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Proposition 119 will close the ‘opportunity gap’ for our kids

When it comes to providing school-aged kids with the opportunities they need to succeed; the pandemic opened our eyes to problems that have existed for more than a generation.

In Colorado, a student’s success is too often connected directly to their race, family income and where they grow up.

Owens
Ritter

That is especially true for access to out-of-school learning options, where a growing “opportunity gap” helps fuel disparate academic outcomes – the “achievement gap” – based largely on socioeconomic factors.

And despite the noble efforts of parents and educators, the last 18 months have almost certainly widened those gaps.

Attacking this issue in a meaningful way should unite Coloradans regardless of their political leanings or where they live because the future of so many of our young people – who are our future employees, employers and community leaders – is on the line.

That’s why we are pleased to join Gov. Jared Polis and former Gov. Roy Romer in lending our support to the growing, bipartisan efforts led by educators and community leaders from throughout Colorado to support Proposition 119, a marijuana tax to pay for tutoring, and many other forms of out-of-school instruction for the state’s neediest students.

Proposition 119 would create the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress program to provide aid for families to choose from a range of approved out-of-school learning providers; including tutors in reading, math, science, writing, extra services for special needs students, and career and technical education training programs.

Priority for the financial aid would be given to low-income families, which could not be used for tuition or in-school learning.

Proposition 119 would be funded by increased sales tax on recreational marijuana and revenue from extractive, agricultural or renewable energy developments on state land. The goal is to fund a program to dramatically increase access to learning opportunities – particularly for students of color and those living in poverty.

We cannot afford to miss this opportunity.

Recent national tests showed us that 60% of our fourth-graders could not read at grade level, and the number jumped to about 80% among low-income students. And more than half of Colorado third- through eighth-grade students fail to meet grade-level expectations in reading, writing or math on state tests.

This is a problem that has vexed us for too long. In our gubernatorial terms, we grappled with Colorado being a national leader in the number of residents with college degrees, while not sending nearly enough of the kids who are born and raised here to college. We have made strides in improving that disparity, but much more is needed.

Consider the findings from a recent state report:

  • About 56% of Colorado high school students go on to college – well below the statewide attainment goal of 66% by 2025.
  • 62% of white students go to college, compared with 54% of African American students and 46% of Hispanic students.
  • Only 43% of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch (FRL) end up enrolling in college, compared with 63% of those who do not qualify.

As the report noted, there has been progress: Hispanic and African American students have seen small but steady increases in college enrollment rates since 2013. FRL students have also seen growth. But if Colorado is going to meet its educational attainment goals, we must dramatically increase college-going rates for all high school graduate populations.

Why does it matter? Because attaining some sort of post-secondary degree is beneficial for our state’s economy and for our future workforce.

Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce predicted that in the modern economy, two-thirds of entry-level jobs will require training beyond high school. Approximately 56% of good jobs, defined as those paying at least $35,000 for workers between the ages of 25 and 44 and at least $44,000 for those aged 45 to 64, require a bachelor’s degree. Another 24% of good jobs require some other post-secondary credential.

The need to close the opportunity gap transcends politics, geography, socioeconomics and race, and is worthy of your support.

Proposition 119 is our opportunity to make Colorado better. Join us in working together to help our kids leap to brighter futures.

Republican Bill Owens served as governor from 1999 to 2007 and Democrat Bill Ritter Jr. served as governor from 2007 to 2011.