Growth and Inequality, Part One: Rebooting our Education System for a Changing Economy
Denver, and most of Colorado, has undergone immense growth over the last decade. Our growing economy should drive new opportunities for all of us. Instead, Colorado has seen a huge rise in inequality, while finding good-paying jobs and making ends meet has gotten more and more difficult for people across our state
We need new ideas, and new approaches to fight inequality at the state and local level. That means developing policies that create opportunity for every Coloradan regardless of region, race, gender, or income.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll be discussing policies to alleviate inequality in our growing economy. In today’s post, we’ll discuss holistic approaches to improving our education system.
Your voice is a critical part of this conversation, and we want to hear your thoughts on these important issues impacting our community. Since beginning my campaign over a year ago, I’ve talked to people around our district to formulate these policy suggestions.
Retooling our education system to address inequality and a changing economy
Colorado’s economic landscape is changing quickly. The emergence of the gig-economy, the ongoing replacement of human labor with automated technologies and artificial intelligence, and an increasingly diverse and sophisticated state economy mean we need new, holistic approaches that prepare our students to enter the workforce.
Public education shouldn’t just prepare students for college, or a specific career path. Instead, our education system needs to lay the foundation for students throughout their lives. To do so, Colorado should invest in expanded early childhood education programs, skill specific high school career training, and the option of apprenticeships so students can learn on the job and are prepared to enter the workforce at graduation.
Early Childhood Education
Numerous studies and reports confirm the effectiveness of early childhood education programs. Students that attend high quality preschool gives students a head start on their education, and prepares them to gain more from K-12 grade school. However, the cost of quality preschool has risen faster than median household income. When impoverished and even middle-class families can’t afford early childhood education, the gap between the wealthy and everyone else widens, as only wealthy children are positioned to excel in school.
Colorado’s lawmakers have already acknowledged the gap between early childhood education and future prosperity, and have made minor changes to the tax code to offset preschool expenses. However, we should go further by expanding the Colorado Preschool Program, which focuses on grade school readiness. Providing early childhood education for students from all backgrounds lets children enter our public system on equal footing, instead of putting less wealthy students behind from the outset.
Finally, Colorado needs to focus on apprenticeships and real-world experience for students. I was on the team that designed and launched CareerWise Colorado, an organization that brings together schools, students, and employers to create apprenticeships. I saw firsthand how valuable apprenticeships can be for teenagers preparing to assume the responsibilities of adulthood. Apprenticeships are good investments for students and employers, but they need government support to reach their potential. Without Colorado spearheading coordination and providing financial incentives, companies will be hesitant to recruit apprentices.
We should continue to support students throughout their time in the public education system. I believe one way that we can do that in Colorado is through high school Career Academies. Currently, Colorado has only one Career Academy, located at North Ridge High School in Greeley. Colorado’s government should partner with the National Academy Foundation to facilitate new, effective Career Academies across Colorado’s school system. Career Academies are a cost-effective way of preparing students for the workforce. Colorado should invest in Career Academies, so students have the opportunity to get a stable, well-paying job right out of high school.
These approaches would provide a starting point for retooling Colorado’s education system for a changing economy. However, this is just the start. Maintaining and improving our schools will require sufficient funding and practical, responsive policies. Next week, I’ll share my thoughts on how Colorado can support people throughout their careers by making work pay.