Jeffco labor leads community drive #‎BooksForAllStudents

The labor community in Jefferson County came together to transform the lives of Jeffco children and elevate the quality of their education. Promoting #BooksForAllStudents throughout the county and in social media, many local unions raised more than $15,000 to give students most in need a free book to take home for the summer. The money raised actually purchased $34,000 worth of materials through the national non-profit First Book, providing a brand new book to each third grader (more than 1,100 students) at all 23 Title 1 schools in the county.

Third grade is widely viewed as a tipping point for reading comprehension. Students who develop strong literacy skills by the end of third grade are generally in a better position to engage a wide variety of school subjects and enjoy success throughout their school careers.

JCEA members Tony Tochtrop, Kimberly Douglas and Mandy Hayes place stickers and bookmarks in donated books.

JCEA members Tony Tochtrop, Kimberly Douglas and Mandy Hayes place stickers and bookmarks in donated books.

The book drive also bought new books for the libraries at these schools. Tony Tochtrop was one of several teachers of the Jefferson County Education Association who volunteered to sort through about 4,000 new books at Union Hall of Sheet Metal Workers’ Local #9 in Lakewood, April 22. As the digital teacher/librarian in Lakewood’s Molholm Elementary, Tochtrop was very excited to see some of the books that would soon be coming to his school library.

“The kids love getting a brand new book,” said Tochtrop, who personally donated $50 to the cause. “I’m seeing a lot of great literature the kids are going to get excited about and look forward to reading.”

Members of the Jeffco Classified School Employees Association and leaders and staff from the Colorado Education Association also helped out with the book preparation in April. In each book, they placed a bookmark with friendly tips, printed in English and Spanish, that families could reference to better share in the reading experience with their children. They also fixed a sticker on the inside cover with a place for students to write in their names, showing that book now belonged to a student.

Mandy Hayes, a third grade dual-language teacher at Molholm, enjoyed getting the books ready for students who might not otherwise have an opportunity to own a book.

“When I was a little girl I had a vast collection of my own books and took a lot of joy in reading the same book over and over again, reading them to my baby brother,” said Hayes. “Having the ownership and knowing, ‘This book is mine and I want to take care of it and hold on to it,’ really helped me grow a love of reading.”

Like Tochtrop, Hayes was excited to look through the books that would be heading to her school. She found the selection encouraged authentic literature with relevant cultural themes. “A lot of these books are actually bilingual so the students can use their first language to help them with in their second language.”


Josh Downey (left) at the Lumberg Elementary book delivery, May 11

The delivery of the books to Jeffco schools followed in May. “Who likes to read?” Josh Downey asked to an enthusiastic response from a large group of third graders at Lumberg Elementary, May 11. Downey, the president of the Denver Area Labor Federation, led fellow union members to Lumberg to deliver the books kids received for their home libraries. State Rep. Jessie Danielson joined the event, which was covered by 9News.

“Thanks to teachers and paraprofessionals, thanks to nurses and and janitors, pipe fitters and plumbers, electricians and sheet metal workers, people all across Jefferson County pitched in for these books,” Downey told the students. “On behalf of all the people who helped raise the money, we are so glad to be here today and provide books to all of you guys. It’s really critical that you love reading and keep reading, because as an adult, you’re going to read every single day.”

“I’m thrilled that we were able to put together enough funding to give a book to every third grader, because that supports our Board of Education goal to increase reading ability and proficiency in the third grade,” said Hayes. “Giving an opportunity for third graders themselves to have a book, hold it, and take it home is going to promote that goal.”

JCEA's Nate Golich passes out the books students get to take home

JCEA’s Nate Golich passes out the books students get to take home


Parent involvement stressed by Garcia at Literacy Week stop in Aurora

Lt. Governor Joe Garcia made Aurora’s Vaughn Elementary one of his metro area stops Monday (May 19) in kicking off a statewide Colorado Literacy Week tour.

