Panel gets good news among flood of data

The legislator-citizen panel that Wednesday began its study of Colorado’s tangled and anemic financial system got a piece of good news from a University of Colorado economist – the recession may be over.

Richard Wobbekind of CU’s Leeds School of Business said, “It wouldn’t surprise me if July 2009 will be marked as the end of the recession,” at least according to the statistical way such things are measured.

But he also was careful to note that such economic good news doesn’t mean the Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission won’t have a lot of work to do studying and suggesting reforms for the state’s fiscal system.

“I think what you’re doing is extremely vital,” he told the panel, which includes six legislators and 10 citizen members.

Wobbekind was one of nearly a dozen people who spoke to the committee. Most of them were legislative staff members who gave the panel kind of a Budget and Finance 101 crash course to the members. The material include background on constitutional provisions like the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and Amendment 23, a walkthrough of the general fund budget and details on the state’s current revenue crunch.

Members of the panel also spoke at the beginning of the meeting, introducing themselves and voicing their expectations for the study. The members represent a wide ideological range, and there’s been speculation about whether that will make it hard for the group to agree on the report it has to file by Nov. 6.

But, the overall tone of the comments seemed to indicate everyone is approaching the process with reasonably open minds. Chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said he was heartened by the comments.

Member Tim Hume, a rancher and banker, said, “This is a practical problem, and ideology doesn’t have a place in a practical solution. … “The reason we’re here is that there have been too many ideological solutions in the past.”

The last witness of the day was Charles Brown, director of  the Center for Colorado’s Economic Future at the University of Denver.

He briefed the commission on a report the center issued Tuesday.

“There is simply not enough money to pay for the government we have created and the services many of us have come to expect,” the report said

“The largest departments of state government are growing more than twice as fast as tax dollars are coming in,” the researchers found.

The report spotlights three “tidal waves” threatening the state budget, K-12 spending, rising Medicaid costs and the need to replace one-time funding sources that the legislature used to balance (temporarily) the 2009-10 budget.

The study predicts that the 2010 legislature will have to find an additional $311 million to support K-12 in the 2010-11 budget year. That will be driven by a forecast 1 percent inflation increase, the 1 percent Amendment 23 “bonus” and the need to backfill an estimated 1.8 percent decline in assessed values statewide, which will reduce school district property tax revenues.

That amount could be reduced by cutting optional programs like preschool and tinkering with the school finance formula, “But these moves are not likely to raise enough money to lessen the problem to any meaningful extent,” the report said.

That $311 million will eat up 67 percent of forecast general fund revenue growth in 2010-11, according to the study.

The report calculated that the state general fund, the state’s main tax-supported spending account, grew at an average annual rate of 1.9 percent from 1998-99 to 2008-09. But during the same period, spending for K-12 education, prisons and health care (primarily Medicaid) grew an average of 5.4 percent a year.

Those three programs consumed 54 cents of every general fund dollar 10 years ago but now take 76. “That figure will jump to 91 cents in five years if the average growth rate continues. Eventually, at this rate, there would be no money for other programs,” the report said.

The study cites the familiar and conflicting constitutional provisions that govern state finances but also noted a structural problem – “evidence suggesting that Colorado’s revenue system often responds to economic conditions in an unbalanced way.” The report found that “in seven of the last nine years, individual income tax collections have been substantially ahead or behind changes in personal income in Colorado as well as changes in wage and salary income.”

The report concluded, “When a system responds in an exaggerated way to economic changes, whether by producing too much revenue relative to the economy or too little, problems can result.”

Noting the budget shifts and cuts and fee increases the 2009 legislature made, the report said, “The budgetary tsunami that washed over Colorado government last fall and winter was likely just the first wave. … Ultimately, it could mean more hikes in college tuition, deeper cuts in state government services or more fees to pay for them, or a ballot box request for higher taxes.”

As a first step, the study recommends a thorough, nonpartisan and expert review of public finance – including local government. The researchers noted that four such comprehensive studies have been done since 1930 – but the most recent one was done in 1959 – half a century ago.

The commission Thursday will hear testimony from representatives of various think tanks and interest groups.

Do your homework

Commission website, with copies of briefing papers and other materials.
Text of DU report

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”