Posted: June 09, 2011
Visions of Colorado
There's reason to feel optimistic about the futureBy David Fine
Editor's note: This is the third in a series of six articles written by business and community leaders who participated in the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation's "Colorado Experience" excursion to Colorado Springs in late April.
Colorado collaborates. In recent years, Colorado leaders have set aside partisan differences to join together to solve fiscal problems (a prime example was the passage of Referendum C ), and to avoid fiscal train wrecks, for example, via last year's defeat of Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101.
I saw firsthand the power of collaboration working as city attorney in Denver for then-Mayor John Hickenlooper, who was a master at bringing together diverse constituencies, such as local stakeholders, or surrounding municipalities and counties. Gov. Hickenlooper has made collaboration a centerpiece of his present administration, to early success.
The Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce Leadership Foundation in turn fosters such collaboration by "preparing and connecting leaders from the business and civic communities," in part through leadership exchange trips, such as the Colorado Experience trip to Colorado Springs. So it's not a coincidence that the "Visions for Colorado" plenary session of the featured Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and Kelly Brough, CEO and President of the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, a former Hickenlooper chief of staff.
Garcia and Brough discussed the serious challenges facing the state. Garcia focused on education, primarily the serious problems with Colorado's pipeline to higher education, which is in turn severely underfunded. Brough picked up the education theme and also briefly touched on the paralyzing tangle of Colorado's constitution.
The facts explain the problem:
• Colorado has one of the country's most well-educated work forces, in great part as a result of in-migration;
• Yet, Colorado ranks 48 out of 50 in per capita funding for higher education;
• Colorado has a 72 percent high school graduation rate;
• A large percentage of Colorado-educated students entering college education need remedial help.
• At the same time, Colorado is in the grip of a state constitutional tangle, which greatly limits the state's ability to invest in higher education.
The weak pipeline and tenuous funding jeopardize Colorado's ability to attract and maintain dynamic businesses.
Not surprisingly, both the chamber and the Hickenlooper administration have made education a central focus. The chamber backed the passage of Senate Bill 191, which made sweeping reform to educator effectiveness evaluation models and moves away from the tenure-based education system. Led by Lt. Gov. Garcia, the Hickenlooper administration is attacking the remediation problem by focusing on third grade reading, which studies show is the critical point at which children must move from learning to read to reading to learn.
The success of the initiatives is by no means certain. The administration's third grade reading initiative must be funded. The reforms of Senate Bill 191 have a greater chance to succeed if teachers will be adequately compensated to operate in the new, riskier paradigm. Access to necessary funding will depend in part on successful partnerships between the administration private and nonprofit sectors.
I left the Visions of Colorado session optimistic. Both political and community leadership in Colorado are aware of and willing to confront our most pressing and challenging problems. I am confident that engaged business and community leaders will lend significant human and financial capital support to those leaders to drive their efforts home.
David Fine is a partner with McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP.