Voice: Jim Chavez

Jim Chavez is executive director of the Latin American Educational Foundation.

“Our kids aren’t failing because they didn’t get out of college and they aren’t failing because they didn’t get out of high school. They really ran into massive obstacles as early as the 6th, 7th grade.”

In almost every one of these trends, the underlying cause or factor is education. The state is seeing the effects of a multi-decade combination of educational issues. One is our tuition rates have gone up, far more than a family’s ability to earn income that would keep up. We’ve seen the financial resources the state would put in to help families with their students go down dramatically, especially in the last 10 years.

Those are two compounding factors that have been dramatic. I think we’re also seeing an outcome here – terrible graduation rates, the dropout rate. Even for students graduating from high school, the quality of their education, I think, is being diluted. They either can’t compete to earn a sustainable income, or they can’t compete as successfully as they hope even if they do get to college.

Jim Chavez

Jim Chavez

I think the ultimate implication is that we actually cost ourselves more as a state. There are plenty of statistics that will substantiate that. We as a people are going to end up paying far more money for social services. We’ll pay more for the corrections systems because this state has not made the investment in education at all levels.

It’s a tremendous economic penalty were going pay that’s going to burden us for decades. We’re running a very serious risk of seeing the major companies that we do have here move away to other states where there is a different level of education commitment and investment, or to other countries. We’re not the only state doing this, but we seem to be leading the way in the country on how not to fund education.

Over the last decade our tuition rates have gone up three to four times what the general inflation rate has been. Ten years is a heck of a lot of time to cause a lot of damage. It starts with household income or a lesser ability to earn good quality income. That is immediately going to impact sales tax revenues and the ability to purchase homes. You can’t go to the stores and buy new lawnmowers, new furniture. We have allowed ourselves a process where we have completely clogged and bogged down that economic engine. It really goes back to education.

We oftentimes focus on the high school graduation rate or the college graduation rate, but you can back that up to the youngest development ages. Our kids aren’t failing because they didn’t get out of college and they aren’t failing because they didn’t get out of high school. They really ran into massive obstacles as early as the 6th, 7th grade. I really think it has to go back to those earliest ages. This is an 18-year problem, and it’s really the first six to eight years of that continuum that is the issue here.

There are a couple of good things going on. Denver residents put in place this pre-school program and the sales tax. That is showing significant returns on investment, but you are talking about a 3-year-old or a 5-year-old. Assuming we continue to do good things, we have 15 to 20 more years before that proves itself out.

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