“Colorado should have the best public school system in America. Period,” Gov. John Hickenlooper has told the annual convention of the Colorado Association of School Boards.
The governor’s Friday speech to the group’s luncheon at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs was aspirational and high-level and didn’t include any detailed policy proposals.
His “best education system” remark came at the very end of his 20-minute talk, after an audience member asked the governor to “please speak to school finance,” a top-of-mind concern for many local board members after four years of budget cuts for most districts.
The governor noted, “We’re a billion dollars behind where we were” in school funding four years ago, and he alluded to the high success rate for school district tax proposals in the Nov. 6 election. (See this story for details on those elections.)
“My sense is Coloradans … are recognizing that we have a shortfall,” he said.
“It’s easy to go to the ballot box” to ask voters for more education funding, he added.
“But it’s much harder to figure out what that should look like.”
He then turned to the recent recommendations from TBD Colorado, the statewide effort that he initiated to gauge citizen opinion on major issues facing the state. (See this story for details.)
Citizens, Hickenlooper argued, may feel schools need more money but also are saying, “ ‘We don’t want just to fund things the way they were.’ ”
Increased funding needs a specific goal, the governor said, like increasing Colorado student achievement and surpassing the rest of the nation.
A few minutes earlier, Hickenlooper promised, “We’re going to do everything we can to try to bring more resources.”
Touching on other subjects, the governor made the customary nod to local control, an article of faith for most CASB members.
“I recognize the pressures that are on local government. … We’ve tried very hard to mitigate the state’s role.” Districts “are going to be the innovators.”
The governor held up several districts and schools by name for everything from high standards to working with business partners.
He specifically praised a group of Weld County districts for switching to compressed natural gas buses, leading him into a detour about the importance of natural gas to Colorado’s economy and the environmental benefits of burning gas.
“School districts can save a tremendous amount of money” with clean-fuel buses, he said.
“It saves money and stimulates the economy. … I just put it out as an idea.”
Hickenlooper liked the topic so much he reprised it briefly later in the speech.
The governor also repeatedly raised the issue of global competition.
“It’s not that our public schools have gotten worse. It’s that the rest of the world has gotten better. … The jobs that are coming down the pike are going to demand a higher level of education.”
Because of that, he said, “We don’t have a choice” about improving Colorado’s schools.