Lt. Gov. Garcia meets Vaughn Elementary families in Aurora during Colorado Literacy Week

Lt. Gov. Garcia meets Vaughn Elementary families in Aurora during Colorado Literacy Week

Garcia met neighborhood families on a sunny afternoon on the school lawn to see parents and children play literacy games and work together on reading activities popular at the school. Vaughn is noted in Aurora Public Schools for running successful literacy academies that welcome parents into the school and provide both parent and child learning opportunities.

“There’s no teacher who is every going to be more important to your child than you are,” Garcia told the families. “You are the most important teacher, the best teacher, the most effective teacher your children will ever have, so it is key for you to be here and learn about how you can be the best possible parent and the best possible teacher.”

Instruction coach Shelli Deaguerro gives parents reading strategies for the summer

Instruction coach Shelli Deaguerro gives parents reading strategies for the summer

Aurora EA member Shelli Deaguerro, an instructional coach for reading programs at Vaughn, had the pleasure of introducing Garcia and updating families on how they can support their student’s education during the summer vacation months.

“We encourage parents to spend time talking together, to tell family stories and engage in conversations throughout the day,” Deaguerro said during her remarks. “When a student’s oral language improves, their reading fluency and comprehension also improve.”

Deaguerro encouraged families to make quality time during the summer to:

  • celebrate their home’s language and culture;
  • make reading together a special part of the day; and
  • visit the local library to check out books and explore the world around them.

“When you read, share your thoughts and reactions to the story and then ask your child to do the same,” Deaguerro added.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia asks about the books  Vaughn Elementary students are reading during Colorado Literacy Week

Garcia uses Colorado Literacy Week to engage communities in efforts to improve the state’s early literacy rates. In addition to Aurora and other metro locations, his schedule included Durango, Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Lyons. At each stop, Garcia looked at successful early childhood education programs and led community discussions on how parents, educators, supporting organizations and policy makers can come together to improve the literacy outcomes for Colorado’s youngest students.

“We know that as a state, nothing is more important in making sure that our young children get the support they need so they can be successful readers,” Garcia said, noting strong readers will go on “to make Colorado a better and stronger state.”

Garcia makes his case for literacy very personal. He shared with the Aurora families that his parents spoke only Spanish when they started school. Growing up in a bi-lingual family, he and his four siblings always had books around the home. Parents and children read to each other, working together to help each other learn.

“I want to encourage you to do to the same,” Garcia continued. “Make sure you’re not only reading to your kids, but just talking to your kids – talking to them about their day and what they’ve learned, and learning from them. Make sure they understand that they have the ability to teach you, to teach their brothers and sisters, and most importantly to be successful in school.”

story3Garcia strongly encouraged parents who didn’t themselves possess strong literary skills to become more involved in their child’s education.

“My grandfather couldn’t read, but he sure could tell stories, and I learned so much about the history of my family from him,” Garcia said. “You have so much to share with your kids. Don’t ever under-sell what you can do, what you have to offer.”

According to a release from the Lt. Gov.’s office, one-quarter of Colorado students read below grade level at 3rd grade, a major predictor of future academic and career struggles. To improve early literacy, the state created the Colorado Reads: Early Literacy Initiative, a joint effort between state agencies, community organizations and Colorado’s business community. SERVE Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper’s commission on community service, leads the community partnership efforts of Colorado Reads, including Colorado Literacy Week.

CEA student members treat Pueblo kids with ‘books for keeps’

Minnequa kids show their books.

Minnequa kids show their new books

The book drive could have placed the donations directly into the Minnequa Elementary School library and done a lot of good. The Title I school in Pueblo doesn’t have a great amount of funding to raise a big book collection. But there’s something special about giving a book to a child to keep that Kelly Gonzalez calls a ‘magical’ experience.

“It’s just awesome that they know, ‘This is my special gift that I got from school,’” says Gonzalez, a student preparing to become a teacher at Colorado State University – Pueblo. “The child will always remember this experience and that will be something special for them when they open up that book and look at it.”

