Colorado editorial roundup: Colorado ranks high, but with room to grow | SummitDaily.com

Colorado editorial roundup: Colorado ranks high, but with room to grow

The only road out of Colorado's budget quagmire depends on releasing hospital provider fee

Colorado's gathering storm isn't about partisan grandstanding anymore. It's about real people being hurt by the political stalemate in the state Legislature.

Colorado has perilous problems with deteriorating and inadequate roads, operating public schools and colleges and keeping the state safe. If anyone tells you differently, they're either deluded, in denial or lying. The proof is right under the wheels of your car and in the school down the street.

The immediate problem isn't exactly that the state is critically short of money. Colorado has some cash, but a minority of Republican state officials won't let the state spend it. It's tied up in an inane argument over how to classify Colorado's Hospital Provider Fees and the state's notoriously cumbersome so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. It's a complex problem not easily explained, prompting most of the public to look the other way.

For the past few years, the Senate has been controlled by a one-seat Republican majority. The House is run by a slightly larger majority. Gov. John Hickenlooper is a Democrat. Each legislative house cancels out work by the other. And the state's finances have become a prisoner in this unending partisan war.

If all goes well, that just might change. Two House Republicans signaled this week they're tired of the endless battle over TABOR, and the seriousness of state needs has prompted them to call for a truce and a compromise. There's new Republican leadership in the Senate, and a chance to move forward.

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Make it so.

This hearkens back to the creation of the Affordable Care Act. The Colorado Medicaid expansion and hospital provider fee was created to ensure Colorado got its fair share of federal Medicaid money. The state agreed that the public and taxpayers are hurt by hospitals and doctors treating the poor for free and then passing the costs onto others. By expanding Medicaid, the federal government would pick up as much as half of the bill for treating local poor people. Local hospitals and doctors backed the plan, which called for creating the provider fee, which would help offset increased state Medicaid costs.

Republican leaders don't like more Medicaid. They don't like Obamacare and they've been willing to jeopardize state needs to make their point. But everyday Colorado residents caught up in the crossfire are the ones hurt by the dramatics.

Now-gone Senate Republicans invoked bureaucratic voodoo, insisting that under state tax restriction, the hospital fee should be considered tax revenue, which would trigger paltry individual refunds to state residents. But those refunds create a giant hole in the too-lean state budget.

This has all been made much worse by the new regime in Washington that has put Obamacare and federal Medicaid payments in limbo.

More than ever, the state needs cash. Now. Agreeing to release the cash Colorado has access to, the Legislature can create at least a temporary way forward.

Still unsolved are how to pay for woefully underfunded public schools and where to find a massive capital improvement cache to build the growing list of transportation needs in the state. But for now, releasing the hospital provider fee held hostage by Senate Republicans would give Colorado breathing space.

Whether expansion of the state Medicaid program is effective or pragmatic is a legitimate question. But holding the state hostage — and cheating us out of badly needed road money and already grossly inadequate education dollars — is the epitome of bad government. Release the provider fee.

The Aurora Sentinel, March 1

Support bill to even the education playing field

Colorado long has been a trailblazer in advancing one of the most important innovations ever to benefit public education: charter schools. Our state was among the first in the nation to authorize the autonomous public schools, through bipartisan legislation adopted in 1992 and signed into law by then-Gov. Roy Romer, a Democrat. Since then, Colorado's charter movement has flourished — exploded, really — now serving nearly 115,000 students in 238 schools across the state.

Clearly, charters have caught on. With their many and varied approaches to education, they offer a meaningful option to parents who long have sought alternatives to one-size-fits-all neighborhood schools in a wide range of districts around the state.

Yet, for all its groundbreaking work establishing charter schools, our state continues to discriminate against them. Charter schoolers don't get to ride the bus, for example; their families must provide them transportation. And charters don't necessarily open their doors on Day 1 in a new school building provided by taxpayers the way neighborhood schools do. Most charters operate in locations their boards have found on their own — sometimes former neighborhood schools; often storefronts, former warehouses and so forth.

Such basic inequities aren't easy to fix given political and fiscal realities. However, there is one modest effort to level the playing field between charters and other public schools that is pending in the state Legislature, and it warrants lawmakers' support.

Senate Bill 61, authored, sponsored and championed by Colorado Springs' Republican state Sen. Owen Hill, would eliminate a $20 million funding inequity that slights charters. The bill would require local school districts to share mill levy override funding approved by voters with charters in their district on an equal per-pupil basis.

The legislation also would establish more equitable treatment for students at charter schools authorized directly by the state rather than their local school districts. The state-approved charters, including seven in the Colorado Springs area, don't have access to local tax revenue. That results in an average per-pupil funding gap of more than $900 per student, per year. Under SB 61, they would be eligible for state equalization payments.

