The 2014 Legislative Session, now referred to as “historic”, will garner reflection for months to come. Let’s take a look at the highlights so you too, can be a part of the history of public school funding in Colorado.
The session last spring reiterated for each of us, that our Legislators are approachable, interested and need input from their constituents. Whether by email, by phone call, or one-on-one coffee chat – Legislators want to hear from you. Each Senator and Representative has areas of specialty/focus and rely on advocates of other interest areas to bring their concerns and background to them. Legislators made good on their promise to respond when we contacted them. We appreciated the time they took and we had the opportunity to learn a lot.
Prior to the start of the 2014 session, GSV met one on one with the Elected Officials representing the St. Vrain Valley School District. We did this to understand the individual perspectives of the legislators before going into session. Knowing that the educators and students of Colorado have endured a roller-coaster ride in past years, GSV wanted a heads up about what is around the next bend. We asked our legislators, “Does a stable economic outlook ahead translate into a smoother ride for Colorado’s students?”
In our conversations with legislators, we asked questions about restoring local budgets that would allow individual districts to reinstate funding to programs, that had suffered because of the recession, before additional mandates would be passed (with additional funding needed). These past cuts came to be known as the “Negative Factor”, and it has grown to $1 Billion per year.
The session opened with a variety of education based initiatives. Many were headed in a similar direction and others seemed to take a detour from an important goal: restoring previously cut funds to our schools. We questioned if the goal was indeed funding classrooms. We watched as new and costly mandates were considered. On the heels of four years of witnessing districts with inadequate budgets struggling to meet the needs and educational goals already in place, this was difficult to reconcile.
The passionate debate over the “Negative Factor” became the focal point of the legislative session and attracted advocacy like never before from all directions. It was a thrilling ride to experience interest groups unite and form a common voice in support of Colorado’s students. Superintendents, School Boards, State Education groups, and parent advocacy groups wrote their legislators, attended town halls, visited the Capitol, and testified on behalf of their local schools. The focus was on the Student Success Act and the School Finance Act. It was different in the sense that the question was not just a yes/no decision. The questions explored included:
- which new mandates would live (and be funded),
- which mandates would be cut to afford dollars to fund the “Negative Factor”,
- how much of the “Negative Factor” would be repaired this year,
- and how much would be left for future years to address.
It was a winding road that seemed to gain momentum before hitting more speed bumps towards the end. Finally, the “Negative Factor” was reduced by $110 million per year. What does this mean for SVVSD? Schools will receive $363 more per student on average for an estimated $6,897 per student in 2014-2015. While funding is headed in the direction of replenishing past reductions there is still some distance to travel to fully fund the negative factor.
One might expect to see some form of the “Negative Factor” addressed by the Legislature again this year. The question remains “ With what, if any, urgency should our Elected Officials fund prior Education cuts?”. This sense of urgency is influenced by you and me, as their constituents.
What an educational session it has been, in every sense of the word. Much of the energy generated and unifying interests were around bills for education. The energy was at a historical level and will benefit our students in years to come. With all we learned this session, we look forward to participating in January, 2015 when the next session begins. We hope to have your energy as well. Remember, your legislators want to hear from you – really.