DENVER — The chief of local schools is helping lead school districts across the state in demanding more funding and fewer unfunded mandates from state lawmakers.
Jason Glass, superintendent of Eagle County Schools, is among Colorado’s school executives representing 99 percent of the state’s students taking their case to the state capitol. The 168 superintendents sent a letter to state lawmakers and Gov. John Hickenlooper, requesting an additional $275 million for K-12 education funding and an end to unfunded mandates.
“We represent hundreds of thousands of families, as well as communities, businesses and a broad range of state and local economic interests,” the superintendents said in the letter.
The $275 million the superintendents are requesting would come on top of Hickenlooper’s proposed 3.4 percent increase in K-12 education funding.
With $1 billion languishing in an education reserve fund and state revenue running about $400 million ahead of projections, the state appears to have the money, the superintendents said.
EDUCATION CUT BY $1 billion
Colorado’s education funding has suffered a $1 billion reduction since the recession hit, the superintendents said. In Eagle County, state funding cuts forced the school district to slash $9 million and more than 100 jobs.
Glass called it a “historic gutting of education.”
“We’re concerned that the decisions on how local schools are run are coming from under the Golden Dome,” Glass said. “For the statehouse to make decisions that should be made locally is imperious arrogance.”
The recession has been tough for everyone, but the worst has passed, the letter read.
“Colorado must now begin to restore funding for public education, like other states across the nation are currently doing,” the letter says. “While we have done everything we can to support students through these budget reductions, the lack of funding has had a negative impact on the education of Colorado students, especially children at risk of making adequate educational progress.”
The superintendents point out that there is plenty of support for education funding at the local level. As the recession has dragged on, voters in 82 of Colorado’s 178 school districts approved ballot initiatives that will pump $1.25 billion into their schools.
The superintendents say it’s time for Colorado’s lawmakers to do their part.
“We believe it is time to begin restoring K-12 funding to pre-recession levels,” the letter says.
Then there are the increasingly expensive requirements that state and federal education officials are hanging on local school districts. One of the latest is the state and federal departments of education demanding that standardized testing move online but providing no money for schools to buy the gear.
It will cost Eagle County’s schools around $2 million to buy the Google Chromebooks they’ll need to accommodate this mandate. Other unfunded mandates from the state include reforms in early literacy, educator effectiveness and school accountability.
Sen. Mike Johnston, a Denver Democrat and Vail native, said he wants school districts to get more money. He said he plans to introduce a bill within the next week or two — with no unfunded mandates.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.