Great Guests, Great Education at Town Hall

It's not surprising that we had a great turnout for our March 10 town hall on education, since so many people from Senate District 18 agree on the importance of learning. About 45 people attended the meeting, including three very special guests in Bear Creek Elementary fifth-grader Morgan Selby and her parents.

Lisa%2C Bruce%2C Morgan

Morgan was my guest during our March 5 "Girls with Goals Day," in which 35 girls from around the state were sworn in as honorary senators for the day, and they spent most of the day with the elected senators from their district. On Saturday, Morgan stood before us and told a room full of adults about her day, which included a mock session where she and the other girls proposed bills for discussion.

Knowing that we have outstanding young students like Morgan makes it easier for me to continue my fight for adequate education funding in Colorado, but we still have challenges. Saturday's attendees received handouts detailing some of them, including the fact that our General Fund revenues have increased only minimally since 2000 while our state's population has grown by more than 700,000 people, and our K-12 system has gained more than 100,000 students.

The concept of inadequate education funding was all quite familiar to our next guest speaker, Bruce Messinger, Superintendent of the Boulder Valley School District. Messinger was a superintendent in Montana before starting with BVSD, and he became part of a group that took Montana's adequacy of school funding to court and prevailed - although Montana was still working on remedies years after the court ruling.

Messinger spoke about some of the major consequences associated with inadequate funding, notably the achievement gaps that lead to underachieving students, low graduation rates, low levels of college enrollment and even lower rates of college completion. Also, inadquate funding makes it more difficult to fund early childhood programs, which flies in the face of evidence suggesting real value to early childhood education.

Next up was Lisa Weil, Director of Policy and Communications for Great Education Colorado. Great Ed was a major partner of ours during last year's campaign for Proposition 103. While the specific ballot measure was defeated, Lisa and I vowed to carry on with the battle for adequate education funding in general.

Weil offered Saturday's attenees a number of basic points about what we need to do in the future. Her first point paraphrased a familiar admission - "Colorado, we have a problem." We rank near last in the nation in the category of state tax collections, which is partially because of our fiscal structure and, according to Weil, partially due to the unwillingness of a number of Colorado leaders to lead the way toward fixing the problem.

However, Weil also had a positive message in that she believes the problem can be fixed, especially if people will pick up the torch and get the effort started. While certain opponents of increasing education funding might say money isn't the issue, Weil pointed out that every state outranking Colorado in school performance also outranks us in funding, and Education Week magazine recently published statistics showing the top four schools in terms of achievement all ranked in the top 10 for funding.

Part of Saturday's discussion also centered on the recent Denver District Court ruling on the Lobato v. Colorado education funding adequacy case. Judge Sheila Rappaport ruled that our system of school finance violates the state Constitution's call for a "thorough and uniform" system, although the state is currently appealing the ruling. Weil noted that Rappaport said our system is not just unconstitutional - it's "unconscionable" - and repeated her call for Coloradans as concerned citizens to stand up for our kids and our future.

More than 10 attendees took the opportunity to raise questions or comments, on topics including the increasing cost of college, recent revelations regarding salaries of certain administrators at CU, professional development and performance standards for educators, and alternative means of school funding such as increasing severance taxes.

Also, several attendees asked if we might eventually see a so-called "big fix" for our fiscal system, which could include constitutional reform. I took this opportunity to talk about Gov. Hickenlooper's new "TBD" (To Be Determined) initiative, in which Coloradans of all stripes will be asked to attend public meetings and weigh in on key issues, such as education funding and others.

For more information on TBD, visit www.TBDColorado.org. Our next town hall meeting will be April 14 at 10 a.m., in the Community House at the Boulder Chautauqua, and I hope to see you there!

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