Editors note: An error stating that TABOR limits tax increases to six percent without voter approval was corrected. All tax increases of any amount require voter approval. TABOR limits annual increases to general fund expenditures to six percent.
It will be about a decade before Milan Gutierrez applies to college, but there she was in a sea of more than 1,000 others who marched on the state Capitol Wednesday.
Gripping a sign that read â€œWhat about my future?â€ Milan, a fifth grader from Adams County, and her mother Yvonne Cordova, joined the mob, frightened and angry about what the future of Coloradoâ€™s higher education could hold for them.
â€œShe has to go to college, and we canâ€™t afford it,â€ said Cordova, a student at the Community College of Denver.
Denver police escorted students from 12 of Coloradoâ€™s 30 institutions of higher education from the Metropolitan State University of Denver campus to the Capitol building, where students and one state representative rallied.
Organized by the Associated Students of Colorado, a statewide conglomerate of university student governments, the movement aimed to send a clear message to state lawmakers that students want to see a sustainable funding stream for higher education.
â€œWe will not let them off the hook if tuition goes up,â€ ASC President Andrew Bateman said from the steps of the Capitol, even as CU-Boulder student Evelyn Maguire waved a sign that read: â€œIâ€™m ditching class so my children will have classes to ditch.â€
The state currently caps tuition increases for state institutions at 9 percent and one of the solutions state officials have explored is eliminating the cap.
Bateman said the ASC opposes the legislation aimed to cut that cap and allow universities to decide their own tuition rates.
â€œEvery tuition increase pushes someone out the door. Every single one,â€ he said.
Associated Students of CSU Sen. Joe Howard said the looming tuition hikes would reduce diversity at CSU and keep students from lower socioeconomic statuses to attend college.
â€œAre you going to be an ally or accomplice?â€ Howard asked the capitol workers who watched the rally from an upper balcony.
Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, said while a solution is needed, she doesnâ€™t see it happening this year. Middleton encouraged students to â€œstand with herâ€ to create a coalition that would provide secure funding for higher education, K-12 and early childhood education.
â€œI hope you direct that anger, that frustration, to the ballot box,â€ she said, adding that students need to be persistent in their efforts to motivate change.
After the march, students met with legislators to discuss solutions to the higher education funding crisis.
Senate Majority Leader John Morse, who supports eliminating the tuition cap as a short-term fix, said students have been at the table working out the plan since it became an issue and said, without a long-term solution, the funding issues will get â€œmuch worse.â€
The Colorado budget, Morse said, is already one of the leanest in the country and is facing another $1.7 billion dollar deficit for the 2011 fiscal year.
He said the budget shortfalls are a direct result of the stateâ€™s inability to increase taxes, and said the Tax Payers Bill of Rights, which keeps the state from increasing taxes without voter approval, is leading Colorado to â€œcomplete demise.â€
â€œHow do you give money to the schools when we donâ€™t have money?â€ he asked, adding that the budget deficit is so â€œcatastrophicâ€ the state will look at closing some of its prisons.
Morse, an advocate of higher education, said while he understands that providing higher education opportunities to younger generations of students like Milan will directly benefit all taxpayers, most Colorado residents donâ€™t.
Without the support of the voters, he said, there is no question that in five years, higher education will see no help from the state because all of the money will be spent on K-12, Medicaid and state prisons.
â€œColorado likes low taxes, but they donâ€™t like low service,â€ he said. â€œAnybody that can figure out this maze, Iâ€™m all ears.â€
Senior Reporter Kirsten Silveira can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.