforms. Unfortunately, the proposed cuts represent a major step backward.
State Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, was a sponsor of Senate Bill 191. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis is a Democrat from Boulder.