Differences forgotten for now, finance bills become law

It was coincidence, but the student-lettered motto above the stage at Ponderosa Elementary School perfectly summed up the school finance debate that dominated much of the 2014 legislative session.

“It always feels impossible until it’s done.”

Ponderosa’s fourth and fifth graders and a large contingent of grownups – legislators, superintendents, teachers and lobbyists – were gathered in the school’s gym to watch Gov. John Hickenlooper sign the Student Success and the School Finance acts, the session’s two biggest school funding bills. (Get more details on the measures in this 2014 legislative wrap-up.)

A key element of the finance package achieved what many thought impossible at the start of the session, a $110 million reduction in the state’s $1 billion K-12 funding shortfall.

“People had different points of view” about school funding, Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, told the students. “Now that we’ve gotten there everybody’s happy.” Buckner is a retired principal of nearby Overland High School, and his three now-grown children attended Ponderosa.

Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks to students at Ponderosa Elementary School. (Chalkbeat Colorado)

Hickenlooper said the debates ended with “getting something extra out of something that’s hard to do.”

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, told the kids, “We thought about you every single day as we struggled with what to do.”

And Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, said the funding package means an average increase in per-student funding of about $400 and joked that the governor had brought the cash with him.

While the kids were attentive and the adults were all smiles, there was an undercurrent of unfinished business among some in the crowd.

“It’s not done and it sure felt impossible, but it’s a start,” said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of Schools Boards.

(The students’ motto, by the way, was put up at the beginning of the school year in honor of Ponderosa’s designation as a U.S. Department of Education blue ribbon school.)

Hickenlooper spent a lot of time Wednesday with pens in his hand. The “rally” at Ponderosa, a Cherry Creek district school, was one of six stops he made around the metro area to sign 13 bills.

Other education-related bills that became law Wednesday included:

  • Senate Bill 14-002, which makes the Safe2Tell tip line program an office within the attorney general’s office.
  • House Bill 14-1288, which sets up a state immunization information website, especially aimed at parents who have questions or concerns about the vaccinations required for school enrollment.