Kelly Gonzalez helps kids make their choice

Kelly Gonzalez helps kids make their choice

Gonzalez and several other members of the Colorado Education Association’s student group at CSU-Pueblo collected more than 1,000 books for Minnequa Elementary students through community donations. They stayed in the school library for nearly four hours, meeting class after class, helping every child pick out a book to call his or her very own.

“If people are taking time to come out and give them a book, the students will see the importance of having a book,” said student member Ayana Bentley. “If this is the one book they have, maybe they’ll ask their parents for another book. Maybe it will go further down the line than this book just being their one book.”

Owning books at home is a challenge for many Pueblo families, according to Minnequa’s teacher-librarian Kathy Plath.

“The parents don’t have a lot of money to purchase books for their children,” said Plath. “An opportunity like this for them to build their home library is pretty awesome.”

Ayana Bentley offers a book to students

Ayana Bentley offers a book to students

That opportunity, however, caused a fair amount of confusion for the children. Reading a book in the school library is one thing, but taking a book home for keeps is, well, a novel concept for many kids in this community.

“They’re so shocked about it,” Bentley noticed. “They don’t understand it’s their book.”

“A few of the kids tried to put the books back on the table, because they think they’re going to look at the book, sit down and read it, then put it back,” added Gonzalez. “And we say, ‘No, no, you get to keep the book and take it home.’”

Even though Minnequa teachers wrote the student’s name inside of the book for younger ones, Plath said many kids will still have a hard time believing they get to keep the book.


Plath (center) guides kids to a book table

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few of these books come back in my book return slot, with our students thinking that they can’t keep them, but we’ll let them know they can keep these books.”

Plath, a member of Pueblo Education Association and herself a graduate of CSU-Pueblo, was happy to invite the college students into her school.

“When they put together a book drive like this, it’s giving back to the community in a big way and just wonderful to see. And they get hands-on experience with the students and dealing with the students on a personal basis. That’s important too.”

“It was beneficial to see the different reading levels the students were on,” said student member Morgan James as she helped students find their book. “Just because they were in the second grade didn’t mean they were reading on a second grade level, so that was an eye-opener.”

“I just want to say, ‘Oh I think this book is great for you’ and sit and read with the kids, but there’s just not enough time to spend with each individual child,” added Gonzalez. “It’s motivating me to want to come back into their media time and sit and read with the kids.”

Teaching kids is James' career choice

Teaching children is James’ chosen career

Gonzalez also noted the first and second graders were already aware of their reading proficiency and their personal interest in reading, “which lets us know that the teachers are really working with each individual student.”

For James, the experience affirmed her career choice to become a school teacher. “It gets me excited to help kids get excited about reading and learning, which is the whole reason I want to be a teacher. I love seeing them smile.”

Plath loves seeing her students build enthusiasm for reading, and this book delivery supported a larger strategy to get kids hooked on books at an early age.

Student member Elizabeth Wilson came to school as Cat in the Hat

Student member Elizabeth Wilson as Cat in the Hat

“There’s so many other things that vie for their attention – video games, television, many things – so if you can build that excitement for reading early on, it’s been proven that it will stay with them for a good, long time.”

See more photos of CSU-Pueblo student members at Minnequa Elementary in CEA’s flickr set.

American Education Week: Teacher for a Day

Now it’s breakfast. The students begin eating pre-packaged mini-waffles with apple juice and milk. This is a new strategy for lower income schools are implementing to insure that students are ready to learn. Now schools know that no one is arriving at school hungry.

As Mrs. Nelson teaches, a stranger watches.

As Mrs. Nelson teaches, a stranger watches.

There’s a stranger in Mrs. Nelson’s 2nd grade classroom at College View Elementary in Denver. She’s taking notes and taking pictures, watching and writing, then watching again, but Mrs. Nelson doesn’t seem to mind. She’s focusing her students on the task at hand: leading her students in discussion about the children’s classic Little Red Riding Hood.

