Opportunity for a Long-term Fix?
**UPDATE — April 28, 2015. Sadly, after passing the House, HB 1334 was killed (“postponed indefinitely”) by a 4-3 vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee this morning. Voting against the bill were Senators Grantham, Lambert, Sonnenberg and Woods. Those supporting the bill were Senators Heath, Hodge, and Steadman. **
For the past several years, Great Ed has worked to find leaders in the legislature who would not just fight for better school funding in the short-term, but would also work toward a long-term plan for an adequate, equitable and sustainable school finance system. House Bill 1334, sponsored by Representatives Millie Hamner and Bob Rankin would create a legislative oversight committee to do just that over a two-year period with the help of a team of experts and extensive public input.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My name is Liane Morrison; I’m the Executive Director of Great Education Colorado, a statewide organization that brings grassroots muscle to the fight for improved investment in Colorado classrooms so that every student – no matter where they live, how they learn, or what their parents’ income — graduates ready for the world.
As most of you know, our grassroots advocacy is most often focused on budget and fiscal matters. Our members – your constituents – have taken action numerous times in recent years asking you to do everything possible to reverse the negative factor that has erased so many opportunities for children across the state. Next Thursday, you’ll hear from thousands of them again – this time calling on you to ensure that TABOR’s formula doesn’t get in the way of Colorado’s students benefitting from Colorado’s rebounding economy – after they paid the price of deep cuts when Colorado’s economy faltered.
But our members know that truly doing right by Colorado’s students will take more than marginally increasing funding year over year – as critical as that effort is. Because of Colorado’s considerable budget challenges and restrictions, it will take more to ensure that every student graduates ready for the world. It will require long-term, intentional, creative, and thoughtful planning. It will require a common vision of what we are trying to accomplish, a plan to achieve it, and the political will to make it happen.
That is why I am pleased to be here today in support of HB 1334 and why I want to thank Representatives Millie Hamner and Bob Rankin for their leadership in initiating what will be a challenging, but tremendously worthwhile process. I’d like to highlight a few of the reasons that Great Ed is optimistic about the great promise of this bill:
- First, this bill recognizes that, to ensure success for every student, a school finance system must address both adequacy and equity. That is, we need to both expand the pie to benefit all students and ensure that it is divided in a way that addresses the unique needs of each student – rural, suburban, urban, special needs, at-risk, English Language Learners, gifted and talented, and every combination thereof.
- Unlike some previous legislative explorations of school finance, HB 1334 starts from the premise that it’s not OK to rearrange dollars in a profoundly underfunded system. Instead, the bill requires exploration of sources of adequate, fairly raised revenue. We’ll never get the quality education system we want for our children, communities and economy if we don’t build a firm financial foundation for Colorado’s classrooms. Great Ed appreciates that this is a fundamental premise of the bill.
- Next, the process outlined in this bill recognizes – but doesn’t run away from – the complexity of school finance. During the legislative session, there’s barely time for a handful of legislators to wrap their minds around the immediate tweaks that may be necessary to keep our current School Finance Act functioning for another year. Under this bill, the Legislative Oversight committee will have the time to learn and reflect together on the strengths and weaknesses of our current Act; to learn about and from school finance systems in other states; and to establish a vision of what our education system and an aligned school finance system should aspire to. This process can only strengthen the knowledge base in this building, leading to better informed decisions and policy.
- In addition, the technical committee created by the bill provides for the introduction of diverse perspectives and expertise that will make it possible for the Oversight Committee to base their potential legislative recommendations on evidence, data and well-vetted policy considerations. Without this bill, there is no formal partnership between practitioners and the legislature to forge solid policy around school finance. The timetable for this bill strikes a balance between the urgency of improving student outcomes as soon as possible and taking the time necessary to get it right.
I can’t – and don’t want to – predict or prejudge the contours of a School Finance Act that could come about as the result of this process. That would defeat the whole purpose behind, and spirit of, this bill. Instead, Great Ed’s support of this legislation stems from our knowledge that our current level of education funding is failing all our children and that those with special needs and risk factors are paying the highest price. The current system is not funded for success. HB 1334 will allow and require the legislature to look that challenge squarely in the eye and develop a plan to overcome it.
It’s beyond cliché to quote the old saying that “a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.” And yet, after over a decade of working on this issue, I can say that this effort to set forth an intentional, rational, and focused process for addressing Colorado’s chronic underfunding of its schools has the potential to be a game-changing first step. Failing to take it could guarantee another decade of a status quo that is simply not working for our children, and not building the foundation Colorado needs for a sustainable, vibrant economy.
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