In his final State of the State address, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper called for more money for education but said it would take voters’ help to do that.
In an interview after the speech, Hickenlooper said he wasn’t calling for a ballot measure with a new tax for schools so much as he was pointing out Colorado violates its own constitution every year.
Even with increased funding for schools in recent budgets and the governor’s 2018-19 budget proposal, “we remain roughly three quarters of a billion dollars behind the funding Colorado voters placed in our constitution nearly two decades ago,” he said in his speech. “We need to be honest with ourselves and with our voters. This number isn’t going down much without their help.”
The Democratic governor was referring to Amendment 23, a constitutional amendment passed in 2000 that requires education spending to increase by population and inflation (it was inflation plus 1 percent from 2001 through 2011). However, the legislature has not funded education at that level since the Great Recession. The shortfall is known as the “negative factor” or more recently the “budget stabilization factor.”
Hickenlooper said in the interview afterward he and his staff “busted our necks” to get the shortfall down below $1 billion, but it’s still more than $700 million.
“That’s a big number,” he said. “We’re $770 million a year lower than what the voters told us to we should do. Were they just ignorant?”
Colorado voters have turned down several requests to raise taxes to put more money into K-12 education.
“I wasn’t specifically saying we have to go to the voters per se, but I thought it was worth noticing,” Hickenlooper said.
In this context, constitutional compliance could also look like voter authorization to spend less on schools.
“Maybe the solution is to go to the voters and ask them to reduce Amendment 23 to something more manageable,” Hickenlooper said. “Maybe it’s to have a transportation plan that also accommodates increased spending in education. I’m not sure what that looks like.”
“Maybe at some point – I don’t think it will be this year – we put an initiative on the ballot that says we want to take excess revenues every year and commit them to Amendment 23.”
Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights imposes a cap on how much revenue the state can collect each year, but with voter permission, the state could keep additional money and put it toward education.
That’s what’s proposed in a bill from state Sen. Andy Kerr, a Lakewood Democrat, that Republicans sent straight to a kill committee Wednesday.
Hickenlooper included a plan for funding K-12 education among his top priorities for the next year, and he linked it to plans to fund transportation and the state’s water plan. Those priorities, which he called a “common sense agenda,” are:
- Solving the unfunded liability in the state pension system, which many public school employees participate in;
- Passing legislation to cap orphan oil and gas wells;
- Halting the opioid epidemic;
- Enacting funding plans for K-12 education, infrastructure and the state water plan;
- Passing legislation and authorizing money for a full buildout of rural broadband;
- Addressing the negative impact of the Gallagher Amendment on rural communities.
Here’s what Hickenlooper had to say about K-12 education funding in his speech:
Today, in almost every part of Colorado, zip code still determines your educational outcome, and that determines your economic outcome. This needs to change.
We re-convened the Education Leadership Council, with your help, to build a long-term vision and path forward. It’s nonpartisan and comprehensive, with a focus on the building blocks of a child’s success from early childhood to workforce and beyond.
We’re pumping an additional $100 million above enrollment and inflation into our schools this year, and adding $10 million to address teacher shortages in rural areas.
We also proposed repeating this year’s $30 million to rural schools next year.
Even with these increases, we remain roughly three-quarters of a billion dollars behind the funding Colorado voters placed in our constitution nearly two decades ago.
We need to be honest with ourselves and with our voters. This number isn’t going down much without their help. And if we are being really blunt, it hurts rural Colorado more than the Front Range.
Hickenlooper also called for additional focus on being prepared for work and highlighted his apprenticeship programs.
We need to transition from a degree-based education system to one that also includes skill-based training.
Experts tell us almost 60 percent of our kids in America today will not get a 4-year degree, and that number is true in Colorado as well.
Careers and professions by the dozens will be swept away in the coming decades by automation and artificial intelligence.
But new industries will emerge at an equally frantic rate. We will need not just engineers but huge numbers of technicians and analysts with new sets of skills. We need to get more kids learning skills that matter. We need to do it yesterday.
That’s why we’re working with the state board of education to expose more students to coding in middle and high school years. Why not give those schools with a foreign language requirement the choice to offer coding as an alternative language?
But let’s not fall into the trap of instituting a bunch of coding classes and thinking we’ve solved the problem. We need flexible solutions that can adapt to what employers need tomorrow, not just what they need today.
This means training and apprenticeships.
Working closely with business and education leaders, in a public-private partnership, Colorado is igniting an apprenticeship renaissance with Careerwise, and it’s a model being copied around the country.
You can read his full speech here.