“Today we’re trying to sequence the story by beginning, middle and end, making sure we have the conflict,” Jennifer Nelson, a member of Denver Classroom Teachers Association, later described. “My students put characters, setting, resolution and lesson learned in order, so that it’s more the story being told instead of just a list of answers.”

During this activity, the stranger takes more notes and takes more pictures, which will later appear in her blog under the title, Be a Teacher for a Day…

What strikes me is how well these kids KNOW what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s quiet. They all on task. They are respectful of each other and Mrs. Nelson. This continues throughout the day, too and I know from experience that it doesn’t happen by accident.

Melissa Taylor, former teacher, blogs about education in Imagine Soup.

Melissa Taylor, former Denver teacher, writes about education and learning in her ‘Imagine Soup’ blog.

Turns out Melissa Taylor, freelance writer and blogger, is no stranger to the classroom. She used to be a teacher in Denver. Now she’s on an assignment, perhaps better described as a challenge, from the National Education Association. She and many other notable people across the country are shadowing an educator for a day during American Education Week (Nov. 18-22). According to the NEA, “this opportunity will empower an influential person to tell our story to the public about the challenges, rewards, and issues educators face on a daily basis.”

“I don’t think most people have a clue how hard it is,” Melissa says of the dismissive view some people have of the teaching profession. “I’m sure NEA wants to get out this more positive view of the hard work that teachers are doing day in and day out and the struggles they have.

“When people talk about test scores, they don’t even realize what that classroom looks like and the diversity of children in that classroom,” Melissa added. “I hope that people will open their eyes a little bit more instead of being so judgmental.”

I watch Mrs. Nelson’s next teamwork activity in awe… “I’m going to time you,” she tells them. “Ready, go!” The children rush from the perimeter of the carpet to the middle squares in Mrs. Nelson’s shape. “23 seconds!” The kids cheer.

“It brings me back. I love the energy of the kids,” Melissa said of her morning in school. “I don’t have the energy to do it full-time anymore, sadly, but it’s so much fun.”

Jennifer Nelson takes questions from her 2nd graders.

Jennifer Nelson takes questions from her 2nd graders.

Jennifer is just in her third year of teaching. She used to work in the family construction business, but says this job of “constructing citizens” has greater rewards.

“I love teaching because every day is like a puzzle, and trying to get all the pieces to fit for everybody. And so it’s a challenge, and I love that feeling when you see a student that finally gets it – aha!” Jennifer exclaims.

Calling Jennifer “a masterful teacher,” Melissa recognizes the effort that goes into getting such a diverse set of kids to learn instruction and stay on task together.

“Jennifer has kids reading at different levels and writing at different levels. She also has some kids that are still learning English – one kid who just moved here and doesn’t speak a word of English,” Melissa noted.

“It makes my job more colorful, for what they bring to the table,” Jennifer says of teaching her multi-cultural students, a large group of whom are Vietnamese. “I try to build relationships with the families to support them and I think that carries over in the class.”

Melissa observes Jennifer leading a small group discussion.

Melissa observes Jennifer leading a small group discussion.

Jennifer is a graduate of Denver Public Schools and feels “highly invested” in doing the best job she can to keep students first and provide a top quality education. She likes NEA’s idea to bring storytellers into schools because she doesn’t believe most people, even parents, really know what goes on in the classroom.

“Some districts meet you at the door so that you don’t get that opportunity to see it, and you trust that your child is in good hands getting the quality of education that you’re hoping for,” Jennifer said. “It’s nice to show a little window into the world that most parents, who may be working or doing something else, don’t really get an opportunity to see.”

"I love the energy of the kids," Melissa said of being Teacher for Day.

“I love the energy of the kids,” Melissa said of being Teacher for Day.

I’ve only been here for one hour. Already I’ve seen Mrs. Nelson in her many roles as restaurant server, communicator, facilitator, instructional leader, manager, and organizer — not to mention the roles I don’t see — researcher, planner, collaborator, learner, designer.

