Denver Post, June 11, 2008: Learning how to escape poverty

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By The Denver Post

Article Last Updated: 06/11/2008 06:55:43 PM MDT

Colorado’s poverty rate among children has soared in this decade to unacceptable heights. Yet, thankfully, there’s a time-tested, proven escape from poverty.


A new report this week officially put to rest any lingering stereotypes about poverty being an urban problem. Instead, nearly half of the children in a few rural Colorado counties are living in poverty and the number of poor kids in the suburbs has risen sharply. Nearly one in five children in Adams County are poor; 15 percent in Arapahoe County are impoverished.

Colorado was home to the nation’s largest growth rate of poor kids from 2000 to 2006, according to a study from the Colorado Children’s Campaign. That’s not the type of distinction we want to chisel onto those wooden “Welcome to Colorado” signs at our borders.

Part of the problem is Colorado leaders have shamefully undervalued education for too long. Note, we didn’t say underfunded, but undervalued.

Yes, higher education has taken its share of funding hits this decade but K-12 funding has grown at a welcome pace. And more money has started to trickle into higher education, too.

The problem is where we place our values. Since the Democrats took over, some positive shifts in policy have been made and there’s finally an understanding that spending money on education is an investment in the state’s future, not a waste of taxpayer money.

We’ve been delighted to see both Gov. Bill Ritter and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper pushing for more preschool and kindergarten slots for youngsters.

Yet more can be done.

First, we need to better prop up our community colleges. Not everyone needs a four-year college education, and during tough economic times, community colleges offer invaluable re-training so workers can more nimbly switch professions.

We also need more of our children, especially ethnic minorities, graduating from high school. Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in Colorado, yet they have one of the highest dropout rates. Those two trend lines can’t continue to climb without severe societal consequences.

Some public schools have defied the odds, lifting up those at-risk kids. They need to not only be celebrated but duplicated. And successful charter schools need to be welcomed into districts and not viewed as threats.

Curriculums need to be rigorous for all students, and expectations set high, no matter skin color or pocketbook size.

Colorado deserves better than what we’ve been getting.

Education is just one answer to poverty, but it’s powerful. And it’s proven.

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