Colorado legislative leaders didn’t mince words on the 2017 session’s opening day: Improving Colorado’s congested and crumbling roads is their top priority.
But funding the state’s schools isn’t far behind.
Colorado’s first Latina Speaker of the House, Rep. Crisanta Duran, spoke at length about finding a way to send more money to the state’s schools — and the consequences if lawmakers fail.
“The state simply doesn’t have the money right now to make sure every boy and girl in Colorado has the tools to succeed and reach their full potential,” the Denver Democrat said, according to prepared remarks. ”Some students are being left behind. We’re missing an opportunity to teach thousands of young Coloradans who need vital 21st-century skills in computer science and digital literacy.”
(Aside from school funding: Duran plans to introduce legislation that would provide more training and resources for teachers who want to teach computer sciences.)
She went on:
I say let’s have a real discussion about ways to actually solve our education issues for the long term. Let’s make a case to Coloradans that something needs to be done, and offer some ideas to do it.
I have heard from many of you some very interesting ideas – some that are new, some from years past – for how we begin to untangle our budget mess, which is the root cause of our education struggles. These ideas are coming from both sides of the aisle.
Let me be clear: if we do nothing, our state’s continued prosperity is at risk. If we cannot fund our schools, if we cannot provide families an affordable college education, then we are not delivering what the people of Colorado need.
One of those “old” ideas is creating a uniform property tax rate such as the one Colorado used to have up until 1988. Currently, different school districts have different rates and are powerless to change them because of a mix of Constitutional amendments and statue.
State Reps. Millie Hamner, a Frisco Democrat, and Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, believe those varying rates are unequitable and are putting undue pressure on the state to make up the difference. They’re planning to ask the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee to sponsor a bill that would ask voters to set one rate for the entire state.
Speaking of equity, Republican leadership once again will push for the state’s school districts to share more of their local funding with charter schools.
House minority leader Rep. Patrick Neville, a Durango Republican, said:
We need to protect a parent’s role in their child’s life and realize that parents know better than we in this room do. Parents should have the right to make decisions about their children’s education and their health. The ability of parents to pursue the best education for their children should not be an option solely for the rich, but should be an option for all parents. We need to fund every school option equally and give parents the choice of what school best suits their children’s needs. School funding should follow students through their educational path, and we need to focus on trade schools and ensure today’s curriculum aligns with today’s workforce.
Earlier in his speech,Neville rebuffed Duran’s suggestion the state doesn’t have enough money. He noted the state’s budget is about $1 billion larger than last year.
“How can we make deep cuts when we have $1 billion more than last year?” he said.
Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican from Canon City, he called equitably funded schools and school choice a “God-given right.”
During his speech, Grantham also introduced school safety as another priority for Senate Republicans:
In regard to the intersection of public safety, education, and our second amendment rights, Majority Leader Holbert (R-Parker) will be introducing Senate Bill 5. Rather than simply arm teachers and other staff, his bill will ask ‘how much training is required?’ Currently, POST certified law enforcement and private security personnel under contract with a school district or charter school may be armed. POST certification is extensive training, while no training is required for private security. How much training might our county sheriff’s provide before district personnel may be armed on a school campus to protect our kids?
While the bill is important to Senate Republicans, the bill’s changes in the House are poor.
One note about transportation and education: Both Neville and Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, a Denver Democrat, cited education as one reason to improve the state’s roads.
No other issue in front of us impacts commerce, education, public safety and revenue more than transportation. Parents drive their kids to school on our roads, businesses depend on employees and customers travelling to their facilities, oil, gas and agricultural companies depend on roads to transport their product, and the state depends on tourism.
The people of Colorado should be able to drive their kids to school and drive to work on safe and reliable roads and bridges.
But Guzman went on to argue that improving roads can’t be done at the expense of the state’s schools.
“We cannot accomplish these feats through proposals that would cut deeply into our already underfunded classrooms, and vital services Coloradans depend upon,” she said.