“I hope my readers get the challenge of trying to instruct students who are at a variety of different learning levels and language levels, and then manage the behavior alongside it,” Melissa said of capturing Jennifer’s typical day for her blog. “And the resources… there’s so much to teach every single day, and she’s working hard after hours trying to find the resources she needs for instruction to meet all those different levels. It’s a hard job.”

Read Melissa Taylor’s full blog post of her experience in Jennifer Nelson’s classroom at

The case for kindergarten

Passing Amendment 66 in November will give free, full-day kindergarten to every eligible child in Colorado. Colorado Education Association’s member magazine, CEA Journal, paid a visit to Janet Snow, Jefferson County EA member, and her kindergarten class at Secrest Elementary in Arvada. Snow, a teacher with 18 years of teaching experience, told us why early childhood education is so critical for a student’s success in school and life.

janet snow1 Journal: “Take me through the activities you did today.”

Snow: “Our class today was working on learning letters and sounds, and learning to be writers by communicating ideas through drawing pictures, then putting labels and words with those pictures. They’re learning fluency for reading in a listening center activity, and they’re also doing tactile, fine-motor activity with some glue and feathers.”

Q: “So it’s not Play-Doh and naptime. What’s the public’s perception of kindergarten compared to what it is?”

A: “When I was in kindergarten, we learned the Pledge of Allegiance, we learned our address and telephone number, how to write our name and tie our shoes. We were there two hours, then went home, ate lunch and took a nap. And everyone has that first memory of school in their head, and so they hold onto it. Nowadays, that’s not what kindergarten is. It’s changed a lot.”

Q: “How has kindergarten changed?”

A: “We’ve dropped that bar down to where kindergarten is really what first grade used to be, and our outcomes are reading at a pretty proficient level, and learning to write a cohesive five sentence story with a topic sentence, three supporting details, and a closing sentence. We count, do number computations – quite a few things across the board.”

janet snow15Q: “Now we’re trying to pass Amendment 66, and one of the things it would fund is full-day kindergarten across the state. What kind of a game changer would it be for Colorado education if every child attended kindergarten?”

A: “Every child needs to attend kindergarten, for sure. I think that there’s no way you’re prepared for first grade if you don’t. Our first-grade team spends a lot of time trying to catch up students who are not fully prepared. The ones that came later to our program and didn’t start kindergarten until January or February were that much further behind. And so that intervention and that catch-up starts, and it’s very frustrating for students to enter first grade and be behind.”

Q: If students miss that year of kindergarten, how do you think it affects them when they’re in fourth grade, eighth grade, maybe even when they’re a senior in high school?

A: “If you get behind at the beginning, it affects you for the rest of your life. I think that you would consistently say, ‘I was bad at school. This is hard for me. I can’t do what my peers can do.’ People judge themselves by the bar of others, and so that would be consistently a problem for them, even later on in life. I hear parents tell me, ‘Well, school was really hard for me.’ So that is still something they remember as a negative. We can’t be feeling that way about ourselves as good, positive, productive community members.”

Q: “Right now in a lot of places in Colorado, full-day kindergarten is something parents pay for. How does that sit with you?”

A: “I don’t like that model, because it comes down to the haves and the have-nots, and that consistently is a problem in education. We need to make appropriate public education available to all students.”

Q: “If your students in this school did not have free full-day kindergarten, what would they be missing today?”

A: “They would be missing their socializing time with a curriculum piece that we call play centers, where they do free play and some imaginative play, working on problem solving skills with their peers. They would be missing social studies content and science content, and they would not have opportunities for enrichment, or for intervention if they fall behind.”

janet snow9Q: “I counted 24 kids in here today. Is that a lot for kindergarten?”

A: “That’s actually a breath of fresh air. We had 32 in kindergarten last year, so eight fewer is a relief. This is one of the lowest years I’ve had in the seven years I’ve been here. It typically fluctuates between 27 and 29 students. Getting some legislation to mandate kindergarten in the state would help us to keep instructional levels low. Right now, the numbers just depend on need in the area and how many people are choice-enrolled. It can be a big group of students. I would say that the perfect number is 21 to 24.”

