I get the great privilege to be an English language arts and computer science teacher in our beautiful Four Corners area. I love where I live, with its beautiful mesas, mountain vistas and an endless playground of woods and rivers.
But more importantly, I love my students, who (despite coming from a deeply impoverished area) continue to show true grit and creativity despite the hardships that often befall them.
This coronavirus crisis is no exception, and despite the challenges online schooling presents, we are still making headway and learning as much as we can in this strange environment.
However, my students and colleagues face uncertainties that even our natural resilience may not be enough for. We need more than grit — we need action to avoid irreparable harm from the $3.3 billion hole in our state budget.
My school district is the stone you cannot squeeze blood from. Our state lawmakers need to solve this fiscal disaster by taking unprecedented steps to avoid bone-deep cuts.
A provision in the state’s TABOR amendment allows for temporary emergency tax reform, and this can be used to provide tax breaks to those who need it while raising needed revenue to soften the blow to everyone struggling to recover from COVID-19. Legislators can – and should – use the reserves we’ve built since the Great Recession and trigger this TABOR solution in order to provide emergency relief to Coloradans.
This health crisis has put hundreds of thousands of Coloradans out of work, isolated our elders and people with a range of health challenges, suspended the in-person education of our children, threatened our health care system, devastated rural and mountain communities and killed over 1,000 Coloradans in less than two months.
Cutting nearly 25% of the state general fund will lead to the evaporation of health care, education and other vital services. As an example, our superintendent is already planning out a fiscal budget that expects budget cuts anywhere from 10% to 15%.
Not only would that mean less educators returning in the fall, it means looking at cutting “non-essentials” like school sports, art, music, mental health supports and all those other areas in education that (I hope you agree with me) are necessities. Even more, these cuts will leave us struggling to recover for years to come as schools, colleges, libraries, rural hospitals and clinics, and other vital services are devastated, if not closed altogether.
My students already use textbooks that are as old as they are. Between myself, the social studies teacher, the science teacher and the math teacher, our seventh grade core content team doesn’t even have a decade of experience between us because we cannot keep educators in this area due to the low pay and the difficult work we do.
Spend any time in our schools and you will know what I mean. Our students deserve better than a cut to their supports. They deserve better than to subsist with substandard education because our surrounding states pay so much better. We know there are tough choices to be made, but we need to do better than slash-and-burn cuts.
The state General Assembly should declare a health emergency and activate the temporary TABOR provision with a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers.
This would allow legislators to adjust personal income tax brackets to raise about $600 million on top of state reserves to help prevent the worst of the budget cuts — though not all of them. Still, a 3% budget cut would be easier to stomach than a 12% to 15% budget cut, and means that we can keep our schools mostly intact.
Additionally, this temporary emergency tax reform that would expire in November would reduce taxes for 95% of Coloradans so they can better meet their needs, spend money locally, and drive the recovery of our economy.
Now is the time to use this emergency provision in our constitution! Why is it there if not for times like these?
We cannot build our recovery off the backs of struggling Coloradans and their children. Lawmakers must provide health, education and other supports Coloradans need during COVID-19 and beyond.
I urge our legislators to show the courage and leadership needed to simultaneously provide temporary tax relief to Coloradans and preserve the programs that will help us weather this crisis and recover as quickly as possible.
I will fight tooth and nail for my kids and for my community. I urge you to do the same.
Charles “Cody” Childers is a seventh grade English language arts teacher at Montezuma-Cortez Middle School in Cortez, Colo.
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