2021 Election, Education, Exclusives, Marijuana, Uncategorized

Gardner: The case for Proposition 119

This November, Colorado voters have the chance to approve the largest expansion of parental choice in education in more than a decade.

Conservatives all across Colorado are voting YES on Proposition 119 — names you trust like our last Republican Governor Bill Owens, former state treasurer Mark Hillman, Colorado Springs conservatives Tim Geitner and Bill Cadman, and battle tested conservatives like John Andrews, Mesa County’s Janet Rowland, Weld’s Senator Barb Kirkmeyer, and Douglas County’s Frank McNulty.

These arch fiscal conservatives rarely support a tax increase of any kind. But Prop 119 is a tax on the marijuana industry, which can absolutely afford a small tax. And the marijuana industry has long promised to fund education. Prop 119 helps the industry live up to that promise, but it does so by connecting financial resources directly with students and families, not by forcing new money through the education bureaucracy.

Proposition 119 provides financial aid directly to parents to get tutoring and other forms of out-of-school instructional support in core subjects like reading, writing and math.

And that’s the reason so many conservatives across Colorado are YES on 119.

Is your son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter struggling in math or reading, writing or science? After a year of closures and quarantines, is your student failing to perform at grade level?

Proposition 119 creates a new independent structure in a smart way to get financial aid directly to parents so they can get the extra one-on-one instructional support their student needs.

For the tens of thousands of kids who have fallen behind because of school closures during COVID, Proposition 119 is a life-line — it provides resources to families to help get kids caught up.

For students attending public schools that have long missed the mark, the extra support outside the classroom is even more vital.

The truth is, too many students have been failed by our public schools for years. A recent investigation by Colorado Public Radio provides startling color: “About 39 percent of the state’s third graders are reading at or above grade level, down 2.2 percentage points from 2019, while in math, 24 percent of sixth graders met or exceeded expectations….”

Students of all races and ethnicities decreased in performance, with black and Hispanic students scoring significantly lower than white and Asian students. In third grade reading for example, while 48.9 percent of white students are reading at or above grade level, just 22.1 percent of Hispanic students and 24.3 percent of black students are. About 32 percent of white sixth graders are meeting or exceeding expectations in math, as are about 11 percent of black students and 10 percent of Hispanic students.

There continues to be large achievement gaps between poor students and their wealthier peers – roughly 30 percentage points separate them in  third grade English and about 24 percentage points in sixth grade math.

These statistics are shocking. And they are tragic too.

The time for bold action on behalf of parents and Colorado kids is now. Proposition 119 is that bold action.

A recent study by the Common Sense Institute found that Prop 119 would provide financial aid to fund tutoring for 98,000 students.  The financial aid program would be administered by an independent board of education experts, not by politicians.  Some have wondered why we wouldn’t put the legislature in charge of administering the tutoring dollars.  Trust me when I say, we don’t want the legislature in charge of these dollars.

For families who may not have the discretionary money to get their son or daughter this kind of extra support, Proposition 119 will be the difference between success and failure for many. Prop 119 places low and middle income families at the front of the line to receive financial aid for tutoring.

The good news is that a remarkable bipartisan coalition is backing the plan, including the aforementioned conservatives, former Democratic Governor Bill Ritter and countless education advocates across the political spectrum like the Colorado’s Children’s Campaign, the Boys and Girls Club, and organizations supporting students with special needs, like Firefly Autism.

The bad news is that extreme voices on the far left are pushing hard to defeat Prop. 119. “(119) is another pet project of the rich, corporate charlatans with their insatiable hunger to profit from taxpayer dollars. They operate by convincing voters that they are the good guys who have come to the rescue,” one cynical critic argued in the Denver Post recently.

Absurd.

These are the same arguments the radical left made against charter schools and even neighborhood school choice.  The fact that well-regarded Democrats like Wellington Webb, Mark Udall and Bill Ritter, along with respected organizations like the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Boys and Girls Club, support 119 should be more than enough to dispel these preposterous criticisms.

The truth is, 119 is a an innovative way to help scores of Colorado kids battling to catch-up, keep-up and get ahead. Prop 119 gets resources straight in the hands of parents to get their student the help and support that their educational future depends on.

That’s why conservatives across Colorado are voting YES on 119. I am proud to be one of them.

State Senator Bob Gardner, a Republican, represents District 21 in Colorado Springs.

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