Q: Tell me a little bit about that breath of fresh air. What were the struggles you went through last year in managing that many students?

A: “Management was a lot more difficult. Meeting individual needs was a lot more difficult. Assessment and reporting was a lot more difficult, all of those things. You can give me as many hands on deck in this classroom to come in and help, but at the end of the day, I’m the only one who’s filling out report cards, I’m the only one who’s doing interventions, and I’m the one who’s responsible for that classload. And that’s a lot of individual people to serve on a one-on-one basis.”

Q: “You can watch sixth graders who used to sit in this classroom a few years ago. What’s it like to see them?”

A: “It’s emotional. You remember them as very small, young children. I tend to check in on my students periodically every year, keep tabs on how they’re all doing. It’s rewarding to see them grow up and become so much more mature. And then it’s also emotional – it’s sad to see them change so much and be so grown-up and mature.”

Gov., CEA officially kickoff campaign to increase investment in Colorado schools, students

CEA leaders turn out for the campaign launch

CEA leaders turn out for the campaign launch

Top leaders of the Colorado Education Association, from the Denver metro area to Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, gathered at Green Mountain High School in Lakewood, Aug. 15, for the official campaign launch for “Colorado Commits to Kids,” an education funding ballot initiative that will go before Colorado voters in November.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and other political and business leaders spoke at the campaign kickoff, explaining the necessity to increase Colorado’s investment in public education to give students the skills and tools they need to compete for jobs, achieve their potential and make a better life.

CEA Pres. Kerrie Dallman thanks Gov. Hickenlooper for his support of Colorado Commits to Kids

CEA Pres. Kerrie Dallman thanks Gov. Hickenlooper for his support of Colorado Commits to Kids

Hickenlooper called the initiative “the single-most comprehensive education reform initiative in the history of the United States” during his remarks.

“We’re not going to get anywhere without an educated workforce. Colorado has got to be ready to have those jobs filled in the 21st Century,” Hickenlooper said about the impact increased education funding would have on energy, aerospace and other sectors that drive our economy. “With the Colorado Commits to Kids initiative, we get to build a better Colorado for our students, for our families, for our businesses, and for every future generation that’s going to come after us.”

The “Colorado Commits to Kids” ballot initiative would generate $950 million annually to improve public education under the provisions of the Future School Finance Act (Senate Bill 213). The State Legislature passed and Hickenlooper signed SB 213 in May to bring badly needed resources to our public school system. Over the past five years, lawmakers cut more than $1 billion from our schools and Colorado now spends $2,000 less per student than the national average.

SB 213 begins to address the shortfalls by overhauling a school funding system that has not changed in nearly 20 years. In his remarks, Garcia highlighted some of the benefits of SB 213, which calls for increased funding for all students with targeted resources to students who need help the most: at-risk preschool, full-day kindergarten, special education and gifted and talented, and English- language learners.

Lt. Gov. Garcia speaks at the kickoff for the ballot initiative campaign

Lt. Gov. Garcia speaks at the kickoff for the ballot initiative campaign

“We know that not all kids enter school on equal footing. We know that not all kids speak the same language at home. We know that not all kids have books in the home. We know that not all kids make the same progress when they show up at school,” said Garcia. “If we want kids to graduate and all be ready for higher education, we need to make sure we can provide the level of individualized support that most district cannot now afford to offer. That’s what is key, and it’s key not just for those students, but for the long-term good of this state.”

Two days later, CEA held a statewide leader conference in Denver to plan how its Local Associations will reach out to members and voters with the facts on “Colorado Commits to Kids.” 

CEA VP Amie Baca-Oehlert reviews campaign materials that show how "Colorado Commits to Kids" funding will better serve all students in all communities.