It's really not much to ask. Yet, according to the Colorado League of Charter Schools, only 11 of the state's 178 districts equitably share revenue from voter-approved property-tax increases with charters.

A sensible measure like Hill's is long overdue. When taxpayers approve mill-levy increases for local schools, it's a safe bet the last thing they have in mind is to elbow out public charter programs – often enough, some of the best-performing public schools in their communities. It seems the school districts are pulling a fast one on voters.

SB 61 has bipartisan support — Denver Democratic Sen. Angela Williams is co-sponsoring the measure with Hill in the Senate — and is expected to clear the GOP-dominated upper chamber as early as next week. However, it could run into trouble in the Democratic-controlled state House, given opposition by the powerful state teachers union.

It is time to rally support for this critical measure, for which Hill has led the fight. He bucked the teachers union and status quo to expand opportunity for kids, and has been able to cut through the political noise and work with legislators across the aisle.

Colorado can take pride in its pioneering role in the charter school movement, but our state has dropped the ball on crucial funding. For the sake of our children, let's take this important first step toward making amends.

The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, March 3

Colorado ranks high, but with room to grow

For most of its residents Colorado can be a great place to live.

So it should come as little surprise that it made the top 10 in a new list launched by U.S. News and World Report this week.

The list ranked Colorado's economy as best in the country, and ranked it the ninth state overall, based on rankings of economy, education, infrastructure, crime and more.

Massachusetts took the top spot, lauded for its education and health systems, economy and crime/corrections performances.

North Dakota also got good marks for using its fracking revenue to provide services to citizens.

But a closer look at the rankings could provide a roadmap on just what Colorado could be doing better.

For education, Colorado ranked 18th among the 50 states. For crime and its correctional system it ranked 26th.

For a category called opportunity, the state ranked 31st.

The state was No. 7 in infrastructure, which probably surprised anyone who's been caught in a highway traffic jam.

But a look at the individual aspects of infrastructure shows good internet access helped the state get a better score. Transit did less well, with the state ranked 33rd for commute times and 29th for road quality.

A look at the rankings in more depth (viewable at http://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/colorado) showed other Colorado weaknesses.

Under health categories, Colorado does quite poorly in adult and child wellness visits, mental health and suicide rates, all with rankings bottom fifth of states.

The overall education ranking is probably due more to higher education, which had good marks, than to K-12, where Colorado ranked 41st for high school graduation rates, and 27th for both pre-K education quality and college readiness.

The state is in the middle of the pack in crime statistics, but doesn't do well in prison overpopulation, parole completion and juvenile incarceration.

Colorado ranked 45th in equality categories that looked at racial and gender gaps, and 48th in housing affordability.

The state probably would have ranked higher in the government category, but for a low 32 in pension fund liability.

Congratulations to us all for being in one of the 10 best states.

But could Colorado be doing better? The low scores confirm it could.

Perhaps this first-time list will become an annual measure of the states.

It would be great to see Colorado continue to have the No. 1 economy. But it would be even better to see the state do better in K-12 education, housing affordability, suicide rates and road quality, areas many of us could have pointed to as Colorado's weaknesses.

The (Longmont) Times-Call, March 4

Bill to enable licenses for immigrants makes good sense

A bill before the Legislature aims to enable undocumented immigrants to more easily apply for a Colorado driver's license. It is a good idea that probably does not go far enough.

House Bill 17-1206 would improve upon a 2013 law that allows driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.

Colorado's law enforcement community generally favors issuing licenses to qualified drivers who are not in the United States legally. License exams ensure that these drivers know the rules of the road, and having a driver's license helps a vehicle owner obtain insurance, thus protecting fellow drivers.

The bill will not prevent unlicensed individuals from driving, but it will help separate those who try hard to follow the rules from others who do not.

An estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants currently live in Colorado. It does not make sense to push immigrant drivers underground. The new legislation would not change the 2013 ban on law enforcement use of the licenses for deportation purposes.

The 2013 legislation has problems that have made licenses difficult for immigrants to obtain, even though the licenses are legal. One big issue in Southwest Colorado is that the licenses are available at only three offices: Grand Junction, Colorado Springs and Denver. HB 1206 doesn't address that problem.

In fact, next year, two of those offices likely will quit issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants, leaving only the Denver office as an option. That presents an almost insurmountable obstacle for many new applicants; too bad the bill does not address it.

The legislation does allow individuals to use a verified Social Security number in the absence of a taxpayer identification card, and standardizes renewal methods – in person, by mail or through electronic means – so requirements for driver's licenses and state identification cards held by undocumented immigrants match those currently required of other drivers.

HB 1206 will not make licenses any easier for most undocumented immigrants in rural Colorado to obtain. Still, the bill is a small step in the right direction for all drivers on Colorado's roads, and for those immigrants who need to drive and, despite their status, want to abide by the law.

The Durango Herald, March 6