K-12 Education is the elephant in the budget room. It takes forty cents of every general fund dollar, making it the largest single segment of general fund spending. So education tends to be the first thing legislators try to cut, whenever there’s a loss of revenue.
These revenue losses happen, of course, through recession, or because of new tax breaks or tax incentives which, we are told, will bring untold riches to the state down the road, if we will but wait.
But preventing this bleeding from our education budget, cannot wait. Our kids cannot afford to wait. We have almost the worst funding regime of any state in the nation. It’s cold comfort to tell a child that by the time he’s graduated, education might then, and only then, begin to improve. I’ve always applied a rule: You want to change a tax rule? Better see first how it impacts education. Don’t assume it’ll pay for itself and more; those savings, if they ever come, will come too late for the kids who are in school today.
So all fiscal policy has to be judged through the prism of education, and that’s what I do on the Finance Committee every time I vote.
I also look for fair ways of getting funding to education without damaging the economy. Like my Tobacco Funds for Education Act [HB 09-1342], of which I was a prime sponsor within weeks of arriving in the legislature. That bill, for the first time in decades, applied the standard 2.9% sales tax to cigarettes and directly raised 30 million dollars a year for our schools. [See also, HB 11-1296, of which I was the sole House Prime Sponsor.] I ask of every bill that’s proposed: “How does it affect our kids?” And that’s how I intend to continue.
As the economy comes back, bringing expanded revenue with it, I will do all I can to ensure that a good part of the new revenue goes where it is needed most: to our children’s education, both public schools and higher ed.