Colorado is experiencing an exciting period of bold innovation, unmatched population growth, and a daring willingness to break up the education establishment and put the focus on parents and children. Mindsets are shifting toward new pursuits in so many corners of our society, and education too, has felt the waves of change. We are beyond the days of standardized assignments and one-size-fits-all classroom models. In our 21st century classrooms, students and parents can take the lead in creating the lesson-plan and structure that fits their individualized needs. The goal of education is so much bigger than simply shuttling our kids through the system, ensuring they do the bare minimum to matriculate. As the chair of the Senate Education Committee, I, along with strong conservative leaders in the Legislature, am championing the future of every Colorado child. We believe it is time to embrace the future, and that future starts with Colorado kids.
Growing up, I attended private christian schools, public schools, I was even home schooled for a period. I graduated from the Air Force Academy and then earned my PhD in Policy Analysis from Pardee RAND Graduate School. Thirty years ago, homeschooling was a fringe phenomenon that few understood and was commonly regarded as a tool for religious zealots. But now, my four children, along with 1.7 million students in the United States in 2013, opted out of public schools and into homeschooling; this number is still growing rapidly. Homeschooling allows many children to embrace every aspect of life, learning, and family. These kids are able to take learning outside of the classroom, and experience a real hands-on education.
Homeschooling is not the best option for everyone, but the kids it does suit tend to outperform their district counterparts on the SAT by 20 points. That’s why I sponsored a bill this session to provide tax credits for families who seek out non-public education. We should guarantee that every one of our kids is receiving the style of schooling that captures their skills and strengths and sets them on a path to success in the workplace and beyond, while guaranteeing that families are not financially punished by daring to educate their students in non-traditional settings. Creating more choice and more equitable school funding for all Colorado parents is a top priority, I will continue to work to ensure that we stop punishing our kids for being unique.
Similarly, with over 100,000 students in Colorado--a 30 percent increase since 2013--charter school enrollment is skyrocketing. More and more, Colorado families are demanding an end to one-size-fits-all education and charter schools are a unique option for families thinking outside the box. From STEM, to college prep, character education, dual language education, and experiential learning, Colorado charters are geared to suit the needs and goals of each individual child. Both locally and nationally, charter schools are overwhelmingly more racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse. A Columbia University study concluded that schools with more integrated populations produce students who are more likely to attend college, more likely to be civically engaged and involved in their community, less likely to commit violent crime, and less likely to experience poverty.
The case for expanding school choice in Colorado is strong, yet, traditional brick and mortar district schools, can still withhold 5 percent of per pupil funding from Colorado public charters. That's 5% in addition to the excess revenue from mill levies that legacies enjoy and charters are denied. Those excess dollars add up, and public charter students and teachers receive the short end of stick, having to work harder to compensate for the disparity. That's why I, along with Republicans in the Colorado State Senate and House, will continue to fight for parity in funding for charter schools to give every Colorado student their best chance at a successful future.
When I look at my kids, I see a bright future, one in which each of my unique children will flourish and grow their individual strengths, improve upon their weaknesses, and learn from each other and their own mistakes. Entering the State Capitol every day, I remember who I’m fighting for: my kids and yours. They are our future. We should do everything in our power to encourage them to be the boldest individuals they can be, we should encourage them to dare to break the mold.
Senator Owen Hill represents Senate District 10, which covers part of El-Paso County.