DENVER– Voters approved $1.01 billion to improve public education in 29 school districts – a green light, education advocates say, for legislators to increase state funding.
Public relations campaigns are spinning the message and encouraging students and adults to pressure legislators and Gov. John Hickenlooper to back the agenda – none more high profile than the governor’s TBD (To Be Determined) program and “2013: Year of the Student,” sponsored by an advocacy coalition.
“It is critical that the legislature captures and harnesses the momentum of these two developments – an expanding economy and widespread support for better education investment,” the coalition said in a letter to lawmakers. “The General Assembly is now uniquely positioned to pursue a higher, longer-term goal: creating a vision for the education system we want for our students and establishing a solid plan to get there.”
The coalition urged legislators to establish a “21st century education funding system that puts our students and state on the path to recovery, competitiveness and sustained economic growth.”
The coalition cited the passage of 14 of 16 school district mill levy increases and funding for 20 of 22 capital construction as well as the TBD report based on nearly 1,200 participants in 70 meetings around the state as evidence of public support.
Education, transportation, healthcare, the workforce and the state budget were the key issues selected by the privately-funded TBD leaders.
Though the official report won’t be released until December, TBA’s preliminary recommendations include consolidation of school districts, more revenue for K-12 education and fund all-day preschool programs. It was also suggested that colleges and universities be empowered to ask local voters to approve funding mechanisms such as sales taxes, mill levies and special district assessments.
When Hickenlooper presented his FY 2013-14 state budget recommendations on Nov. 14, his proposal to add $201.6 million for K-12 education and $37.5 million for higher education received a lukewarm handshake from Democrat legislators.
Newly elected Joint Budget Committee Chairman Pat Steadman (D-Denver) said the education funding will be revised in the state’s FY 2013-14 budget, known as the Long Bill. Some Republican legislators wonder if supplemental appropriation requests will emerge in January to increase funding for the current fiscal year.
The JBC recommends supplemental appropriations to the FY 2012-13 budget, and develops the FY 2013-14 budget – both are subject to the approval of the legislature.
Next year, however, state legislators will be forced to grapple with funding for public education and Medicaid because of the national healthcare program.
“ObamaCare will dramatically increase the Medicaid funding,” said state Senator-elect David Balmer (R-Centennial). “The state’s share is an estimated $860 million over 10 years, and the long term expense may be billions of dollars.”
According to The Denver Post, the state was committed to paying $30.3 billion for Medicaid over the next decade, and will have to add the cost of ObamaCare for indigent, uninsured individuals.
State Sen. Keith King (R-Colo. Spgs.), who served on the Senate Education Committee, said, “It’s not feasible. The reality is there is no tax increase that would even cover the cost of ObamaCare. Even if people did vote for a tax, the money would go to Medicaid.”
In addition, legislators anticipate a number of education bills being proposed during the session that come with a price tag, such as expanded preschool, and consideration of the so-called “ASSET” bill, which would provide a discounted tuition rate for illegal immigrants at public colleges and universities.
Hickenlooper has said he will support ASSET, but he also cautioned education proponents that he prefers bills with bipartisan support.
“You know he’s very committed with working with both sides of the aisle and hopes that any piece of legislation that comes across his desk has bipartisan support,” Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia recently told members of the Education Leadership Council, an advisory group to the governor.
“The governor will be very cautious about pushing for any bill that doesn’t have Republican support,” stressed Garcia.
State Rep. Chris Holbert (R-Parker), a member of the House Education Committee, said that the governor is probably more concerned about Democrat legislators than Republicans in the upcoming session. Members of Hickenlooper’s own party will be more likely to promote bills that are outside of the governor’s comfort zone.
TBD is a blueprint to steer lawmakers, Holbert said, “but the number of conservatives who would go in that direction is very few if any.”