House panel OKs school funding measure

The Colorado House Education Committee on Monday approved a resolution designed to inflate education funding by giving legislators control over increasing taxes to pay for schools.

The 8-4 vote moved the measure to the House floor.

House Concurrent Resolution 1002 would allow Colorado voters to approve or reject a ballot measure that would permit legislators to increase state taxes without asking voters first only if the extra revenue would be used for preschool through postsecondary education. The resolution does not say when the issue would appear on a ballot or which taxes could be increased.

Opponents decried the resolution as an attack on the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. Some who testified questioned whether the intent of the resolution was to hurt TABOR more than to help education. Regardless of the motive behind the resolution, David Williams, state chairman of the Libertarian Party of Colorado, said the resolution’s effect would “be that TABOR no longer serves much of a purpose.”

“If this passes, there will be a huge hole punched into the Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” Williams said.

Williams was one of more than 60 people who testified to committee members during a four-hour hearing Monday afternoon in Denver. The ratio of supporters to opponents was about four to one, according to Education Committee Chairman Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs. Merrifield continually mentioned during the hearing that while TABOR might require a vote of the people before the state can increase taxes, it also allows voters to forfeit that right if they so choose.

Supporters of the bill said the state is in dire need of education funding. School districts statewide will lose $260 million next year. K–12 education was mostly immune from budget cuts this school year until January, when the state rescinded about 3 percent of the money it had budgeted for schools.

The goal of the resolution is not for Colorado to catch up with the nation’s top-funded schools for the sake of keeping up, according to Lisa Weil, policy director of Great Futures Colorado, the education reform group that proposed the resolution. The goal is to help schools afford programs and staff that help students learn, she said. For example, a mother of three from Littleton said her high school-age son won’t be able to take French next year because his school is eliminating the subject, along with the school’s International Baccalaureate program.

“Probably not one school district will decrease the student–teacher ratio next year. If you can find a district that can fund summer school this year, it will be in the minority,” Weil said.

Colorado ranked 48th in the nation for spending on K–12 public education per student in 2007. It was also 48th in the United States that year for per capita spending on higher education. That worries Andrew Bateman, a Metro State College student who testified at Monday’s hearing.

“A student that starts college this fall will have to pay about $10,000 more than someone that graduated last year from college,” Bateman said. “If something is not done, students like me will be priced out or kicked out of college.”


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