CEA VP Amie Baca-Oehlert reviews campaign materials that show how “Colorado Commits to Kids” funding will better serve all students in all communities

At the conference, more than 70 leaders and staff affirmed “We’re All In” on passing the ballot measure and engaged in table discussions on how educators can drive voter support in their communities. They reviewed the success of the summer signature drive, in which CEA leaders, members and staff collected more than 19,400 signatures toward putting the initiative on the November statewide ballot, and they looked at ways to engage more CEA members to become involved in the campaign.

“This is about our students,” CEA President Kerrie Dallman told the conference participants. “A lot of us have talked over the last several years about the importance of taking action on social justice issues. I can’t think of an issue more important to us and our organization than the future of our kids and the investment in our kids’ future. Securing their future is exactly what these dollars are going to do.”

Secretary Duncan on ‘Preschool for All’ at Denver townhall

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at a Denver townhall meeting, July 19, about a proposal to provide every four-year-old child with access to high-quality preschoool, while also incentivizing states to adopt full-day kindergarten policies.

President Obama is proposing a series of new investments that will establish a continuum of high-quality early learning for a child – beginning at birth and continuing to age five.

Duncan2Secretary Duncan told the audience at the Clayton Early Learning Campus that less then 30% of the nation’s four-year-olds have access to high-quality preschool programs, and as a result, children starting kindergarten in disadvantaged communities are typically more than a year behind in academic and social skills.

“We have to close what I call the ‘opportunity gap’. Our children, from every community, are as smart, as talented, as great as children anywhere. We just haven’t given them the chance to be successful,” said Duncan.

The Secretary was joined by a panel representing several segments of the Colorado community – business, military, faith, law enforcement – each explaining how investment in early childhood education is crucial from their perspective.

“From a business person’s perspective, to see the efficiency of the investment thorugh my involvement at the state and national level, I’ve seen many evidences of the power of investing in kids,” said Brad Busse, an investment banker and early childhood education advocate who sits on the state’s Early Childhood Leadership Commission. “The reason I’m involved in this is that I think investing in kids early is the best investment we can make.”

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said he’s been asked many time over a 30-year career how to best prevent crime, and found early childhood education is the best answer.

“We prevent crime by investing in kids. We prevent crimes by supporting (education) programs,” said Morrissey. “When you get into my system, the criminal justice system, it’s too late. We are the system of last resort…The system you work in (education) is a lot more cost-effective than the system I work in.”

question2Duncan and his fellow panlists took many questions from the audience, including one on “Colorado Commits to Kids”, the education funding ballot initiative that would raise Colorado’s investment in public education by nearly $1 billion. CEA members and other groups are gathering voter signatures to put the measure on the statewide ballot in November.

“It’s a big initiative here in the state. I desperately hope it moves forward. I think the implications for the state’s children, for the state’s ecomony, are huge,” said Duncan.

Busse added, “Hopefully the success that we have with the ballot initiative in Colorado will be something that will go to other states. It’s a great model. This isn’t just a Colorado (issue), but something that affects all Americans.”

The townhall was hosted by Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia at the Clayton Early Learning Campus in Denver. Garcia said in his introductory remarks, “What we need to really be thinking about is the ‘school readiness gap’, the fact that some of our kids show up more ready than others, more prepared to learn and be successful. So we really want to focus on, and talk about how we make sure everyone has that opportunity.”

Giving every young child that opportunity may come down to how we think of education funding, according to Duncan.

“Do we think of education as an investment, or do we think of education as an expense?” asked Duncan. “There’s a lot of folks I work with and respect, but just fundamentally disagree with in Congress, who think we should be cutting back in education – cutting back from early childhood, cutting back from K-12, cutting back the college PELL grants. I just think we cut off our nose to spite our face when we do that.

“I spend a lot of time looking at our international competitors – Singapore, South Korea, China, India – and they are investing very, very heavily in innovation, in education, in early childhood education,” added Duncan. “I just want our children to have a chance to compete on a level playing field.”